Jobcentre Plus (JCP) advisers have been told not to direct 18 and 19-year-olds to the government’s flagship traineeship scheme because it would put their benefits at risk, FE Week has learned.
Documents seen by FE Week show staff in a number of JCPs are being instructed to ignore the work experience and employability programme — even though the rule affecting benefits is due to be by-passed.
In the Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne promised trainees would be exempt from the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) rule preventing anyone working or training for more than 16 hours a-week claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA).
However, there has been no further announcement, although FE Week understands the exemption could be in place within a month.
In the meantime, an email sent to advisers and managers in one JCP from regional managers said: “Following conversations this week with the DWP, they have said they are currently not promoting traineeships to 18 and 19-year-old JCP customers who are in receipt of JSA. This is because… this group of people would lose their entitlement to benefits.”
Kevin Ayton, managing director of provider KSA Training and Development Ltd, told FE Week that traineeship referrals from JCPs had “dried up by 100 per cent”. He said: “We’re struggling at the moment because the JCPs are bulging at the seams with people who would be ideal for a traineeship but aren’t being offered them.” He added that it didn’t seem to be limited to 18 and 19-year-olds.
“The JCP take on this seems to be a blanket rule until clarification [on the 16-hour rule exemption] from DWP is received,” said Mr Ayton. “A 21-year-old learner who had seen our flier attempted to enrol on our programme but was told by JCP to not do that as her benefits would be in jeopardy.”
Two further JCPs have confirmed that they were following similar ‘ignore traineeships’ guidance.
The email saying not to promote the programme went on to say DWP had raised the JSA issue with the Treasury and was hopeful it would be resolved “quickly”.
It added: “In the interim the advice to advisers and providers is to ensure that any 18 or 19-year-old’s benefit entitlement is checked with their local JCP office prior to starting a traineeship.”
Since the traineeship programme, aimed at 16 to 24-year-olds, was introduced in September, it has suffered with lower than expected uptake and this latest development will do nothing to ease concerns.
A DWP spokesperson said traineeships were “an important part of the government’s long-term plan to create a stronger, more secure economy”.
He added: “Traineeships have the flexibility for providers to design them so jobseekers can participate without it affecting their benefits.”
He said where traineeships offered more than 16 hours a week “it is appropriate that Jobcentre Plus advisers make claimants aware of this and for the provider to consider reviewing the design of the programme.”
However, last month, Andrea Webb, director of traineeship provider Profile Development and Training, told FE Week that designing traineeships around the 16-hour rule was “limiting” and prevented them offering “a meaningful experience”.
Meanwhile, the Association for Employment and Learning Providers (ALEP) had, according to director of employment and skills Paul Warner, “a very productive meeting” met with DWP officials.
He added: “The signs are hopeful that the proposed change with regards to the 16-hour rule as applied to the study element of traineeships will take place shortly.”
Keep the flagship afloat
Traineeships should have no enemies and yet there’s been much talk that they’re simply not taking off.
To what extent this has been the case we can’t say as traineeship data did not feature in the most recent statistical first release, despite promises it would be.
Regardless, it’s been clear for some time that the problem has been benefits.
The programme is simply not attractive to learners who stand to lose their Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) — to take part in a scheme that more often than has no immediate financial benefit.
This has been brought home by the email to Job Centre Plus advisers, who are told to steer teenagers clear of traineeships while the wait for the promised JSA exemption for traineeships goes on.
Why isn’t Nick Clegg stepping in and banging heads together? Isn’t the DPM supposed to be sorting out youth unemployment schemes? We know that every day a young person is out of work the harder it will be for them to secure a job.
The FE sector is willing and able to make a success of traineeships, but unnecessary barriers outside of their control put the whole scheme at risk.
Removing these barriers is perhaps the only way to ensure it really is a flagship policy, as opposed to a sinking one.
Chris Henwood, editor (firstname.lastname@example.org)