Getting Jobseeker's Allowance means, in effect, making a deal with the Jobcentre Plus. They agree to give you money, provided that you agree to do your best to find work. That’s the deal. The problem is that as the government makes the rules, not you, it’s them who decides what counts as doing your best to find work.
The rules can be divided into three groups:
The main jobseeking conditions
The jobseeking conditions come in two main parts:
1. You have to show that you available for work
2. You have to show that you are actively seeking work
You also have to have a current jobseeker's agreement, or claimant commitment, in place, to show how you're going to be available for work and how you're going to actively seek work.
As well as these conditions, there are also a few other things that you also need to do. They are not technically part of the jobseeking conditions but they can still lead to sanctions. I’ll talk about these at the bottom of this page as ‘other requirements’.
Let’s look at the conditions one by one. I need to add that the detail to these is complicated, and there’s loads of ifs and buts, but the basics are as follows…
Showing that you are available for workThe basics of this are fairly simple. You need to
- Be willing to accept a job that is up to 40 hours a week, and, on the other hand, be willing to take a part-time job is that is what’s available;
- Be able to start a new job immediately (you can’t say, for example, that if a job comes up you will not be able to start it for three weeks);
- Be willing to work any day of the week and any time of day.
There is some good news. For example
- You can put some restrictions on your availability for work, providing you still have a ‘reasonable prospect of securing employment’. So, for example, you might say that you do not want to work later than 8 pm: that would probably be fine if you were looking for jobs in shops, but probably not if you were looking for work as a security guard.
- This also applies if you want to restrict your availability for reasons of religion or conscience. So, for example, if you are a Muslim, you can say that you are not willing to work for a pork butcher.
- Sometimes, the Jobcentre Plus will allow you at first only to have to look for jobs similar to what you used to do, or that pay as much as you used to receive. However this is up to them, and in any case the maximum they can allow for this is 13 weeks
- You can put restrictions on your availability for work even if you don’t have a reasonable prospect of securing employment, if this is due to a disability or health problem. However you will need evidence of this.
- If you are a lone parent of a five year old child who isn’t yet legally required to be in school, you can be treated as available for work even when you’re not actually available for work because of having to look after the child, provided that it’s not reasonable for you to make other arrangements. This is an important one if you’ve just had to move onto Jobseeker’s Allowance from Income Support because your child is now 4, but they haven’t yet started school.
- If your responsible for a child under 16, you can sometimes be treated as available for work even when you’re not if, for example, your partner normally looks after the child and they are ill.
Showing that you are actively seeking workThis is really just what it says on the tin. It’s not good enough to say you’ll keep your eyes open for any jobs that pop up. The Jobcentre Plus will expect you to take ‘steps’ to find work every week: in fact they will normally expect you to take at least three steps. Steps to find work could be virtually anything, but common examples include:
- Searching for jobs on the internet;
- Looking for information about new types of jobs you might be able to do;
- Applying for jobs;
- Contacting possible employers to find out if they have any jobs available.
The steps you take in any particular week have to be ‘reasonable’, both from the point of view of the Jobcentre Plus (are you doing enough, bearing in mind your abilities etc?) and from your part of view (are they expecting you to do things that realistically you can’t do?).
It’s really important that you can prove that you’ve taken any steps you’ve taken. There’s not much point in spending hours searching for jobs on the internet if you don’t bring evidence of this to the Jobcentre Plus when you sign on (perhaps print outs of your search history, or of employers’ web pages).
|It’s also important to show them that you have a good attitude. This can clearly be hard sometimes, but it’s necessary. The Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations specifically allow them to ignore any steps you have made if you’re abusive to Jobcentre Plus staff, for example, or act in a way that undermines your chances of getting a job.|
Your jobseeker’s agreement or claimant commitment
- If you made your new claim for Jobseeker's Allowance before 14th October 2013 you will have had to sign a jobseekers agreement;
- If you made your new claim for Jobseeker's Allowance from 14th October 2013 onwards you will have had to accept a claimant commitment.
There's two important things to note:
- It’s hard for the Jobcentre Plus to argue that you haven’t taken enough steps to look for work if you’ve done everything in the jobseeker's agreement or claimant commitment, so it's a very good idea to make sure you keep to it;
- It follows from this that you need to take care when your jobseeker’s agreement or claimant commitment is being drawn up. If you say you are available any hours of the day, any days of the week, and then turn down a job that involves working till 7.00 pm on Sunday evening, this might cause you problems later on, as the Jobcentre Plus may hold you to this.
Other RequirementsAs I said before, these aren’t technically part of the jobseeking conditions, but you still have to keep to them if you don’t want to risk getting a sanction. The main ones are as follows:
- You must 'participate' in any adviser interviews: this includes your
fortnightly visits to sign on (the word 'participate' means that it's
not good enough to just attend, you need to answer the questions they
ask you, fill in any forms, etc; it also means that the law can also
apply to phone calls, for example, where it makes no sense to talk
- You have to carry out any jobseeker’s direction you are given: in other words, if someone at the Jobcentre Plus asks you to do something, like look for jobs on a particular web site, you have to do it;
- You must not refuse to go on training courses or similar things.
Avoiding 'Big Fails'
There isn't an official name for this group, but it describes them quite well, as you'll see them later when we look at the sanctions. These are the things you need to avoid:
- Leaving a job voluntarily (but taking voluntary redundancy is normally OK);
- Leaving a job because of misconduct;
- Refusing to participate in the mandatory work activity (MWA) scheme;
- Failing to apply for a job, or refusing to apply for a job;
- Failing to accept a job, or refusing to accept a job.
You will notice that the first two can only apply at the start of a
claim, not during a claim.
|Just because your ex-employer says you left voluntarily, or left because of misconduct, it doesn't follow that that's what happened. It's therefore very important that if the Jobcentre Plus asks you for your side of the story that you give them as much information as possible.|
Apart from leaving a job because of misconduct, the law allows you the
excuse of 'good reason' here. What counts as a good
reason (and what doesn't count' isn't set down in law. It will all
depend on your particular case, which means that it is very important to
give the Jobcentre Plus all the relevant details.
a job because you would have to travel for an hour and a half to
get to work, and to get home again, will not normally count as a
good reason, unless there are other complications as well.
Even having to journey time of more than an hour and a half will not necessarily count as a good reason for refusing a job.
‘What happens if I haven’t kept to the
'What can I do if I've been sanctioned and/or my JSA ends?’