A NORTH Ayrshire Council scheme designed to help out people who are searching for work has been lambasted for fining people who attend it for as little as tutting or having their hands in their pockets.

And the Department of Work and Pensions has now suspended referrals to the STRIVE programme pending investigation into the workings of the fines system.

North Ayrshire Council have hit back at the claims and have backed their programme but one person who attended the course, who wishes to remain anonymous, has hit out at the fines system and explained what it is like.

They said: “I’m currently unemployed and the Job Centre put me forward for the STRIVE course in Ardrossan, like everyone else in the course I’m on Job Seeker’s (some are on universal credit).

“Today was day two of the course and we were informed of a “fine” system they have in place that is mandatory.

“Now most of these fines are really cheap for things like hands in pockets etc... but checking your phone or having it go off outside of break time is an INSTANT £5 fine and if you don’t pay it on the spot you get kicked off the course....and since the Job Centre sent me there, getting kicked off the course is an instant sanction.

“One person got fined when their phone went off but only had £3 and had to borrow the rest from other people on the course.”

The STRIVE programme originates from Harlem in New York and helps the unemployed with training.

A spokesperson for North Ayrshire Council said: “The Lennox Partnership is contracted to run the Strive programme in North Ayrshire as part of a licensing agreement.

“The programme has been operating very successfully in North Ayrshire and other parts of Scotland for three years. Just last week, two young women from the current programme came along and spoke of their experiences to the Economic Development and Regeneration Board and talked about how the programme had given them the confidence they needed to present themselves professionally in a work place.

“The Strive programme has an extremely successful track record with 90 per cent of candidates on our most recent programme going on to secure employment. Most participants find the course

highly beneficial and carry forward the skills learned into their working life.

“The ‘fine’ system is used as a preventative measure to change behaviours and instil a professional attitude that employers will be impressed with.

“Any monies collected go towards a fund to provide provision for interview clothing, haircuts and interview travel expenses.

“Changing behaviours and developing a professional attitude to work is really beneficial to those people who perhaps because of their age or due to long-term unemployment have not had chance to gain good work experience. It also responds to calls from employers that want reliable staff, with good communication skills and a positive attitude to work.

“The programme is not mandatory and it is up to individuals whether they go on it or not. The fine system is an integral part of the project and anyone starting the programme is made aware of the terms and conditions prior to signing up.

“The Strive programme is voluntary and therefore no one will be sanctioned if they leave early.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We have suspended the referral of claimants to North Ayrshire Council’s STRIVE programme while we investigate these claims.”