DWP plans community work pilot for unemployed

Create Consortium scheme will allow claimants to keep benefits

A pilot project is being drawn up for a scheme that would allow unemployed people to do paid part-time work for community groups without losing their benefits.

The Create Consortium, a group of not-for-profit organisations, has met officials from the Department for Work and Pensions to discuss details of the scheme.

The DWP pledged to run a pilot of the 'community allowance' in its welfare reform white paper last year. The measure would allow people receiving unemployment or disability benefit to continue to claim it while doing paid community work for up to 16 hours a week.

The Create Consortium was set up to promote the community allowance. Naomi Alexander, its coordinator, said the allowance could create between 20 and 100 part-time jobs in almost 1,500 community organisations in the UK.

She said that community organisations tended to generate large numbers of short-term, part-time jobs, but that it was difficult to find people in deprived communities to fill them because of the way the benefits system was structured.

"A lot of part-time positions such as lollipop ladies and childcare assistants just aren't being filled in deprived communities," said Alexander. "That's because unemployed people often end up worse off if they take on this sort of work.

"A pilot project will allow us to create an evidence base to show how the community allowance will regenerate communities, help people back into work and save the Treasury money."

The Government has agreed to allow a trial for people claiming Employment and Support Allowance, introduced last year to replace incapacity benefit, but the consortium wants it extended to people on Jobseekers' Allowance.

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Unemployed people are missing out on volunteering opportunities because they are receiving the wrong information from job centres, says Volunteering England.

"If someone is volunteering part time, they are entitled to benefits," a spokeswoman for the organisation said. "We have done a lot of work to promote this, but there's still a lack of awareness among staff in job centres. It has got better in recent years, but people are still frequently told they will lose benefits when they volunteer, when this is not actually the case."

Many job centres were also unaware that volunteers were entitled to 48 hours' notice of a job interview and a week's notice of the start of any employment, the spokeswoman said.

The Department for Work and Pensions said it had produced a leaflet to help people understand the rules.

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