The Employment Related Services Association, the representative body for employment support providers, has today commented on the publication of the National Audit Office (NAO) report on the value for money of the Work Programme. 

In particular, ERSA welcomes the recognition by the NAO that the Work Programme is achieving similar performance levels to previous back to work programmes, including for jobseekers on Employment and Support Allowance and that the DWP confirms that performance is expected to improve. This is despite overall funding being 40% lower than predecessor programmes and the more difficult economic backdrop in recent years.  This good news comes on the back of positive performance figures last month showing that 550,000 people had entered work through the Work Programme, 300,000 of whom had gone onto long term employment and that all targets had been met. 

However, ERSA rejects the NAO’s claims that investment in ESA jobseekers has fallen.   Contractors have not reduced their spending on jobseekers on ESA – in fact spending has gone up. Work Programme providers are investing, on average, 60% more on ESA jobseekers than the NAO report claims.  The NAO appears to have confused money received by providers in payment with the money spent on them. 

On the NAO’s comments on the potential issue with the sustainment payment regime, ERSA believes there may be a technical issue which it will work with the sector and the DWP to investigate and if proven to be real, resolve.  Any changes will need to avoid burdening employers with unnecessary bureaucracy. 

ERSA chief executive, Kirsty McHugh, said:

‘Today’s report show conclusively that the Work Programme is performing well for jobseekers, government and taxpayers.  It’s quite an achievement that performance is the same level as predecessor programmes despite there being less cash in the scheme and a more challenging economic backdrop.

However, the NAO gets it wrong on support for jobseekers on ESA.  Work Programme providers are spending on average 60% more on ESA jobseekers than the NAO report claims. This is why performance here is improving, albeit more slowly as many of these jobseekers are a long way from the labour market.’

On the validation sustainment regime, she said:

‘All providers, whether prime or subcontractor, private sector or charity, have been working to the same government approved system in relation to claims for sustainment payments.  There is no implication that any provider has done anything wrong. 

‘What the NAO is highlighting is a technical issue related to the fact that the very small number of sustainment claims which fail government checks are not extrapolated across contracts.  This was a rational decision made by the DWP to avoid burdens on business. 

‘To put this in context, of the 2.35 million sustainment payments reported by the DWP as having been paid to providers up until end March 2014, under 2,000 appear to have failed government checks.  Of these, providers and DWP believe that 75% are in work – just with another employer.  Conversely, the DWP has highlighted 26,000 individuals who have found work through the Work Programme for which providers have not been paid.  This constitutes between £18 million and £30 million lost income to the scheme.’


Press enquiries should be directed to Anna Robin 07912 569 449 /

Notes to Editors

1. The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) is the sector body for those delivering or with an interest in welfare to work services.  ERSA’s membership spans the private, voluntary and public sectors and ranges from large multi-nationals through to small specialist charities.  It has over 140  members including all prime contractors of the Work Programme.
2. The Work Programme is the government’s largest back to work scheme and caters for the most disadvantaged jobseekers in the labour market. Further information about how the programme operates, including the financial model, is available in this Policy Briefing on ERSA’s website.
3. ERSA’s Work Programme Performance Report is designed to provide statistical information on the performance of the Work Programme. It provides information on ‘Job Starts’, the number of participants starting a job on the programme.  The report can be found here.
4. The Government’s official statistics on sustained Job Outcomes, jobseekers who have been in work for (in most cases) six months are available here.
5. ERSA is able to set up interviews with jobseekers who have found work, Work Programme providers and employers who are recruiting form the scheme. Case studies are available on ERSA’s website and on YouTube. Interviews with ERSA’s Chief Executive Kirsty McHugh are available on request.