CHAPTER 7 Environment task force and Voluntary sector options

The Environment task force (ETF) option and the Voluntary sector (VS) option are very similar and consist of a 6-month work experience placement with a voluntary sector or environmental organisation, combined with the equivalent of one day a week in training towards an approved qualification.

Unlike the Employer and Full-time education & training options, these two options should offer more than simply helping unemployed young people.

The ETF option aims to (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 2):

This could involve (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3c):

Similarly, the VS option should provide "community benefit" – especially through small community-based organisations and, in particular, through ethnic minority organisations. The VS option aims to (NDPG (18-24), Ch 7, para 2):

Quality work experience

The two options are intended to improve your employability through "high quality work placements" (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3). You should not be asked to do "work which might otherwise be done by someone else" and thereby become a "substitute" worker (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3b).

Your work placement should involve "realistic levels of work which are appropriate to [your] needs and which make good use of [your] talents". You should be given the opportunity to demonstrate that you have the "work habits and behaviour sought by employers", including (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3b):

Your spell on either option is also meant to result in some other benefits to you which should include "remotivation, instilling confidence and demonstrating a positive attitude to employers" and should "lead to permanent jobs" (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3b).

The ETF and VS options are limited in duration to 6 months and do not necessarily pay a wage. But the Government says it does not want them to be seen as "sink options" for participants who have been unable to get an employer place or enter full-time education and training. The voluntary organisation or environmental project that you join should have a contract to deliver the New Deal option.

Suitability of the options

You will not usually be referred to these options until 3 months into the Gateway, although it may be possible to enter earlier if you indicate that you wish to do so.

You may be referred to one of the options if you decide that it is the option you want or if your 4 months in the Gateway are coming to an end and you have not secured a place on an option. In either case, if you receive written notification that you are required to attend the option then you must do so or you will face a benefit sanction (see Chapter 9).

These options are likely to be most suitable if you have received intensive help in the Gateway but have been unable to find work under the Employment option or "are not suited" to a subsidised job. In addition, you may not need any full-time education or training and therefore have not been referred to the FTET option. It is more likely, however, that you will be referred to ETF or VS because you (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 78):

You would also be expected to have a "genuine interest" in the environment or in the voluntary sector and to want to "make a positive contribution". This interest might therefore lead you to want to gain specialist work experience in these fields.

In addition, the ETF or VS may be suitable if you want to enter "a specialist employment field" and if these options offer a better way of eventually getting a lasting job than the other New Deal options. In these circumstances, you can join the option after a short period in the Gateway (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 79).

Starting on the VS or ETF options

For VS you are likely to be referred to a provider who will then find you a work placement with a local voluntary sector organisation. For ETF you are likely to be referred directly to one of the organisations undertaking the local ETF programme of work.

Within 4 weeks of your starting the option, the provider should agree with you a Personal Development Plan "to guide and structure [your] development" (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3f). This Plan will then form part of your New Deal Action Plan (see Chapter 3, page *).

The Personal Development Plan should say what your employability needs are and specify how the provider will achieve them. It should enable progress to be identified and recorded while you are on the option. It should also identify the community or environmental benefits which will be gained, outline your programme of participation and include jobsearch goals.

Your ES New Deal personal adviser will get a copy of your Plan. If the adviser thinks that it fails to meet the required criteria, s/he can return it to the provider for amendments, which should be agreed with you (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 49).

What happens on the options?

The options involve a combination of work experience, training and jobsearch. This should total at least 30 hours a week over 5 full days. The placement should start with an induction period – typically a week – during which the aims of the option and your placement will be explained to you (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3e). The induction should also explain hours of attendance, sickness procedures, health and safety arrangements and fire regulations.

What will the work involve?

You should be offered a work placement which provides a level of work "appropriate to [your] needs" (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3b). The kind of work you will do depends on the option, but it should take into account any health problem or disability you have (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3a).

Training

During your 6 months on the option you should receive the equivalent of one day a week off-the-job training leading towards an approved qualification. Your entitlement to training and the way it should be structured is the same as for the Employment option (see page *).

Driving lessons

In limited circumstances the £750 training payment (made to the provider) can be used to fund driving lessons to gain a car or motorcycle driving licence. The guidance states this "should only be done where it would lead directly to a job" (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 128). Jobseekers seeking to gain a licence in this way are expected to spend approximately 5 days but no more than 10 days on lessons for a licence. It is possible to gain driving licences for HGV and PSV provided "they will improve [your] mobility and therefore employability". Any additional costs including tests, resits, extra lessons and licence fees will not be funded through the New Deal (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 129). Other training must be agreed to make sure you receive at least 26 day off-the-job training

Jobsearch

You should be "allowed time and given support, guidance and resources to conduct structured and effective jobsearch". This may be provided by the organisation running your placement, by the provider who referred you to the placement or by a separate organisation. The amount of jobsearch help you receive should be based on your needs and may increase towards the end of your placement if you have not been able to find work (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3h).

Payment

For your 6 months on the placement, you will receive either a wage paid by the placement provider or an allowance paid by the ES. Some placements will offer a wage while others will offer the allowance only. It is important to determine which of these forms of payment you are being offered. You may want to find out whether you would be better off on a wage or on the allowance by getting a "better off" calculation to see if you would qualify for in-work benefits such as Housing Benefit (see the Unemployment and Training Rights Handbook – details on page *). ES guidance makes it clear that you can choose not to take up a waged placement if doing so would financially disadvantage you (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3i). For more details of the implications of opting for a wage or an allowance, see page *.

