National Citizen Service (NCS)
TypeRoyal Charter
Legal statusTrust
PurposePersonal and social development
Mark Gifford[1]
Chair of NCS Trust
Harris Bokhari OBE[1]

The National Citizen Service (NCS) is a voluntary personal and social development program for 16–17 year olds in England funded largely by money from the UK Government.[1] Its objective is to create ‘a country of connected, confident and caring citizens where everyone feels at home’. Since its inception, NCS has delivered over one million experiences to young people.

NCS Trust is the only dedicated public body for youth. They work closely with Government to shape their ambition for young people. NCS offers a range of experiences to young people that support them to grow their strengths and realise their potential to become exactly who they want to be — through boosting their confidence, getting involved in social and community action, making new friends from diverse backgrounds, and developing essential skills to become world and work ready.


The programme takes place all year round as a choice based opportunity in which young people can choose to be part of an Away from Home experience, a Community Experience or a Digital Experience.

The National Citizen Service (NCS) also works with a number of partners to deliver wider youth enrichment and work opportunities.


The programme was designed and piloted in 2009 by social integration charity The Challenge.It was formally announced in 2010 by Prime Minister David Cameron as part of the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition government's Big Society initiative, and it was launched in 2011. When the scheme was launched critics expected it to be an unpopular and unsuccessful non-military version of national service. Subsequently, however, it achieved cross-party support in Parliament.

After the 2015 general election, the programme was continued under the Conservative government. In October 2016 Cameron, who had resigned as Prime Minister, became chairman of the NCS Trust's patrons' board. In the 2016 Queen's Speech it was announced that the scheme would be made permanent through the National Citizen Service Bill which was then introduced into the House of Lords by Lord Ashton of Hyde. The bill received Royal Assent in April 2017 and the resulting National Citizen Service Act created a statutory framework for the programme.

The scheme was made permanent through the National Citizen Service Act 2017.[6]With cross-party support, NCS became a Royal Charter Body in 2018.

In 2019, NCS created a new network of Management and Delivery Partners ensuring value for money, and an experience of the highest standard for young people wherever they take part in NCS. This is further helped by 150+ partner organisations including charities, football clubs, private enterprises, local councils, schools and colleges.

When the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges NCS was able to give young people a new, digital offering.

NCS is a strong advocate for youth voice and embedding young people into the decision making process. They created a Youth Voice Forum in 2019 made up of 40 young people.They won the Youth Friendly Employer Awards for Youth Voice in 2021. In 2023 the Youth Voice Forum grew into the Youth Advisory Board with 12 paid members aged between 18 and 24.

In 2023 -24 NCS delivered over 178,000 experiences to young people, through a supply chain of over 300 frontline youth organisations.


The expenditure on the scheme in 2012 was estimated at £1,400 per individual and the scheme received almost half the Office for Civil Society's total budget in 2013. The numbers who took part in the scheme were 26,000 in 2012, 40,000 in 2013, 57,000 in 2014, 75,000 in 2015, 93,000 in 2016 [2] and nearly 99,000 in 2017 meaning one in six eligible teenagers participated.[3]

In January 2017 the National Audit Office reported that the NCS had "weaknesses" in governance and had "not prioritised cost control". It estimated that just 213,000 people would be participating in the programme in 2020–21, compared to a target of 360,000. The report suggested costs would have to be reduced by 29% in order to meet participation targets.[4]

In March 2017 the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons said that the high cost of the scheme could not be justified and its participation targets remained challenging despite being significantly reduced. The total expenditure committed to the scheme by the government between 2011/12 and 2019/20 is £1.5 billion. £600 million of this had been spent by April 2017, with £900 million of the expenditure remaining.[5] Research carried out in the spring of 2017 indicated that affluent individuals are less likely to attend university if they take part in NCS, while poorer individuals are more likely to do so. At that time the cost per participant of NCS was £1,863.[6]

In July 2018 the Minister for Sport and Civil Society Tracey Crouch said that in 2016 NCS had spent almost £10m on places which were never filled. In August 2018 the Local Government Association said that in 2016 the number of young people taking part in NCS amounted to 12% of those eligible, and suggested that some of the money could be more effectively spent on local council youth services, spending on which fell from £650 million in 2010–11 to £390 million in 2016–17.[7] Over the four years from 2014–5 to 2017–18 UK government spending on NCS was £634 million which accounted for 95% of all UK government spending on youth services.[8]

In the four years from 2019 NCS funding dropped by 69%.[9]

In Wales

A pilot scheme took place in Wales in 2014 and a report examining whether it duplicates or complements existing schemes was commissioned. Cameron urged the Welsh Government to consider taking up the scheme and offering it across Wales.[10]


  1. ^ a b "NCS Trust Board of Directors". NCS. Retrieved 27 May 2024.
  2. ^ Theo Merz (30 Apr 2014). "National Citizen Service: training the citizens of tomorrow". The Telegraph. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
  3. ^ NCS (2017). NCS Trust Annual Report (PDF) (Report). p. 3.
  4. ^ Lepper, Joe (13 January 2017). "National Citizen Service initiative 'costs too much', spending watchdog warns". Children & Young People Now.
  5. ^ Andy Ricketts (28 April 2017). "National Citizen Service legislation given royal assent". Third Sector.
  6. ^ Jess Staufenberg (28 May 2017). "Affluent pupils less likely to go to university if they do National Citizen Service". Schools Week.
  7. ^ Peter Walker (2 August 2018). "Cameron's £1.5bn 'big society' youth scheme reaching few teenagers". The Guardian.
  8. ^ Buchan, Lizzy (2 August 2018). "Council leaders condemn massive funding of David Cameron's citizenship scheme, while youth services slashed". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2022-06-18.
  9. ^ Legraien, Léa. "National Citizen Service Trust's income dropped by 69% in four years". Civil Society.
  10. ^ "David Cameron praises National Citizen Service on Wales visit". BBC News. Wales. 7 August 2015. Retrieved 7 August 2015.