Benefits concerns over traineeship hours

The government has been pressed to launch an “urgent review” of traineeships over fears the programme could hit learner benefits, FE Week can reveal.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has called for a new look at how the government’s flagship youth unemployment scheme will affect Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA).

It is concerned that working around the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) 16-hour rule — which limits the number of hours skills’ provision claimants can do in a week — will be more important than considerations surrounding the needs of learners when courses are designed.

“The rule has long been a source of contention for skills providers and in this instance means that skills elements, including maths and English provision within traineeships, will adversely impact on JSA payments if they exceed this amount per week,” said an AELP spokesperson.

“Work experience placements are treated slightly differently — placements of up to 30 hours a week are allowable within JSA regulations, but only up to a maximum of eight weeks, after which the 16-hour rule once again applies.

“The only exception to this is where an apprenticeship opportunity arises as a result of the work placement, where an extension to 12 weeks can be allowed.”

He added: “AELP believes that the cumulative effect of all this will mean that the short-term impact on a learner’s welfare benefits may in some cases be more important to the design of a traineeship than its potential effect on their future job prospects.

“Provision will therefore have to be configured around compliance with benefit rules as much as, if not in some cases more than, the needs of the learner (or even the potential employer) involved.

“We feel that this confluence of rules and regulations undermines the principle of delivering a flexible programme based on learner needs, and are pressing for an urgent review of the rules surrounding JSA and Traineeships in particular — for example by considering whether traineeships should qualify for a blanket exemption from the 16-hour rule.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education told FE Week: “Traineeships have been designed to have the flexibility to fit with the benefits system.

“DWP policy is that JSA claimants can undertake up to 30 hours a-week work experience for a maximum of eight weeks.

“JSA claimants on traineeships will be able to spend up to 30 hours a-week on work experience, or work experience and training combined, provided that the training element is under 16 hours per week.

“Claimants will remain on JSA throughout their traineeship, unless agreement is reached between the provider and jobcentre locally to fund full-time participation via a JCP training allowance.”

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesperson told FE Week there was no exemption for traineeships, but added that the programme would be reviewed.

She did not indicate when the review would take place, but said: “Traineeships are in the first year of a staged national rollout and all aspects of delivery, including work experience, will undergo a formal evaluation.”

Traineeships were first proposed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in June last year to help young people gain work-related skills and attitudes.

Pressure for the scheme mounted after it emerged that 979,000 16 to 24-year-olds were out of work in the three months from December to February.

The youth unemployment figures, released by the Office for National Statistics, showed a 20,000 increase on the three months from September to November.

The AELP wants to hear from providers — via enquiries@aelp.org.uk — about their experiences of traineeships and JSA compliance.