Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

European Union - European Social Fund European Funding Network

Personal tools

You are here: Home / Funding / European Social Fund / Applying to the European Social Fund

Applying to the European Social Fund

A brief overview of how to apply for the European Social Fund 2014-2020 Programme

There are several routes to applying to the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme:

  • Opt-in organisations
  • Open calls
  • Community grants
  • Community-Led Local Development (CLLD)

Opt-in organisations

The ESIF Opt-in organisations are the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), the Big Lottery Fund, and the National Offenders Management Service (NOMS).

Approximately 70 per cent of the ESF will be distributed through opt-in organisations which pre-match European Social Fund (ESF) resources at source and distribute funds through a combination of contracts and grants.

Each opt-in organisation will have their own procedures for procuring activities using contracts or grants. Each will have a dedicated e-portal for applications.

Find out more about opt-in organisations

Open Calls

Other ESIF funding opportunities will be made available through open calls on a national online system that requires applicants to register. Approximately 30 per cent of the European Social Fund (ESF) will be procured through open calls.

You can find the current funding opportunities on the GOV.UK website Funding Finder.

Remember that for funding accessed through open calls, projects are required to find match funding in monetary value, staff time and, in exceptional circumstances, volunteer time.

Most opportunities for small voluntary and community sector organisations to access ESF will be at the sub-contracting level or by joining a consortium. Exceptions are Community Grants and CLLD.

Community Grants

These are small ESF grants of approximately £15,000 available to voluntary organisations to support a range of activities that help individuals in the hardest to reach communities to make progress towards or enter the labour market.

Community grants do not require any match funding and are available to smaller voluntary and community organisations.

Find out more about community grants

Community Led Local Development

Another way for voluntary organisations to access the ESIF will be through Community Led Local Development (CLLD). Local Action Groups will be responsible for developing strategy and delivering activities for CLLD and only  in the most deprived areas.

Find out more about CLLD


Organisations wishing to apply for the European Structural and Investment Funds should:

More information

Go to our ESIF pages for more detailed information on the 2014-2020 Programme

Go to our funding advice pages for more information

See the current funding opportunities

Download the Programme guidance documents on selection criteria, eligibility rules, publicity requirements, funding agreements and state aid law for the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund.