Background to the report

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) set up the Restart scheme to help people made unemployed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government announced that there would be a new large-scale provision for long-term unemployed people in the July 2020 Plan for Jobs and announced £2.9 billion of funding for the Restart scheme in the November 2020 Spending Review.

Jump to downloads

At that time, DWP intended that Restart would “provide intensive and tailored support to more than one million unemployed people and help them find work” by providing up to 12 months of tailored support for each participant. DWP initially targeted the scheme at people who were required to search for work as part of their Universal Credit claim, and who had been unemployed for between 12 and 18 months. DWP expected that Restart would support around 1.43 million people. The last Restart participants are expected to start the scheme in June 2024 and finish in June 2025.

Under Restart, DWP pays eight prime contractors across 12 contract areas that cover England and Wales, to provide coaching and tailored support to participants. The contracts are hybrid ‘payment by results’ contracts, which means the amount that each contractor receives depends largely on the number of people moving into sustained work, although there is also a fixed delivery fee. Prime contractors choose how to support people and are also able to subcontract some or all of the support. Including the subcontractors, there are a total of 77 providers.

Scope of the report

This report builds upon our June 2021 report, Employment support which presented an overview of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the labour market and DWP’s response; and our November 2021 report, Employment support: The Kickstart Scheme, which looked in more detail at DWP’s employment response for young people. It looks at the Restart scheme, DWP’s employment support response for people who are long-term unemployed, in the light of the reduced demand and decision to renegotiate the contracts. Our report covers whether:

  • DWP set up Restart to meet the needs of long-term benefit claimants
  • DWP did enough to understand the demand for the scheme
  • DWP’s commercial approach for Restart was appropriate
  • DWP still has a strong economic case for Restart

Report conclusions

Restart provides a useful service to help the long-term unemployed gain employment, which based on the impact of previous schemes will have significant net benefits to the wider economy. DWP has also improved its contracting since its previous similar scheme, the Work Programme, and helped its work coaches to target Restart at those claimants it is most suitable for, within the eligibility requirements it has set.

However, we believe Restart could have cost less. Given the economic forecast in 2020, DWP reasonably expected demand to be high. It had to support providers to build capacity to meet that demand after a period of limited spending on employment support, so DWP could not place as much emphasis on competition as it otherwise would.

But DWP did not properly assess how many of its claimants would be suitable for the programme or plan for the possible scenario of significantly lower demand before it entered into contracts. This left it with fewer options to reduce the cost when demand was lower. As a result, Restart is more expensive per person than originally intended and more expensive per person than previous similar schemes.


Publication details

Press release

View press release (2 Dec 2022)

Latest reports