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All you need to know about Job Seekers Allowance
If you have a question or need personalised confidential email advice contact our Benefits expert.
Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance?
Income Support is a benefit for people who have limited capability to work, for example if you are more than 29 weeks pregnant with no maternity pay or if you have a have a child under 5 years and do not have enough private income to live on. The amount of Income Support that you can receive varies according to your circumstances. Unlike Job Seeker’s Allowance, you do not need to be looking for work to receive it. Read more>>
What is Job Seeker’s Allowance?
Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) is a type of benefit for people who are looking for work. There are 2 types:
- Income-based: you can receive it if you are on a low income. You do not need to have National Insurance contributions in order to get this type of benefit.
- Contributory: you can receive this if you have enough National Insurance contributions from your past work experience.
Please note that for both types of JSA, you must meet certain criteria (see below ‘What do I have to do to be entitled to JSA’).
What are the changes?
Previously, single parents who did not work, or worked under 16 hours per week, were able to claim Income Support until their oldest child was 16. From May 2012, changes will be phased in so that single parents with a youngest child aged 5 or above will be unable to claim Income Support and will be expected to look for paid work. While looking for work, you will be entitled to claim JSA, or Employment and Support Allowance if you are not able to work due to a health condition or disability.
If you want to talk about the changes to benefits and how it is affecting you come and join our Discussions on Benefits Changes and You.
How will I get moved to JSA?
You will be notified 8 weeks before your Income Support will be stopped. You will be asked to attend a voluntary interview where Jobcentre Plus will discuss the changes with you and what needs to happen next.
What do I have to do to be entitled to JSA?
Jobcentre Plus will arrange a New Jobseeker Interview for you at your local Jobcentre Plus office after the initial voluntary interview. At this interview, you will meet with a personal adviser and together you will decide the steps you need to take in order to improve your chances of finding a job. These steps will then be included in a Jobseeker’s Agreement – once you have signed the agreement, you will be given your own copy to remind you of the agreed actions. The agreement is flexible, so if your circumstances change while you are on JSA, you can discuss with your adviser the steps that need to be amended.
In order to receive your JSA, you will need to attend regular Jobsearch Reviews at your local Jobcentre Plus – your adviser will make you aware of the dates, which are normally every fortnight. At each review, you will need to sign a statement that says you are still available for work and that you have been actively looking for jobs. If your circumstances change at all, it is a good idea to discuss them with your adviser at these reviews.
So, in order to keep receiving JSA, you need to do 3 things:
- Actively seek work
- Be available for work
- Attend fortnightly Jobsearch Reviews
Do I have to sign on every fortnight during the school holidays?
During the school holidays you won’t necessarily have to attend the fortnightly Jobsearch Reviews. Instead, you may be allowed to sign on by post. Discuss with your personal adviser how to do this. The JSA advisors guide states the following:
In some cases a person with care and responsibilities for a child may not be able to attend the Job Centre Plus office for fortnightly job centre review during the school holidays, for example they are unable to make arrangements for short term childcare to cover their attendance.
In such circumstances and where the advisor agrees that no appropriate, affordable short term childcare is available to cover the attendance at the fortnightly attendance review, a person with care and responsibility will be allowed to sign by post during the school holiday period.
What do I have to do to ‘actively seek work’?
In order to claim JSA, you need to show your adviser that you are looking for work, or improving your chances of gaining work. This could mean writing a CV, or updating an existing one, completing a job application, speaking to a potential employer, or going for a job interview.
What does it mean by ‘being available for work’?
In order to claim JSA, you need to be in a situation where you are able to start a job. For example, if you are offered a job interview, you will need to attend within 7 days, and if you are offered a job you should be able to start within 28 days. You will need to prioritise being available for paid work over any voluntary or educational commitments (see below for further information).
I don’t want to work full-time because I still want to be the primary carer for my children. Can I work part-time?
The first time you meet your adviser at Jobcentre Plus, it will be important to explain what kind of work you want to do and for how many hours. If you are a single parent who cares for children who are aged 16 years and under, you are entitled to state that you do not want to work for more than 16 hours per week, even if there are no such jobs in your area.
I already work part-time, can I still claim Job Seeker’s Allowance?
You need to tell your adviser exactly how much you are earning and how many hours you work per week, as this can affect your claim. If you are currently working under 16 hours per week then you will be entitled to claim JSA. Talk to your adviser about what hours you would and would not like to do – if you are caring for children who are 16 years old or under, you can say that you do not want to work for more than 16 hours per week. This should not affect your claim.
Does volunteering count as work?
Volunteering does not count as paid work. If you are currently volunteering, or would like to volunteer to gain new skills, discuss this with your personal adviser at Jobcentre Plus. It may be possible that you can work part-time and volunteer around your working hours. However, you will have to be prepared to put paid work first and perhaps leave a voluntary position if it makes you unavailable for paid work.
I resigned from/lost my last job. Will this affect my claim?
This depends on the circumstances of how you left your last job.
Your claim will not be affected if you can show that you left/lost your job with ‘just cause’, which means that there was a good reason for leaving/losing your job. For example, if you were made redundant, you resigned because you couldn’t find appropriate childcare for your children, or because your employer demanded a change of hours that would have prevented you from caring for your children.If you are unable to show that you left your last job with ‘just cause’, or you were fired due to misconduct, then Jobcentre Plus might decide that you are not eligible for JSA.
What happens if I don’t meet the criteria for claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance?
If Jobcentre Plus decide that you haven’t been meeting the criteria for claiming JSA, for example, if you can’t prove you’re looking for work, or you left your job without a valid reason, then it is likely that you will be sanctioned.
