Employment agency Calder UK has agreed to start paying volunteer centres that set up placements for jobseekers from its welfare-to-work scheme, after complaints that the firm was taking advantage of the centres.
Staff at volunteer centres in London boroughs including Southwark, Kensington and Chelsea, Islington and Camden had reported an increase in the number of jobseekers referred to them by Calder UK, one of the contractors delivering the Flexible New Deal programme to get jobseekers into employment.
They said advisers working for Calder UK had told jobseekers to find a four-week long volunteering placement, and in some cases had given the contact details of volunteer centres to them without first checking that the centres would be able to accommodate the jobseekers.
Clive Pankhurst, chief executive of Volunteer Centre Southwark, said the volunteer centres were not being paid by Calder UK for setting up the placements, but the firm was receiving money from the Department for Work and Pensions for running the welfare-to-work programme, of which the four-week voluntary work placement was a key part.
When asked by Third Sector why the firm did not pay volunteer centres for setting up placements for its clients, David Farrell, general manager of Calder UK, said he was not aware that the firm worked with volunteer centres.
He said he would meet staff from the centres to arrange a service-level agreement under which they would receive payments based on the number of volunteering placements they set up.
"If volunteer centres are being contacted by Calder UK clients, they need to speak to me before giving them placements," he said. "If we're going to use volunteer centres legitimately, we'll pay them."
Before learning about the new funding arrangement, staff at the volunteer centres had also raised concerns that some of the jobseekers referred to them by Calder UK were distressed because they feared losing their benefits.
"We had people ringing us in tears," Pankhurst said. "They said they needed to start volunteering as soon as possible. I feel sorry for the people because they are clearly getting stressed out, and seem to be treated as if they are on a conveyor belt."