Returners Fund

Status:  Open to applications

Application Deadline: 30th March 2018 


A £1.5 million fund to support people in England back into work after time out caring. Voluntary and community sector groups, training providers, local enterprise partnerships, academic institutions, local authorities and private sector organisations are eligible.

Fund Value: £ 1,500,000
Maximum Value: £ 300,000
Minimum Value: £ 50,000

Value Notes
The programme has an overall budget of £1.5 million.
The upper limit for grants is £300,000. However, it is anticipated the majority of awards to be between £50,000 and £150,000.

Extended description

In the Spring Budget of 2017, the Prime Minister committed £5 million to “promote returnships to the public and private sectors, helping people back into employment after a career break.” This funding has been allocated to the Government Equalities Office (GEO) for the purpose of:

  • better understanding the returner cohort, what barriers it faces and what employers can do to harness its skills and experience;
  • increasing understanding of what is most effective in getting returners back to work across the private sector and in particular employment sectors;
  • increasing public awareness of the skills and experience returners offer; and
  • increasing the number of employment opportunities available to returners.
The GEO defines a ‘returner’ as a person who left paid employment for at least a year to take on a caring responsibility and would like to return to paid work at a level commensurate with their skills and experience. A returner may also be somebody who left paid employment for at least a year, but who has since returned to paid work at a lower skill level. The caring responsibility may be for children, elderly or sick relatives. Analysis of the Labour Force Survey shows that 89% of those who are economically inactive because they are caring for family or the home are women.
The Returners Fund offers grants to projects which help people to return to work in the private sector. These projects could help returners update their skills, provide other training, or support businesses to increase employment opportunities for returners. The fund will prioritise projects that focus on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), employers outside of London, and projects that support returners at all skill levels. This is part of the government’s wider strategy to develop the evidence base on what may help to close the gender pay gap.
Grants are available for organisations to run projects aimed at returners that:
create new job opportunities within the private sector and targeted employment sectors, including retail; law; tech and telecoms; science, technology, engineering and maths industries; creative industries;
could not otherwise be established by the market;
address specific barriers for returners and can be replicated at scale;
can demonstrate self-sustainability beyond the initial funding period of the grant;
increase understanding of how best to support a) returners to gain paid employment and b) employers to recruit and support returners.

Approximately 15-18 projects will be selected in total.                                                       

Latest Informaiton

There will be two funding rounds, one in the spring and one in the autumn 2018.
Expressions of interest for the first round of bidding must be submitted by 30 March 2018 and for the second round, by 16 August 2018.

Key Criteria

All types of organisations in England that can demonstrate they can support returners are eligible. This includes voluntary and community sector organisations, local training providers, local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), academic institutions, local authorities and private sector organisations. It is anticipated that most of the grant recipients under the Returners Fund will be voluntary and community sector organisations, social enterprises and training providers.
Ideally, grant recipients will be organisations that can demonstrate experience of providing specialist support for returners, including:
training and retraining;
recruitment/in-work support;
changing hiring and employment practices;
flexible working and job design, and/or reducing the gender pay gap.
Organisations without this experience are still welcome to apply, but must be able to demonstrate that they can provide suitable support to returners and/or employers of returners.
The grant funding is only available for eligible projects which are delivered in England.
Organisations must have an organisation bank account.

Eligible Expenditure

Funding can only be used for the start-up costs of new projects, training, and related support for returners.
The GEO is particularly interested to receive project applications that focus on at least one of the following:
returners to paid employment outside London (full or part-time);
non-graduate returners and/or those returning to non-professional employment;
people with the following protected characteristics:
BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic)
Older workers (aged 50+)
returners who have been out of paid employment for 10 years or more, and
creating employment opportunities for returners in SMEs.
Match Funding Restrictions
Employers in receipt of support, either directly or indirectly, that is beneficial must show consideration for self-funding and extending the programme beyond the initial funding from the Returners Fund, as well as sign up to the GEO best practice framework.

The GEO welcomes projects with match funding in place, or a clear plan to achieve that funding. However, the funds should be the primary source of funding for the project.


The following exclusions apply to this scheme:
Grants cannot be used to cover any costs incurred in applying to this fund.
Grants will not be awarded retrospectively ie for any costs incurred before the grant agreement has been signed and returned.
Funds will not be paid to individuals
Funding cannot be used to pay or subsidise the salaries of returners which must be met in full by employer(s). These start-up costs could cover experimental approaches so long as there is a clear plan for sustainability and replication following the project’s conclusion.

Payment Procedure

Grants will be paid monthly in arrears. Therefore, all applicants must have a secure cash flow – a minimum of three months’ operating costs held in reserve – to ensure the lead organisation’s financial security.

Those requiring support in completing an application are advised to email the grants team: or call 020 3291 3021.

Application Procedure

There will be two funding rounds, one in the spring and one in the autumn 2018.
Expressions of interest for the first round of bidding must be submitted by 30 March 2018 and for the second round, by 16 August 2018.
To apply for a Funding Programme, applicants must register on the programmes website
For further guidance, interested parties can download the Returners Fund Prospectus

Addressess and contacts

Application forms may be available to download on their website - or alternatively please check the funding body’s own website.
Contact details:
Rocket Science 
70 Cowcross Street 
0203 291 3021