About supported internships

Supported internships are structured work-based study programmes for 16-24 years olds with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND*) who have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP*). 

The aim of a supported internship is to create a substantial work placement for a person with SEND*, achieved with the support of a job coach.

Research tells us that the extent of a person’s ambitions and their ability to follow their dreams depends on how they have been supported throughout their life. 

By offering learning in the workplace, internships provide the opportunity for young people to achieve future sustained paid employment by equipping them with the skills they need for work. 

There is no requirement for an employer to pay the wages of a supported intern.

* SEND is a term used if an individual has a special educational need and/or disability which means they need additional support.

READ: The Employer Guide to Supported Internships

Intern eligibility

To participate in a supported internship, the employee must:

  • be aged between 16 and 24* and have a current Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP)**
  • be able to attend the supported internship for a minimum of 20 hours per week
  • be able to travel independently or to undertake travel training
  • have high aspirations of achieving high-quality, sustainable employment

* Some providers may offer internships within different age ranges, i.e. 18-24. Check with each provider for details.

** An Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) is a document created by professionals to ensure specific young people with SEND have the support needed to help them into and through adulthood. See an example EHCP here.

Intern suitability

People with SEND who are placed on a supported internship will:

  • be matched with the employer based on aspirations, skills and physicality of the job role
  • have a strong motivation to work
  • understand that they are expected to comply with real job conditions, such as timekeeping, annual leave, shift patterns and dress code
  • have experienced the world of work through previous careers provision in secondary and post-16 education
  • have a support network that shares their aspirations for paid employment

Flexibility of internship

Supported interns are in full-time education and their internship is part of their course. Placements last for a minimum of six months, and up to one year.

In all, 70% of an intern's time must be spent in the workplace, with the intern following a personalised study curriculum, including relevant aspects of English and maths, alongside their time with the employer. The specifics of what each intern studies will vary.

The specific roles undertaken by the intern could be modified during the course of the placement, and the intern could also be moved into another role as part of a rotation.

This flexibility gives employers the ability to address any specific business needs as and when required.

Financial benefits, expenses and support

Reduced recruitment and training costs

Applicants with SEND are more likely to seek job stability than non-SEND candidates, so are more likely to stay with a company for a long time, with research suggesting that a worker with a learning disability stays in work 3.5 times longer, on average, when compared to a co-worker without SEND.

Reduced staff turnover cuts down recruitment costs for employers, including on advertising a vacancy, salaried time spent reviewing applications and interviewing potential candidates, and training for new staff.

Greater company performance

Research has shown that companies that hire people with SEND tend to outperform others, with higher revenues, profit margins and net income.

Attracting "the purple pound"

The spending power of disabled households (people with SEND and their families) is known as “the purple pound”, and is estimated to be worth £249bn.

Employees with SEND are better able to identify improvements to products and services that will benefit people with SEND, thus attracting more customers with SEND.

Companies also risk losing customers with SEND without even realising it, with 75% of people with SEND having left a store or website due to problems with accessibility.

Salary costs

There is no legal requirement or expectation that the supported intern will be paid by the employer. Internship costs are covered through the individual's Education Health and Care Plan and the government education budget.

Supported internships are also exempt from National Minimum Wage regulations.

Expenses and tax

If you provide equipment or services to an employee with SEND so they can do their work, as the law encourages, this does not count as a taxable benefit. This means:

  • you don’t have to report it to HMRC
  • you don’t pay tax or National Insurance on it

This doesn’t change if your employee also uses the equipment or services outside of work. However, you must offer the use of equipment or services on similar terms to any other employee who has or who acquires SEND. Different rules apply if you provide a car to an employee with SEND.

Salary sacrifice arrangements

If you provide equipment or services as part of a salary sacrifice arrangement, they won’t be exempt from tax. You’ll need to report whichever amount is higher between a) the salary given up, and b) the cost of the items. These rules don’t apply to arrangements made before 6th April 2017.

Job coach support

The main role of a job coach is to provide individual support to both the supported intern and employer so that the young person can make a positive progression into paid employment.

Support for individuals

Every young person is supported in their work placement by a trained job coach who provides in-work support that tapers off, if appropriate, as the supported intern becomes familiar with their role.

Job coaches should be trained in supported employment and systematic instruction, a structured approach to teaching decision-making and new skills to people with SEND. A job coach is not the same as a learning support or teaching assistant role within education.

Support for employers

Job coaches also work with employers, increasing their confidence in employing individuals with additional needs and helping them to create and support a diverse workforce. They help employers offer meaningful work placements matched to the aspirations and skills of the individual, helping to adapt roles and tasks where possible and appropriate.

The Access to Work scheme can provide funding to help pay for a job coach to support someone in their workplace (including homeworkers).

Access to Work can also help pay for British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, lip speakers or note takers, vehicle adaptations, taxi fares to work, and a support worker on public transport or in the workplace.

Internships Work - support programme for employers

The Internships Work programme is a new scheme which aims to help 4,500 young adults, aged 16-25 with additional needs, to benefit from a supported internship per year by 2025.

It will work closely with local authorities to double the number of supported internships by 2025, engaging with employers and young people to support internships across the programme.

The programme includes the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi), British Association of Supported Employment (BASE), and DFN Foundation’s Project SEARCH.

Support to local authorities

NDTi will be supporting local authorities to establish and develop SEND employment forums, as well as administering and monitoring grants to support them with this programme.

Engaging and supporting employers

DFN Project SEARCH will lead on engaging employers and support them to offer high-quality work placements by providing information, advice and training that enables growth in internships and job opportunities.

Establishing a Supported Internships Quality Framework (SIQF)

BASE will be leading on establishing a sustainable process to improve the quality of supported internship provision, using a Quality Assurance framework. The Supported Employment Quality Framework will provide organisations with support on completing self-assessments and auditing so that they can work towards achieving a quality kitemark that shows that they are providing true supported internships that lead to real jobs.

Investing in training

BASE will also lead on delivering Job Coach & Systematic Instruction training to over 700 job coaches. 

For more information, please refer to the NDTi website >

Want to know more?

For more information and support, contact the Workforce Skills Team at Buckinghamshire Business First: