Benefits and the Work Programme

01 September 2011

This factsheet gives you information on the Work Programme and the way it affects benefit claimants.

Overview

  • The Work Programme is an employment programme aimed at providing back to work support for benefit claimants. Claimants of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) and some claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) may be required to take part. Others including income support and pension credit claimants may be allowed to volunteer to take part, although not in Scotland or Wales.
  • The Work Programme, introduced in summer 2011, will replace most existing employment programmes for benefit claimants, including New Deal, Employment Zones and Pathways to Work. It is provided by a mix of DWP, private and voluntary sector providers.
  • Taking part in the programme will be compulsory for claimants referred to it by their personal advisers under the benefit rules.
  • The key element of the programme is that claimants are expected to engage in ‘work-related activity’.
  • ‘Work-related activity’ is not closely defined, and it will be up to the Work Programme providers to decide what it should be in each case. More generally, it should be activity that ‘makes it more likely that the person will obtain or remain in work or be able to do so’.
  • Claimants required to take part but who do not and are not considered to have ‘good cause’ for failing to do so will incur a benefit penalty. For JSA, this is loss of benefit for 2 weeks for an initial failure, but rising to 4 and 26 weeks for repeat failures. For ESA, the penalty is a benefit reduction of 50% of the value of the work-related activity component for the first four weeks of not taking part (ie, £13.37 in 2011/12), then 100% of the value for each subsequent week (£26.75 in 2011/12).

What is the Work Programme?

  • The Work Programme is an official employment programme, introduced in summer 2011, that provides back-to-work support for benefit claimants.
  • The programme is described as being at the centre of the government’s plans to reform welfare to work provision, and is intended to be built around the needs of individuals and help them into sustained employment. It will replace much of the current employment provision for benefit claimants, including the New Deal, Employment Zones and Pathways to Work.
  • The programme will be delivered by a mix of the private, public and voluntary sectors. Providers will be paid primarily for supporting claimants into sustained employment, with higher payments for supporting the ‘hardest to help’. The initial contracts run for up to 7 years.
  • It is up to providers to design and deliver the support – the government has not attempted to lay down detailed rules on exactly what claimants are offered, or what they can or cannot be expected to do in order to be regarded as having taken part.

What benefit claimants are affected?

  • New benefit rules have been introduced that affect claimants of JSA and ESA, who may be required to take part.
  • Claimants of income support and pension credit in England may be allowed to take part on a voluntary basis.
  • For JSA, any claimant who has to satisfy the basic jobseeking conditions for JSA can be referred to the Work Programme, ie required to take part
  • For ESA, certain claimants cannot be referred to the Work Programme. These are: anyone in the support group; lone parents with a youngest child aged under 5; anyone in receipt of carer’s allowance; anyone in receipt of the carer’s premium in their income-related ESA. Otherwise any claimant who has to take part in work-focused interviews can be referred (ie, required to take part). Lone parents with a youngest child aged under 13 can only be required to undertake work-related activity during the child’s normal school hours.
  • In practice, it is understood that JSA claimants who have recently moved from incapacity benefit and those facing significant disadvantage (eg, some young people and ex-offenders) may be referred to the programme after 3 months of claiming; those aged 18-24 from 9 months and those aged 25 or over from 12 months. Some may be referred on a voluntary basis ie if they wish to receive support from the programme and that is considered appropriate.
  • In practice, it is understood that ESA claimants will be referred when they are expected to be fit for work in 3 months. Others may be referred on a voluntary basis, ie if they wish to receive support from the programme and it is considered appropriate, at any time after their work capability assessment.

How are claimants affected?

  • Claimants required to take part in the programme are required to take part in ‘work-related activity’. Exactly what that activity is will be specified by the provider; but in general ‘work-related activity’ means activity that ‘makes it more likely that the person will obtain or remain in work or be able to do so’.
  • For JSA claimants, ‘work-related activity’ can include work. For ESA claimants, it cannot include work or a requirement to apply for a job or to undergo medical treatment. Also for ESA, any requirement to undertake work-related activity must be ‘reasonable’ having regard to all the circumstances including the claimant’s health.
  • The work-related activity the claimant is expected to do must be notified to the claimant in writing.
  • If a claimant is required to take part in work-related activity, failure to do so will result in a benefit penalty, unless they show ‘good cause’ for the failure within five working days of being notified of the failure. ‘Good cause’ is not defined, but health, language/learning difficulties, caring responsibilities and emergencies should all be taken into account.
  • For JSA, the benefit penalty is complete loss of benefit for 2 weeks for an initial failure, rising to 4 and 26 weeks for subsequent failures. Hardship payments will be available only to those in a ‘vulnerable group’ (eg, pregnant or responsible for a child and at risk of hardship).
  • For ESA, the penalty is a reduction in benefit. The reduction is by an amount equivalent to 50% of the work-related activity component (ie, a reduction £13.37 in 2011/12) for the first four weeks of not taking part, then by an amount equivalent to 100% of the component (ie, a reduction of £26.75 in 2011/12) for each subsequent week.
  • Decisions on good cause and imposition of sanctions must be made by DWP decision-makers. Appeals against these decisions can be made under the usual benefit appeal rules.

Rules and guidance

For JSA, the benefit rules are The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, SI 2011 No. 917, via http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2011/917/contents/made

For ESA, the benefit rules are The Employment and Support Allowance (Work-Related Activity) Regulations 2011, SI 2011 No. 1349, via http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2011/1349/contents/made

Official guidance on the benefit rules above is in Memo DMG 16/11, via http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/m-16-11.pdf, and Memo DMG 15/11, via http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/m-15-11.pdf

Official information on the Work Programme, including questions and answers and the official ‘Prospectus’ giving early information for bidders for the provider contracts is available on the DWP website via www.dwp.gov.uk/supplying-dwp/what-we-buy/welfare-to-work-services/work-programme. Further official information, aimed at claimants, is available via http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/Jobseekers/programmesandservices/DG_197781.