Avoid forced unpaid work: know your rights!

Facing workfare on one of these schemes? Know your rights!

For more information on your rights on the Work Programme and at the Job Centre, visit refuted.org.uk and Job Seeker Sanction Advice.

Know your rights sanctions advice

JSA sanction advice and tips: Download the leaflet and share this image to make sure people know their rights! Or get in touch to order copies of the A5 version of the leaflet to hand out in your area.

Download this know your rights leaflet to share with others.

[EXPAND Mandatory Work Activity: Check and challenge your eligibility]

Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) is a 4 week 30 hour compulsory work placement (or 75% of time you are available for work) for people who the job centre decides are:

“lacking, or failing to demonstrate, the focus and discipline that is necessary to effectively: seek out and pursue job opportunities [or] secure and retain employment” (MWA Guidance, point 17).

The job centre must give a reason and explain to you why you are being referred to MWA. Any reason should fit the above criteria in italic.  Alternatively, if you have not taken part in something work experience-related recently (the Work Experience scheme, volunteering, etc.), then they can refer you to MWA by giving the reason that a “lack of recent work experience is proving to be a barrier to finding work” and that you are “unwilling to address a lack of recent work experience” (MWA Guidance points 21-22).

But, if the following point applies to you, you are not eligible for MWA and you should challenge any referral:

  • the only reason given for you being referred is that your advisor thinks you haven’t been meeting your jobseeker’s agreement.

(MWA guidance, point 20: ‘MWA must not be used as an alternative means of addressing conditionality doubts’).

Also, if any of the following points apply to you, you may still be referred, but it is worth challenging the decision:

  • you are currently working (paid or voluntary)
  • you are undertaking employment-related study or training
  • you are taking part in, or recently completed, another ’employment measure’

(MWA guidance, point 19: ‘MWA may not be appropriate for the following claimants …’).

MWA is 4 weeks, if you cannot complete all 4 weeks due to jury service or holiday arrangements (or perhaps likelihood of starting job) etc, then it should be deferred. Also if you are to start the work programme in the next 6 weeks or are aged 16-17, then you should not be referred to MWA (MWA Guidance, point 30).

Your “suitability” for MWA should be identified through a “work targeted interview process”, which can be supported by the use of the Customer Assessment Tool (CAT). You are free to be selective in what and how you answer, or just decline to complete this and other (eg. Looking for Work Form) assessments.

“the customer must consent to the adviser using the CAT” Source: CAT guidance July 2012

“LFW1 is intended to be helpful and inform the interview, but completion is not mandatory.” Source: FOI Dec 2011

Here is a template of a letter to give to your advisor to remove consent for these assessments to take place, which makes it more difficult for them to justify sending you on MWA:

Dear Jobcentre Adviser,

RE: Customer Assessment Tool (CAT) and other assessments

Can you please place a note on my clerical and LMS or other computer records that I do not consent ever, for CAT or any other consent based assessment technique to be used and or recorded onto any electronic medium, such as LMS or clerically.

Please make or transcribe an exact copy of this letter onto my electronic and clerical (paper) Jobcentre Plus records.

If you cannot get out of your referral to MWA then restricting the use of your details will possibly slow down your placement.

Note: You can be referred to MWA for dropping out of an employment measure (eg. Work Experience) or if you have recently received a “labour market related sanction” of your benefits – see point 20 of the MWA Guidance.


[EXPAND Work Experience Scheme and Sector-Based Work Academies: Do not agree to do them]

The Work Experience scheme

The Work Experience scheme involves 2-8 week work placements of 25-30 hours per week and is aimed at 18-24 year olds ‘with little or no work history’ (here, p. 11).

“Entry onto the scheme is voluntary and individuals can choose to leave the placement before it is complete”. Source: Commons Library, October 2013

The threat of sanctions remains for those dismissed by the employers due to “gross misconduct”. The DWP say “’Gross Misconduct’ might include, for example, theft, racial abuse and violence.” Source: FOI March 2012.  (For a fuller list, see point 27 of this provider guidance.)

Many people are given the impression that they must do the Work Experience scheme or face sanctions. This is not the case: you do not have to agree to do it and you can leave without facing direct sanctions.

Beware that if you don’t have recent work experience, and do not consider volunteering, the Work Experience scheme or any other way of gaining work experience, you may be referred to another scheme or measures such as daily signing.

Sector-based Work Academies

These are 6 weeks long and involve both “pre-employment training” and a work experience placement. You don’t have to take part in them, but if you start and then drop out you could be sanctioned.

“Claimants’ decision to take part is voluntary, but attendance becomes mandatory once a claimant has accepted a place” Source: Commons Library Research Briefing, June 2015

Avoid being threatened with Mandatory Work Activity if you drop out – do not start these schemes

Starting and then dropping out of either work scheme gives the Job Centre the right to send you on Mandatory Work Activity (MWA). This is even the case for work experience, when officially you cannot be sanctioned. Source: pt 18 of MWA provider guidance

Due to possible sanctions, or subsequent MWA referrals, if you decide to stop the placements or academies – it is best to use your rights to not start a work experience placement or SBWA. If you want to do work experience, do it outside the control of the job centre.

We have found that people have been referred to MWA for refusing a work experience placement. This should not happen, see MWA guidance.


[EXPAND Work Programme work placements: Find out if it is mandatory]

Not all ‘work experience’ is mandatory

Don’t believe what they tell you: if you have not received a written mandatory activity notification, you can leave work experience at any time. If your placement is not for “community benefit” it is almost certainly not mandatory.

