Government employment schemes

older man using mobile phone outside

The Government has set up a range of employment schemes intended to help people improve their job prospects and find work.

If you're over 50 and claiming disability or unemployment benefits, you have the same access to these schemes as younger people, apart from some specific options for people under 25. Some of the schemes are compulsory depending on how long you've been claiming benefits, and others are voluntary. Not all of the schemes are available in all areas of the UK.


Ask your Jobcentre Plus adviser for more information about any of the schemes listed below and look at the GOV.UK website.

To find out more about getting help from Jobcentre Plus and claiming Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) read our free factsheet:

If you're receiving Pension Credit you're entitled to use Jobcentre Plus services to help you find a job. 

Jobseeker's Allowance

To claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) you need to be under Pension Credit age and looking for work.

When you make a claim, a Jobcentre Plus personal adviser will write out a Jobseeker’s Agreement with you setting out the type of work you want and the steps you’ll take to find a job.

If your adviser feels you’re not keeping to this agreement or if you pull out of a compulsory employment scheme, you can be sanctioned. This means your benefits could be reduced or stopped for a period.

During your claim you’ll be called to 2 compulsory reviews, one after 13 weeks and the other after 26 weeks.

The Work Programme

This is a work experience scheme primarily intended to help you if you’ve been unemployed for more than 12 months.

The Work Programme runs for up to 2 years. You have to take part if:

  • you’ve received JSA for 12 months
  • you’re receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) in the work-related group and are close to being considered fit for work
  • you’ve started to receive incapacity benefits after getting JSA for 3 months.

Depending on your circumstances and the area you live in, the Work Programme may be mandatory if you’re receiving JSA and you’re disadvantaged in the jobs market, for example if you have a disability.

You can volunteer to go on the Work Programme if:

  • you get Pension Credit
  • you’re receiving ESA but aren’t required to take part
  • you get Income Support or Incapacity Benefit.

Other employment schemes

Jobcentre Plus advisers can also refer you to other schemes intended to help you find work or update your skills.

Updating your skills

Work clubs are for anyone who’s unemployed. You don’t need to be claiming benefits to join. They are run by local groups such as employers and community groups. Work clubs provide a place where you can make new contacts and get help on interview techniques and CVs. There may be one in your area or you could help to set one up. Visit the DWP website to find out more.

Skills Conditionality Programme is a training scheme that can help you gain new skills such as Information Technology to improve your chances of getting a job. It’s for people receiving JSA, or ESA in the work-related group. This programme is mandatory if your Jobcentre Plus refers you onto it. Your training should be provided by a college or other training organisation.

Work Together is a voluntary programme intended to help people improve their employment prospects by volunteering with a local organisation. Speak to your Jobcentre Plus adviser for information on opportunities in your area.

Schemes to help if you want to be self-employed

New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) offers help if you want to set up your own business. If you’re claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support or Employment Support Allowance in the work-related group you may be eligible for the scheme. If you’re accepted, a business mentor will help you develop your business plan.  Once your business is running you may be eligible for both a loan and a weekly allowance while you get started.

Enterprise clubs are similar to work clubs but aimed at helping you if you’re interested in self-employment. Visit the DWP website if you’re interested in setting one up.

See also the link to The Prince's Initiative for Mature Enterprise on the right hand side of this page.

Work experience schemes:

Sector-based Work Academies offer training and work experience for up to 6 weeks in specific areas of work with a guaranteed interview at the end. If you’re receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance in the work-related group you can ask to join this scheme.  It’s voluntary, but once you have accepted a place you have to attend for the full 6 weeks.

Community Action Programme is a new mandatory work experience scheme that is intended to help if you’ve been unemployed for a while. If you’ve been on the Work Programme and receiving JSA for 2 years you will be required to take a community work placement for up to 26 weeks .

Mandatory Work Activity is a mandatory 4 week placement of up to 30 hours per week. The available placements vary and are with providers contracted by the DWP. If you’re receiving JSA you may be referred to this scheme by your Jobcentre Plus adviser. The placement provider is responsible for reasonable childcare and travel costs while you are on this scheme.  You can’t be referred to this if you’re already taking part in the Work Programme.

Help if you’re disabled

If you’re disabled you can ask your Jobcentre Plus adviser to put you in touch with a Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) for support and advice.  Ask your DEA for more information about the following schemes.

Work Choice is a voluntary scheme available for people with a disability. You don’t have to be receiving benefits to apply.  It can give you support with things such as training or interview coaching and should be designed to meet your individual needs.

Residential training for disabled adults. If you’re unemployed, live in England and can’t find any suitable training courses locally you can apply for this. The courses take place in a residential setting in accessible buildings and many lead to National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).

You can also ask about Access to Work which is a grant available to disabled people about to start a job to help with things such as travel or specialist equipment.

Help if you’re a carer

Work Preparation Support for Carers is intended to provide support for you if you’re a carer and you want to return to work or update your skills in your current job. This includes access to training and advice on job hunting. Ask your Jobcentre Plus adviser whether you’re eligible for help with the cost of replacement care if you take part in training or go to interviews.

Your Age UK

Set your location to see what Age UK offers in your local area.

Age UK Advice:
0800 169 2081

Useful websites

  • Citizens Advice is a national network of advice centres offering free, confidential, independent advice. Their advice guide has more information on Government employment schemes

  • The Prince's Initiative for Mature Enterprises is an independent charity that specialises in helping the over 50s set up their own businesses.

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