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Department decline to provide details of Stormont employment scheme

Steps 2 Success was launched in October 2014 and is a mandatory job scheme, with sanctions for those who fail to participate. Picture by Stephen Davison

THE Department for Communities has declined to provide details on how many participants in a compulsory Stormont employment scheme have been hit with sanctions in the past year.

The department has also said it does not hold the information required on the average "cost per job" created by the Steps 2 Success programme, which has faced criticism after the latest figures showed that fewer than one in five were still in work a year after completing the scheme.

Steps 2 Success is mandatory for those claiming Jobseeker's Allowance for 12 months or more, or nine months for those under the age of 24, with benefit cuts enforced for claimants who fail to participate in the programme or miss appointments.

Last autumn, then communities minister Paul Givan confirmed that 5,333 benefit sanctions had been applied to people on the scheme.

However, in a Freedom of Information request seen by The Irish News, the department has declined to provide the number of sanctions for the period from June 2016 to June this year, citing cost and staff time limits.

In a separate FOI request, the department said it "does not have the financial information required" regarding the cost per job created.

At the launch of Steps 2 Success in October 2014, the measure of cost per job was named as one of six "key performance indicators" to be used to assess the effectiveness of the scheme.

Statistics released in August show that 36 percent of those who began the programme in June last year found work, but just 17 percent of those were still employed a year later, albeit a slight improvement on previous figures.

Three contractors - Ingeus UK in Belfast, EOS Works in the north-west, and Reed in Partnership in the southern area - were paid £32.4 million between October 2014 and June this year.

The department said previously that it intends to conduct an "external evaluation" of the programme this year.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities said the information was unavailable "due to the complex nature of the funding model, time required to complete the programme and the method of performance measurement".

"In relation to sanctions statistics, the department's response in relation to the request for statistics on financial sanctions is in line with the Information Commissioner's Office guidance. Previous information provided under FOI went beyond the requirements of the Act."

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