If you are on the allowance you will receive your benefit plus a £400 grant paid in instalments over the 6-month period (this averages £15.38 a week). This will usually be paid on the same day that your JSA is currently paid. You will also get help from your provider to meet any travel costs above £4 a week (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3i). If you are paid an allowance you must declare any part-time earnings (NDPG (18-24), Ch 4, para 202).

If you are on a wage, you are eligible for the appropriate rate of the minimum wage. The rate is £3.20 either because you are aged 18–21 (the £3.20 rate applies for this age group from June 2000) or because you will be in the first 6 months of a new job and receiving accredited training.

The choice is yours. If you go into a waged placement you will sign off JSA – by sending back your form ES40 – and you become an employee. As with the Employment option, this means that you are likely to be eligible for some extra financial assistance on moving into work and may be able to claim in-work benefits on an on-going basis (see page *).

Childcare costs

If you have chosen to be on a wage rather than a benefit-based allowance you will not be eligible for cash help with childcare costs from your option provider.

There is no Discretionary Fund (see page *) for the ETF and VS options. However, if you are receiving an allowance and you have childcare needs, you may receive financial help from your option provider. The conditions for paying childcare expenses are the same as if you were making a claim from the Discretionary Fund.

Payment can be made up to, but not including, the first Tuesday in the September following your child’s 15th birthday. The childcare must be provided by a registered childminder or nursery which conforms to the 1989 Children Act. Payments will be authorised by an ES official after first discussing any "alternative options" you may have.

Payments will be made only if you are (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 115):

You can receive up to £20 per day for the first child and up to £30 per day for two or more children (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 109).

Problems, support and responsibilities

You will have regular reviews of your progress and performance. This will involve all the appropriate people, e.g. the provider, your ES New Deal personal adviser and a mentor (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3g).

If you have a problem or complaint about your placement, you should approach the provider or your ES personal adviser, or you can phone the confidential national hotline number (0800 163 339)

Attendance

If you are on an allowance (not a wage), you are required to attend on the days and hours as agreed with your provider. If you are working full-time on the ETF or VS options, this will be a minimum of 5 days, for at least 30 hours a week (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3a).

Part-time work

If you are on the ETF or VS and work part-time in a separate job you are required to attend the option for a minimum of 20 hours a week. The hours you spend on the part-time work must be used to balance the number of hours spent on the option. You must always attend at least 20 hours on the option. For example, if you work for 5 hours a week, you will attend ETF or VS for at least 25 hours a week; if you work for 10 hours or more a week, you will attend the option for at least 20 hours a week (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 81).

Authorised absence

Sickness

The guidance states that the "provision for sickness absence is not to be regarded as an ‘entitlement’". You will be allowed up to 2 weeks certificated or 6 days self-certificated sickness at any time and still remain on the option (NDPG (18-24), Ch 4, paras 220-232). Absences in excess of this may affect your continued participation. Your provider will discuss the reasons for your absence with the ES personal adviser. ES personal advisers are told to "consider whether another benefit is more appropriate". The guidance states "if there are genuine and unavoidable reasons for absence then the participant should be allowed to continue. However repeated absence/non-attendance are not acceptable".

If you take more than a total of 10 working days of sickness during the period of the option then your provider can dismiss you (NDPG (18-24), Ch 4, para 229).

If you are sick you must telephone on your first day of absence. If you are sick due to a disability you should be "allowed additional appropriate time". If you have been off sick and do not have a certificate from your doctor, you should be asked for a satisfactory explanation of your illness when you return to the option. Your provider is responsible for monitoring sickness and should keep in touch with you through your sickness and help you back to the option as soon as possible.

If you are paid a wage on the ETF/VS option the ES personal adviser will contact you to ask you about your illness and will discuss future attendance. Payments will continue as long as:

Holidays

You are allowed to take up to two weeks holiday while on an option which gives you an allowance. The guidance states that the "provider will need to consider what is reasonable in the light of the length of the programme". You will be encouraged to take holidays during any national or public holidays. You should also be allowed additional time for religious/cultural holidays. If you wish to take a holiday and claim benefit you must contact the Jobcentre for advice as it could affect your benefit (NDPG (18-24), Ch 4, paras 236-239).

Hospital/doctor/dentist appointments

You should normally attend these appointments outside the time you go to your option. However, if this is not possible, or in emergencies, such appointments can be considered authorised absences. If you have regular appointments because of a disability you should be allowed to attend your appointments (NDPG (18-24), Ch 4, para 218).

Territorial Army

If you are a Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve then you may be allowed authorised absence to attend training camps (NDPG (18-24), Ch 4, para 219).

Public duties

If you have a public duty, such as jury service or as a part-time fire fighter, you should be given some authorised time off. However if the duty exceeds more than 5 successive working days your "provider will terminate the option" (NDPG (18-24, Ch 4, para 233). Check with your provider.

Unauthorised absence

Your are allowed a total of 5 days unauthorised absence from an option. On the fifth day your provider can dismiss you and will inform the Jobcentre.

Leaving early

It is important to be aware that if you leave the placement before the end of the 6 months (or if you have to leave because of misconduct) and you sign on again, you are likely to face a benefit penalty unless you can show that you have good cause for leaving. For details of New Deal sanctions, see Chapter 9.

After the placement

At the end of the 6-month placement on either VS or ETF, you will be entitled to receive a certificate and work reference from the provider in recognition of your achievements and progress (NDPG (18-24), Ch 6, para 3j). If you have not got a job to go to you will have to sign on for JSA again, and will be covered by the "follow-through strategy" (see page *).