Press release

People on sickness benefits to be offered work experience to help them back into a job

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

People on sickness benefits now able to take part in voluntary work experience to help them move towards a job.

People on sickness benefits who are expected to be able to get back to work at some point in the future will, from Monday, be able to take part in voluntary work experience to help them move towards a job.

People on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who have been assessed as being able to go back to work at some point are placed in the Work-Related Activity Group for the benefit and are expected to take part in activity which helps them prepare for a return to employment. One of the options available to them will now include voluntary work experience.

Short periods of work experience at an appropriate employer will help people with limited employment history get a flavour of the workplace environment, gain new skills and boost their confidence for an eventual return to work.

Mark Hoban, Minister for Employment said:

Some people on sickness benefits haven’t worked for a long time or may not have had many jobs, which will make it harder for them to find work in the future. Work experience is a very good way to increase someone’s confidence and get them ready for their move into a job when they are well enough.

As well as voluntary work experience, in some situations, having taken into account an individual’s circumstances, a Jobcentre Plus adviser or Work Programme provider may feel that an appropriate mandatory work placement - which must be of benefit to the community - would be helpful. This includes circumstances where someone refuses to take reasonable steps to address a barrier which is stopping them working.

The work placement has to benefit the community and must be appropriate to claimant’s health condition, including location, hours of attendance and placement content. Any work-related activity is discussed fully with the claimant and consideration is given to their health problems or disabilities to ensure that any activity is appropriate to their personal circumstances.

People who fail to carry out any agreed work-related activity without good reason may face having their benefits sanctioned. From Monday, penalties for those who don’t comply with the rules will be changed to be brought in line with Jobseekers Allowance.

The sanction will be made up of an open-ended period which is lifted when the claimant meets the requirements, followed by a short fixed period of 1, 2 or 4 weeks.

Mr Hoban added:

People on sickness benefits who do all they can to improve their chances of moving back in to a job have nothing to worry about; they will get their benefits and we will do all we can to help. But in the small number of cases where people refuse to stick to their part of the bargain, it’s only right there are consequences.

People who are too sick or disabled to work are placed in the support group for ESA where they get unconditional help and are not expected to do any work-related activity.

Notes to editors:

  1. There are currently no plans to set a fixed minimum or maximum length for a work placement. This will give advisers and providers the flexibility to determine what will be most helpful and appropriate, based on the individual’s circumstances.
  2. It is expected that work placements will last for around two weeks and in all instances the placement must be reasonable and meet the claimant’s circumstances. If a claimant feels that a requirement is unreasonable or inappropriate, he/she can request that the requirement is reconsidered
  3. Work experience: Both Work Programme providers and Jobcentre Plus will have the option to refer ESA Work Related Activity claimants to work experience, which will be completely voluntary, if the claimant agrees that it would be helpful. No sanctions will be applied, even in cases of gross misconduct. Consideration will be given to the claimant’s health problems or disabilities to ensure that work experience is appropriate to their personal circumstances.
  4. Mandatory Work placements: Both Work Programme providers and Jobcentre Plus will be able to refer ESA Work Related Activity claimants to a mandatory work placement. Consideration will be given to the claimant’s health problems or disabilities to ensure that work placement is appropriate to their personal circumstances. Work placements are very different from work as they are a shorter-term and more flexible commitment, with lower expectations placed on the individual. The focus will be on learning new skills and gaining experience of the workplace. Mandatory work placements will take only place in settings of community benefit and sanctions will only apply where refuses to participate in an appropriate placement without good reason.