Help to Work contracts – what to consider?

Ramzi Suleiman was at NCVO between January 2013 and December 2014, leading on NCVO’s Work Programme initiatives and running the work shadowing ‘Day in the Life…’ scheme. Ramzi has left NCVO, but his posts are kept here for reference purposes.

Help to Work is the government’s recently announced programme for people on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) who are leaving the Work Programme. Launching in April 2014, Help to Work involves JSA claimants who have been on the Work Programme for two years, without finding a job, being ‘handed back’ to Job Centre Plus (JCP). JCP advisors then assess the individual and place them one of three routes available:

  1. Mandatory Intervention Regime (MIR)
  2. Community Work Placement (CWP) or…
  3. Daily JCP Sign-In.

It’s been suggested that charities could get involved with either the MIR or the CWP. I’ll give an overview these schemes, highlighting issues that charities should consider before deciding to take part in either scheme, either by providing services or providing a placement.

Help to Work is a mandated and sanctions based programme. Service users can be referred for sanctions if service providers feel that they have in some way failed to fulfil their responsibilities. There is a four week sanction for the first ‘offence’ and a thirteen week sanction for subsequent ‘offences’.


Service users referred onto MIR will have been assessed as having multiple or complex barriers to work.

The service user will have a single JCP Advisor managing their case. JCP Advisors could provide them with in-house JCP support but also have the option of bringing in expertise and help from outside organisations.

Community Work Placements

CWP is a six month placement at a host organisation. This organisation could be from the private, public or Voluntary and Community Sector. These placements, even if they take place in charities, do not constitute volunteering. They are mandated work placements. There is an important distinction between volunteering and mandated work placements that should always be recognised and maintained.

The payment mechanism for CWP follows a  Payment by Results (PbR) approach. Payments will be triggered at three stages:

  1. initial placement
  2. after three months
  3. after six month of a complete placement or employment outcome.

If you are a charity and are considering getting involved with Help to Work, there are issues that you should consider, in particular:

  • contract viability
  • your reputation
  • your mission.


Under the Mandatory Intervention Regime (MIR), JCP Advisors and Managers are able to bring in expertise from outside to help service users. If your organisation can offer services that will benefit individuals on MIR – those with multiple or complex needs – then you may consider delivering these aspects of the work. JCP Advisers can bring in services either on a ‘spot purchase’ basis or through a wider block contract. There are the usual considerations about contract viability for voluntary organisations. It is worth thinking about which arrangement would best suit your organisation and talking to your local JCP.

As I understand it, under the CWP payment mechanism, there will be a maximum of £2,000 per service user for a fully successful placement –i.e. a complete six months in a placement or six months in combined placement and employment. As a result Primes’ will be looking to allocate a proportion of this amount, but contracts will vary. The contract you agree to must be financially viable for your organisation.

Community Work Placements

In my previous post I looked at some of the concerns surrounding mandated and sanctions-based work placements.  JRF research showed that there is little evidence to suggest sanctions work and little research into their wider affects. Government analysis of the trailblazers that CWP are partly based on, suggests there is no strong evidence to suggest that mandated work placements are successful in finding individuals permanent employment – although work placement do seem to have positive ‘soft outcomes’ such as increasing the confidence of job seekers.

Prime contractors have been invited to submit their bids to run this service DWP by 5th December. Although formal contracts with placement providers and other sub-contractors do not have to be formally agreed by then, DWP will expect to see the expected supply chain. Informal agreements will be in place. If you have been or are expecting to be approached by Primes, there are two crucial issues – aside from the financial viability of the contract – that you should consider: the reputational risk involved, and your mission.


Your reputation

Community Work Placements are mandated and backed by harsh sanctions, as outlined above. You must consider the reputational risk you face if you decide to offer placements as part of the CWP. Mandated work placements have been very controversial in the past – and will continue to be so. Your organisation may be damaged in the eyes of both your benefactors and members of the general public. Your organisation must decide if offering placements is worth the reputational risk.

DWP have said they will offer support to charities that face criticism but it is not clear what form this support will take.

Your mission

When entering any public service contract, charities must also be wary of ‘Mission Drift’. In terms of CWP, charities must consider whether the sanctions backing the scheme – which you may have to refer service users for – contradict your mission statement.

The Charity Commission recommends that Trustees take into account reputational risk, alongside financial risk, before deciding whether your charity should provide a service. NCVO echoes these recommendations. Charities’ strength lies in their mission-led ethos, and this should not be put at undue risk.

If you are considering getting involved with Help to Work, you should think about the considerations above. If your organisation does offer placements or provide services through MIR, the contracts negotiated must be financially viable. Most importantly, charities are led by their mission, and should not provide a service that may work against this.


Understanding key contracting models – ‘Compiling your tender’ on  KnowHow NonProfit

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