Work Programme providers like to imply that you risk sanctions, but if you have not received a Mandatory Activity Notification in writing, then you will not be sanctioned for leaving:

“participants can leave without sanction consequences” (point 9, Provider guidance)

“…only if the participant loses their work experience on a voluntary basis due to his/her gross misconduct that a sanction may be imposed” (point 3, Provider guidance)

“If no written notice is given to the claimant then no sanction can be imposed, including for gross misconduct” (point 9, Decision Makers’ Memo, 2012)

Your provider may mandate you to “maintain basic standards of good behaviour” but, still, you will only be sanctioned if you have committed gross misconduct. See point 27 of this provider guidance for an  list of the kind of things that might be gross misconduct.

Note: Volunteering or work experience you have arranged yourself of your own free will may be subject to sanctions for gross misconduct if it is recorded on your action plan.

Community Benefit Mandatory Work Placements

From 3rd December 2012, these placements will apply to people claiming ESA as well as those on JSA.

Is it mandatory?

“Community Benefit” placements are not necessarily mandatory, as they can be arranged under the same guidelines as voluntary work experience (see point 50). Find out if your placement is mandatory.

Providers have to do the following to make an action mandatory (and sanctionable):

“issue a separate MAN [Mandatory Activity Notification] for each activity and it must be clear on the notification that the activity is mandatory.” (point 10, guidance on mandation)

“It is a requirement that any change to what is required is notified on a new MAN to the participant so that it is specific to the new activity. It is also important to issue it in good time.” (point 11, guidance on mandation)

Mandatory Activity Notifications (MANs) must be in writing (not simply via text or email alone), and specify particular information. Check whether an MAN you have received meets the criteria in point 4 here.

Room to negotiate?

It is down to your provider whether or not they make the placement mandatory (and therefore if it carries the threat of sanctions if you do not take part). You may have strategies to persuade them not to!

The government tells your provider: “It is your decision whether to mandate the JSA participant or not to a work placement.” (point 49, Provider guidance)

Lots of the details of Community Benefit mandatory placements must be decided by the provider according to a set of guidelines. You may like to challenge whether it meets the guidelines which state:

There are no minimum or maximum periods for unpaid work experience or unpaid community benefit work placements; however, any activity to which a claimant is mandated must be reasonable in their circumstances.. (point 54, Provider guidance)

Before arranging a work placement, you should check whether the participant has any agreed restrictions on the type of work/hours or times of work that they can do; as they will need to be flexible to reflect individual’s circumstances. (point 43, Provider guidance)

Consideration should also be given to any health condition or disability and any reasonable adjustments to ensure the suitability of the placement. (point 44, Provider guidance)

A community benefit work placement must be of benefit to the community over and above the benefit of providing a placement to the individual. You should be able to clearly describe to DWP the community benefit(s) the placement is delivering. (point 45, Provider guidance)


[EXPAND Traineeships: You Don’t Have to do the Work Placement]

Traineeships are for 16-24 year olds and last up to 6 months. Like Sector-Based Work Academies, they include ‘work preparation training’ and a work placement 6-8 weeks long (see point 4 of this guidance).  They  include English and Maths teaching up to GCSE level, if you don’t have those GCSEs already.  The work placement can be spread across a few different companies (see point 58 of this summary).

The training part of Traineeships is compulsory, but the work placement part is not:

“A claimant must agree to go on a traineeship, and once they have agreed, they are then mandated to attend the training elements. However, a claimant cannot be mandated to take part in the work experience element of Traineeships.” Source: point 8 of this Decision Makers’ Memo, 2013.

“From the first Work Focused Interview, Traineeships should be considered as a non mandatory referral option for claimants who are eligible and interested.” Source: point 5 of this guidance.

But, like placements on the Work Experience scheme, you could still be sanctioned if you are dismissed due to “gross misconduct”:

“The only reason a claimant could be sanctioned for a failure to take part in the work experience element of the Traineeship is if the claimant lost the place due to gross misconduct.” Source: point 8 of this Decision Makers’ Memo, 2013.

You can still be sent on a traineeship if you’re working a few hours a week and claiming some form of benefit (up to 16 hours – see points 11, 19 and 20 of this guidance). But, if you have recent work experience (point 9), or are learning English (point 35), you should not be sent on a traineeship and should challenge your referral.


Community Work Placements: Read this flyer (PDF)

[EXPAND Work Programme Top Tips]

Fact: Not all ‘work experience’ on the Work Programme is mandatory.
Fact: The only personal data you need to share with a Work Programme provider (such as A4e) is your referral letter and signing on book.
Fact: You don’t have to sign any Work Programme provider documents or forms.
Fact: Your CV is personal data and you don’t have to give them a copy to keep.
Fact: A written Mandatory Activity Notification must be given if they want to make anything sanctionable or to keep or see personal info they do not already hold.
Fact: The Job Centre can postpone starting the Work Programme for 90 days if you have a job interview, or are expecting to work soon, or are a survivor of domestic violence.  If you are a survivor of domestic violence, you can get this period extended (see point 48 of this guidance).
Fact: If you are on another Job Centre scheme, more than 6 months pregnant or a survivor of domestic violence you do not have to do the Work Programme (see point 48 of this guidance).

donotsign.com and consent.me.uk are essential sources of information about your rights on the Work Programme.


More information on the other schemes coming soon.