Chancellor George Osborne has announced plans to introduce a new initiative to help the long term jobless back into work.

Currently there are three strands of support for the unemployed: standard Jobseeker's Allowance, the Work Programme, and Mandatory Work Activity.

The new Help to Work initiative is set take over from the Mandatory Work Activity scheme from April 2014. So, what will it mean for jobseekers once its rollout is complete?

Work Programme

The government's existing Work Programme is an overarching policy aimed at getting jobseekers back into work within a 2 year period.

The Work Programme rewards private contractors for placing jobseekers in paid employment, ensuring that JobCentres are not the only resource for training and advice.

In the beginning it is a voluntary scheme offering support, work experience and training to plug any skill gaps identified by your JobCentre adviser.

However, once you've been on Jobseeker's Allowance for 3 months (one year if you're aged over 25) you will automatically be enrolled on the Work Programme. You may also have to join the Work Programme if you receive the Work Related Activity portion of Employment & Support Allowance.

Currently, if you are still on the Work Programme after 2 years you'll have to attend an assessment interview with Jobcentre Plus to target your job hunting. You may also be moved onto Mandatory Work Activity at this point.

Mandatory Work Activity

Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) is an alternative to the Work Programme scheme; importantly, you cannot be on both at the same time.

Instead JobCentre Plus advisers can refer you onto MWA temporary work placements where they think it appropriate. You must then complete the placement or risk losing your benefits.

Placements last for four weeks and entail up to 30 hours' work, per week. While jobseekers can be sent on multiple placements, they cannot be made to complete more than 6 months' Mandatory Work Activity in total.

The penalties for failing to meet the terms of your placement are 3 months' loss of JSA for a first offence, 6 months for a second breach and 3 years for a third violation.

Placements are sourced and run by external providers, but may involve charity work and work within your local community. Under the scheme, your placement must pay for your reasonable travel, childcare and additional support costs.

The new Help-to-Work scheme

The government's new Help-to-Work scheme will kick in from April 2014, replacing Mandatory Work Activity. You will be moved onto the scheme after two years on the Work Programme.

Help-to-Work aims to provide full time, unpaid placements for the long term unemployed in which you must work for your benefits or risk being "sanctioned" and losing them.

Unlike MWA which was capped at 6 months, Help-to-Work is indefinite - lasting until you find employment. However you do have some say in your placements, with 3 options available:

  • Unpaid community work placements, such as gardening in public spaces or cooking meals for the elderly

  • Daily appointments at your nearest JobCentre

  • Compulsory training, e.g. to improve your literacy, numeracy, computer skills

If you don't choose one of the options yourself, your JobCentre Plus adviser can choose for you.

The sanctions have been pared down, compared to MWA at least. Under the Help-to-Work scheme you stand to lose four weeks' worth of Jobseeker's Allowance the first time you breach the rules of your placement; while second offences could mean you lose 3 months of benefits.