Edit: How can Work Experience be “voluntary” when they include benefit sanctions?
For some time the introduction of the Youth Obligation has been discussed here, most of the emphasis has been on saying it’s 3 month “Guaranteed work experience” placements are mandatory forced-labour (#workfare). However, the answer to a recent parliamentary question said the placements are “voluntary”:
“To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether young people on the new Youth Obligation programme who have not found employment at the end of six months will be obliged to accept a mandatory work placement.
Answered on: 25 January 2018
Claimants on the Youth Obligation programme who are still unemployed after receiving intensive support for six months will be offered work-related training or a three month work experience opportunity to help them achieve their job goals. The claimant will not be referred to a work experience opportunity unless they agree that it is the right opportunity for them. Participation in the work experience opportunity is voluntary”
‘Employment Schemes: Young People:Written question – 124173‘
But why raise this question if it was so obvious YO Work Experience has always been voluntary? It is clear the original intention was that YO “work experience” was to be forced-labour #workfare or face benefit sanctions for refusal:
“To help young people move into and get on in work, the Budget will introduce a new Youth Obligation for 18 to 21 year olds on Universal Credit. From April 2017, young people will participate in an intensive regime of support from day 1 of their benefit claim, and after 6 months they will be expected to apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship, gain work-based skills, or go on a mandatory work placement to give them the skills they need to move into sustainable employment.”
Summer Budget 2015 – Published 8 July 2015
The Youth Obligation comes under Universal Credit and DWP’s ‘Advice for decision making  states:
In UC legislation there is no definition of work experience. Participation in a work experience opportunity is on a purely voluntary basis and a low – level sanction cannot be imposed where the claimant fails to comply for no good reason with a work experience opportunity…”
Apologies for confusion, this stems from various DWP Freedom of Information responses  using less than plain English on the topic of mandated work experience, this may stem from the fact that the “Youth Obligation is not defined in legislation” .
This adds to another example of the DWP originally saying Work Experience placements on the Work and Health Programme were going to be mandatory, to later make them voluntary.
On reflection the best place to look to assess what mandatory sanction based requirements exist for UC and it’s Youth Obligation are the DWP’s ‘Advice for decision making‘, like ‘Chapter K5: Low – level sanctions ‘, specifically sections K5038 -K5059 and K5060, extracts of which are below. 
For Universal Credit (UC), as Work Experience is not defined in legislation it would appear it cannot be mandated, including for the UC Youth Obligation. This may all stem from the landmark court case ‘Caitlin Reilly and Jamieson Wilson v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions‘ (Poundland case), which led to the emergency retrospective ‘Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013‘, to stop 231,000 claimants getting unlawful benefit sanctions repaid as the case highlighted various forced-labour #workfare schemes had not been defined/prescribed in legislation.
The DWP seems to have some vested interest to obfuscate on it’s lack of powers to mandate UC work experience or a work placement? Or maybe the DWP and the Conservative administration do not want to make use of the powers outlined in Section 16(3)(e) of the 2012 Welfare Reform Act for fear of a further Reilly & Wilson court case and campaigning by likes of Boycott Workfare and Keep Volunteering Voluntary.
There is also two Private Members Bills going through Westminster, that highlight unpaid work.
Welfare Reform Act 2012
(3)Action which may be specified under subsection (1) includes in particular—
(a) attending a skills assessment;
(b)improving personal presentation;
(c) participating in training;
(d) participating in an employment programme;
(e) undertaking work experience or a work placement;
On a final note the DWP did say in one FOI reply that Youth Obligation Work Experience placements would be with ‘charity’ and public sector authorities
, sometimes referred to as ‘community benefit’ (CM) organisations. However, CM work placements are usually prescribed in mandatory ‘work for benefit’ schemes. By making UC and YO UC work experience ‘voluntary’ this could better facilitate placements with for-profit companies like Tesco
Volunteering and benefits
‘Chapter K5: Low level sanctions’
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/661719/admk5.pdf via https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/advice-for-decision-making-staff-guide – Download (pdf)
In UC legislation there is no definition of work experience. Participation in a work experience opportunity is on a purely voluntary basis and a low – level sanction cannot be imposed where the claimant fails to comply for no good reason with a work experience opportunity either
1. by way of a work preparation requirement (see K5061)
2. as part of participation in a mandatory employment scheme such as the Work
Programme, sector-based work academies or traineeship (see K5034 et seq
for guidance on mandatory employment schemes).
