CHARITIES are being blockaded and intimidated by campaigners into giving up offering unpaid work placements to benefit claimants, it has been claimed.

One Glasgow charity said its premises had been subject to nuisance phone calls and demonstrators turning up to blockade shops.

Glasgow, the Caring City is one of several voluntary organisations to have taken part in the Department for Work and Pensions' Workfare scheme, which requires some people claiming benefit to work for free as part of efforts to get back into employment.

However many charities have refused to participate in the scheme over concerns that people who are required to work in return for benefits are not truly volunteering.

Supporters of the group Boycott Workfare have targeted charities which do take part, accusing them of exploiting claimants, however the campaign group denies acting maliciously or intimidating workers.

Glasgow, the Caring City, which is currently fundraising for earthquake relief efforts in Nepal, has been providing supported work placements for long-term unemployed people for two and a half years, and claims 65 per cent have found work directly or indirectly.

However international projects manager Ross Galbraith said the combination of reputational damage and threats to cut off the charity's revenue streams had forced the charity to pull out of work with learndirect, who have a contract to run the volunteer programme with the DWP.

"We have been blockaded, with campaigners and banners outside," he said. "We had nuisance phone calls.

"We had an initial conversation with Boycott Workfare which was very positive, but now we have had to pull out of the work placements."

Unlike private sector employers, who have been accused of using claimants as free labour, jobseekers sent to charities are unlikely to be displacing people from 'real' jobs.

And although he has some sympathy with the position of the protesters, Mr Galbraith believes they are misguided.

"Boycott Workfare don't realise there is a knock-on effect and if we don't support these placements someone else will, and they will be less scrupulous than us. People may well end up in a business where they are replacing jobs," he said.

Another Glasgow charity, Starter Packs, which supports homeless families and individuals, gave up providing volunteer placements six weeks ago.

Manager Gavin Dunbar said the level of aggression online and in person from supporters of Boycott Workfare had not been fair on the charity's shop and office staff.

"We didn't get involved in the programme to get free labour or people, the aim was to be helpful," he said. "Not everyone agreed with the programme, but most of the people who came through it got jobs. As a small charity, struggling for help it had been a real boost for us as well."

When campaigners started coming into the shop and staff were targeted online, Starter Packs' board took the decision to remove the charity from the programme, he said.

The Salvation Army, which has also provided placements to jobseekers, has had several demonstrations outside its Edinburgh shops.

A spokesman said a review of the current system of benefit sanctions was necessary but he said the organisation were continuing to offer the placements.

He said: "We have seen first-hand the positive benefits people gain from being in work, volunteering or taking part in a work-experience placement - becoming part of a community where you are building your confidence, job skills, and discovering new things about yourself."

John Downie, Director of Public Affairs at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: "These compulsory unpaid work placements are exploitative, take completely the wrong approach to supporting people back into work and simply don't work.

"However, it goes without saying that organisations which do opt into workfare should not be bullied or pressurised into leaving the scheme."

Boycott Workfare said they have received no complaints from the charities, adding that Glasgow, the Caring City had actually thanked them online for "constructively communicating" with the charity and changing their stance.

Lynne Friedli, a member of Boycott Workfare, denied that the campaign group had intimidated the charities, adding: "We would never condone intimidation and harassment, but we do think that the public has a right to know if charities are involved in Workfare.

"We have a long and very honourable tradition of peaceful demonstrations and campaigning and if there's any suggestion of aggression or intimidating behaviour we want to know about it and we would be the first to deal with it."