What are ‘sanctions’?
In order to claim JSA, you will need to fulfil certain criteria: mainly that you are available for and actively seeking work, and you attend your Jobsearch Reviews. If the criteria are not met, then Jobcentre Plus can make the decision that you should be ‘sanctioned’. This means that you will lose 40% of your usual benefit. (Read 'A straightforward guide to sanctions' produced by the DWP and tell us what you think)
What do I do if Jobcentre Plus sanction me or stop my JSA?
If you are sanctioned, then you are able to apply for a hardship payment which is 60% of what you normally get. You do not need to fill in any forms for this, but you do need to talk to your personal adviser about whether you are entitled to a hardship payment.
What happens if I miss a Jobsearch Review?
Regular Jobsearch Reviews will be arranged between you and your adviser. If you are unable to attend a review, you must let your adviser know in advance and rearrange. If you miss a review, you must let your adviser know as soon as possible and explain why you were unable to attend - you will need to show that you had a good reason.
Will I be expected to look for work far from home?
You will be expected to look for jobs within 1-hour distance from your home (which means 2 hours travelling maximum per day). This also includes time to drop off your children into nursery, childcare or school. So, if you are offered a job which would take you longer than 1 hour to get there, you would have ‘just cause’ to turn it down.
What if I’m offered a job but I can’t find suitable or affordable childcare?
If you are unable to find childcare that is affordable or suitable for your children then you can turn down a job offer. However, it is really important to explain this to your personal advisor – you will need to show them that you have looked for childcare, and they will need to know your reasons for deciding that the childcare is unsuitable. If the reason is accepted, then you will be able to carry on claiming JSA. Read Help with Childcare costs>>
If I start a job, but my childcare situation changes and becomes unsuitable, what do I do then?
If you are unable to continue working due to your childcare becoming inappropriate, you will need to talk to your personal adviser and explain why. If you can show that your childcare is unsuitable, you will not be sanctioned for leaving your job. Also, if your child has been suspended/expelled from school and you do not have the childcare to deal with this situation, make sure you speak to your adviser as it might be agreed that you are unable to take up work at this time.
I only want to work in term-time. Do I still have to work throughout the school holidays?
When you have your initial discussion with your personal adviser, explain that you are able to work while your children are in school, but because you do not have access to short-term childcare you would prefer not to work during the school holidays. If you are able to show that you have tried to find childcare, but for the holidays it is unsuitable, then the Jobcentre Plus should accept that you are unavailable to work during these times.
What happens if I’m unable to work or look for work because someone in the family has died, or a relationship has ended, or I’ve been in an abusive relationship?
There are certain situations where you will still be able to claim JSA while having a break from looking for work or from working. For example, if someone you are caring for dies or you are coping with the end of a relationship. You will need to discuss your problem with your personal adviser. Jobcentre Plus may say that you are unable to work for one week. However, this type of situation can only happen four times in one year. In certain circumstances this break may be extended for up to 8 weeks, but this can only happen once in a year.
I want to study/train, will this affect my ability to claim Job Seeker’s Allowance?
Once you are claiming JSA you are not able to enrol on a full-time course, although you might be able to claim JSA during the summer holidays between terms if you are able to look for work.
If you enrol on a full-time course before you are transferred to JSA, then you will be able to continue claiming Income Support until the course finishes.
You may be able to claim JSA if you are a part-time student. If you are studying outside the times you stated as being available to work, and you think you can reasonably combine work and study, you may be able to claim. Also, if you explain to your adviser that you will change your hours of study, or give up your course if work becomes available, you may be able to claim.
Will I get support for training/learning new skills?
While claiming JSA you will have access to the New Deal for Lone Parents, the same as when you were on Income Support. If you want more information on learning or training opportunities, speak to your personal adviser and they should inform you of what is currently available. If you have been on JSA for more than 6 months then you may be entitled to pursue an 8-week full-time course while still claiming JSA.
What if my child is disabled or has special needs?
If your children are receiving the medium or highest rate care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), or you receive a Carer’s Allowance, you will still be able to claim for Income Support. If you have any doubts about what benefits you are currently receiving, call Jobcentre Plus and ask their advice.
I’m a foster parent. Will I be moved to JSA?
If you are a foster parent currently fostering a child that is living with you, then you will not be moved to JSA and will continue receiving Income Support. If your situation changes and the foster child or children are no longer living with you, it will be important to make Jobcentre Plus aware of this.
I home educate my children. Am I able to stay on Income Support?
If you home educate your children you will not be able to claim Income Support in order to do this. When you are transferred to JSA, speak with your adviser and explain that you are a home educator and discuss the options available to you. For more information on JSA and home education, see www.education-otherwise.net
My children are aged over 5 but I have only very recently become a single parent. Can I claim Income Support, or must I claim JSA and look for work?
If your youngest child is 5 or over, and you are not in work, you are no longer allowed to claim Income Support as a single parent. Speak to an adviser at your local Jobcentre Plus about your recent changes in situation, or call Job Centre Plus Benefit Enquiries on 0800 055 6688, and they will explain what benefits you are entitled to and how to put in a new claim.
What if my child is excluded from school, or I get a Parenting Order?
If this happens you will still be able to claim JSA but will not have to fulfil all the criteria. This means that you will receive the money but will not have to look for work for the period that your child is excluded/you have a Parenting Order. It will be important to keep your personal adviser up-to-date with your personal situation and any changes.
Will all my other benefits stop if I claim Job Seeker’s Allowance?
Not necessarily you will still receive the full rates of Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit.
Remember you can get personalised confidential email advice by contacting our Money & Benefit experts.