 Chapter K5: Low – level sanctions
“K5038 Youth Obligation is not defined in legislation”
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/661719/admk5.pdf – Download (pdf)
Youth Obligation is not defined in legislation. It is a policy lead initiative where from
day 1 of their claim, an 18-21 year old in the AWRR group, will be required to
participate in an intensive period of support to help them become effective
jobseekers as quickly as possible.
Note 1: Claimants are required to take part in Youth Obligation as a work
1 (i.e. an action that the Secretary of State thinks will make
it more likely that the claimant will obtain paid work (more or better- paid work).
Note 2: The Secretary of State has an obligation to ‘specify’ any work
connected requirement clearly to the claimant (see guidance in ADM Chapter K1 for
the meaning of ‘specify’ and notifying requirements).
Claimants may face a low-level sanction where they fail for no good reason to
comply with mandatory requirements while on Youth Obligation in the first 6 months
of participation. For example, failing to participate in
1.the intensive activity programme
3.coaching sessions (‘follow–up’) interviews
4.work search reviews
which are mandatory requirements and will be subject to the imposition of a low-
level sanction where the claimant cannot show good reason for any failure to
(see K5051 et seq).
Tom is participating in Youth Obligation. He has been in receipt of UC for 2 months.
He is notified of the requirement to participate in a workshop on 18.5.17 and a follow
up interview by phone with his work coach on 23.5.17.
Tom attends and participates in the workshop but fails to take part in the follow up
Tom cannot show good reason for his failure to comply. He states he forgot about
The DM is satisfied that Tom was adequately notified of the requirement to take part
in the follow up interview and of the circumstances of failing to comply and that it
was reasonable in the circumstances.
The DM imposes a low-level sanction for the failure.
At six months of the claim
Those on Youth Obligation still claiming UC after six months will be encouraged to
1. apply for
1.1 an apprenticeship
1.2 a traineeship
2. gain work-based skills through a guaranteed work experience opportunity
lasting 3 months
3. participate in a sbwa
to give them the skills they need to move into sustainable employment.
Referral to any of the options in K5040 is voluntary. Claimants opt in to the
opportunity they agree will provide the support they need. See further guidance at
1. K5042 for those claimants who volunteer to participate in a sbwa
2. K5043 for those claimants who volunteer for the guaranteed 3 month work
3. K5046 for those claimants who volunteer for a traineeship
Participating in a sbwa
K5042 If a claimant who has been on Youth Obligation for 6 months agrees to a sbwa, they are required to participate in the training element and the guaranteed interview (if
one is offered). If they fail to do so without good reason, a sanction will apply. The
claimant will also be offered a work experience placement as part of their
participation in the sbwa. Whilst their decision to take part in the work experience
placement is voluntary, if they agree to a placement they will be expected to start. If
they fail to start, without good reason a sanction will apply. If they start but they or
the employer later decides that the placement is not suitable they may leave and a
sanction will not apply. However, if they start the work experience placement and are
asked to leave because of their misconduct they may be sanctioned. See further
guidance at K5034.
Adam is on Youth Obligation and has been in receipt of UC for 6 months. He
volunteers to take part in the sbwa scheme and participates as required in the
training element and guaranteed job interview.
He agrees to and starts a work experience placement and after week 2 the
employer and Adam agree the work is not suitable for him.
A sanction cannot be considered.
Guaranteed 3 month work experience placement
If a claimant agrees to participate in a guaranteed 3 month work experience
opportunity but changes their mind before they start or during their placement, a
sanction cannot be applied. However, if they do take up the guaranteed 3 month
work experience placement and are dismissed for gross misconduct they may be
sanctioned. See further guidance at K5063
Poppy is offered a 3 month guaranteed work experience placement as part of Youth
Obligation and agrees to take part. She has been in receipt of UC for 6 months.
She attends the interview and agrees to start the work experience placement in a
After the third week Poppy decides to leave the work experience placement as she
does not think the work is for her. She is struggling to keep up with the heavy
physical demands of the job to meet the required targets set for a warehouse
No sanction can be considered.
