Charities face multiple barriers to delivering services successfully under the Work Programme, according to separate reports published today by the umbrella body the NCVO and the chief executives organisation Acevo.
Both reports say that third sector organisations have not yet received promised contracts from prime contractors.
The Acevo report, based on responses from 155 of the 372 charitable providers in the Work Programme, found that only 38 per cent of them had signed contracts.
The NCVO report, based on information from the Special Interest Group of Work Programme Sub-Contractors, a group of about 100 charities managed by the NCVO, found that of those that had signed contracts, many had not had a single client referred to them.
"There have been a number of civil society organisations that are operating as ‘specialist’ or ‘tier 2’ providers that have not yet received any Work Programme referrals, or in some cases even received contracts from their prime," the report says.
Many charities had refused to sign contracts because of "excessively unfavourable terms offered by primes", including low prices, high risk and the requirement to employ unwanted staff, it says.
The NCVO report also says that the Merlin Standard, intended to protect government subcontractors, was likely to be too weak to do the job required of it.
"Prime contracts are perceived as ‘too big to fail’, with successful accreditation largely a forgone conclusion," it says. "A further concern is that the timescale for all current prime contractors having to obtain Merlin accreditation within one year of starting their Work Programme contracts is too long, with many civil society subcontractors experiencing difficulties and non-Merlin compliant behaviours now."
The Acevo report says that only 8 per cent of charities are confident that the programme will hit its targets, and only 9 per cent feel its payment system is adequate to help those furthest from the labour market.
One respondent said the "minimum performance level could only be achieved by concentrating effort on participants who are already the most employable", while another said a large number of the hardest to reach "will be pushed to one side and forgotten about, and resources focused on clients that are likely to generate quick outcomes".