Peter is on Youth Obligation and volunteers for a 3 month quaranteed work
experience placement at a garage.He is dismissed from the work experience
placement for assaulting a colleague and causing actual bodily harm.
His conduct can be regarded as gross misconduct and a low-level sanction
K5046 If a claimant who has been on Youth Obligation for 6 months agrees to a
traineeship, they are required to participate in the training element. If they fail
so for no good reason a sanction will apply.
The claimant will also be offered a work experience placement as part of their
participation in the traineeship. Whilst their decision to take part in the work
experience placement is voluntary, if they agree to a placement they will be expected
to start. If they fail to start for no good reason a sanction will apply. If they start but
they or the host employer later decides that the placement is not suitable they may
leave and a sanction will not apply. However, if they start the work experience
placement and are asked to leave because of their misconduct they may be
sanctioned. See further guidance on work experience at K5060
Meaning of fails to comply
Fails to comply is not defined in legislation and therefore takes its everyday meaning
of failing ‘to meet a specific requirement’. For employment programmes
, this includes a failure to take part in any activity which is specified by the Secretary of
1. the specific placement with what the provider expects
2. what is considered
in a working situation and in the claimant’s individual circumstances
, which makes it more likely in the opinion of the Secretary of State that the claimant will obtain paid work, more paid work or better-paid work.
Note: For the meaning of‘ specified’ and guidance on notifying requirements see
ADM Chapter K1 (Sanctions
Actions may include, for example
1. turning up for an interview
2. preparing an action plan
3. writing a CV
4. working as a team
5. displaying interpersonal skills
6. taking part in skills training
7. developing a business plan
8. improving personal presentation
9. attending a skills assessment
10. taking part in a work experience or work placement (
also see K5050)
11. taking part in workshops.
This is not an exhaustive list. The action can be any reasonable work-related activity
which in the opinion of the Secretary of State will improve a claimant
’s chances of obtaining paid work, more paid work or better-paid work. However see further guidance at K5060 regarding work experience.
The Secretary of State has an obligation to ‘specify’ any work
connected requirement clearly to the claimant (see guidance in ADM Chapter K1 for
the meaning of ‘specify’ and notifying requirements).
Note 2: It would be for the DM to consider all the facts and circumstances of the
case and the claimant’s reasons for any failure to comply
when determining whether to impose a sanction. If the DM can show there has been a sanctionable failure the burden of proof is then on the claimant to show good reason for the failure. For detailed guidance on good reason see ADM Chapter K2 (Good reason).
Imposition of requirements
For detailed guidance as to when and how a
1. work preparation requirement
2. connected requirement
2 (participating in an interview)
is imposed by the Secretary of State see ADM Chapter J3 (Work-related
requirements) See guidance at K5060 et seq where the work preparation
requirement is to apply for, attend or take part in work experience.
Note: Providers of certain employment schemes can be authorised persons under
3 to act on behalf of the Secretary of State (see K5033 and further
guidance on delegating and contracting out functions in ADM Chapter K1 (General
1 W R Act 12, s 16; 2 s 23; 3 s 29
Employment programmes such as those listed at K5031 are design
ed to help certain
claimants enhance their employment prospects and gain opportunities to develop
skills and disciplines associated with a normal working environment such as
1. attending on time,
2. carrying out tasks,
3. working as a team
4. gaining work experience
5. developing interpersonal skills
Those skills and disciplines
also include ‘behaviours’ acceptable in a place of work
Whilst on an employment programme, if a claimant uses inappropriate behaviour
once participating in the programme, this may be regarded as a failure to comply
with a specified work-related requirement, for example participating in the Wp sbwa
or a traineeship and a low level sanction could apply.
A claimant’s acts and omissions will be
considered by the DM under good reason
with reference to that claimant’s personal circumstances
see ADM Chapter K2
Note: Inappropriate behaviour can be any unreasonable act or omission shown
towards the employer, other employees or customers, or a refusal to do a specific
task, or where a claimant is particularly obstructive, uncooperative or unwilling.
Em starts a work placement as agreed in a charity shop, but is sent home on her
first day because of her attitude and rude behaviour towards the other staff and
customers. She continually uses obscene language. The DM can consider a
sanction as Em’s loss of the placement due to her behaviour is a failure to comply
with a work preparation requirement as specified by the Secretary of State. Her
behaviour is not considered acceptable or reasonable in a working situation.