Jobseeker's allowance (JSA)
Disability Rights UK Factsheet F46
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1. What is jobseeker's allowance?
Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) is a benefit for people who are unemployed or working fewer than 16 hours a week and are seeking work. There are two forms of this benefit: contribution-based JSA and income-based JSA.
Contribution-based JSA is a personal flat-rate allowance. You may be able to claim it if you have paid enough national insurance contributions in the last two tax years. It can be paid for up to six months (either in one spell, or several shorter periods where your entitlement is still based on the same two tax years).
The amount you get may be affected by part-time earnings or an occupational or personal pension. Only your earnings are taken into account – any earnings of a partner are ignored. Contribution-based JSA is not means-tested, so it is not affected by other income or savings you may have.
Income-based JSA is means-tested and is based on your income and savings. You may receive it if you have no income or a low income and no more than £16,000 in savings. You do not have to have paid national insurance contributions to get it.
You can claim for yourself and your partner (if you have one). You are not entitled to income-based JSA if your partner is working 24 hours or more a week.
Income-based JSA can be paid by itself, or can top-up contribution-based JSA if you are also entitled to that. Entitlement to income-based JSA can give access to other benefits such as housing benefit.
You must satisfy the habitual residence test (see 7 below) and not be subject to immigration control. You must normally be aged 18 or over; for the limited circumstances in which 16 and 17-year olds can claim JSA, see the Disability Rights Handbook.
Universal credit will replace income-based JSA over the next few years. For more information, see our Factsheet F55 - universal credit.
The benefit cap
JSA is included in the list of benefits to which the ‘benefit cap’ applies. This cap limits the total weekly benefits that can be claimed. You can find out more information in our Factsheet F8 – benefit cap.
2. Who can get JSA?
You may qualify for JSA if you:
- are available for work (see below)
- are actively seeking work (see below)
- have entered into a claimant commitment that remains in force (see below);
- are not working 16 hours or more a week
- are under state pension age (see www.gov.uk/calculate-state-pension)
- are not in full-time education (with limited exceptions)
- live in Great Britain
- for contribution-based JSA, pass the contribution condition
- for income-based JSA, pass the income-related conditions; and
- do not have a limited capacity for work because of ill health or disability that is expected to last more than 13 weeks. If you do, you should claim Employment and Support Allowance instead. For more information, see our Factsheet F31 - Employment and Support Allowance.
Available for work
You must be willing and able to take up immediately any paid employment of at least 40 hours a week. You can restrict your availability in any way (eg the pay, hours, travel time or type of work) providing the restrictions are reasonable given your physical or mental condition. If you have caring responsibilities, you are also allowed a greater degree of flexibility.
At the beginning of your claim, you can restrict your job-seeking to your usual occupation and your usual level of pay for up to 13 weeks.
Actively seeking work
You are expected to take a number of steps (usually at least three) each week in order to have the best prospects of getting a job. This can include applying for jobs, looking for vacancies, writing your CV and registering with employment agencies.
The claimant commitment
To remain on JSA you must sign up to a claimant commitment. This will include details of your availability for work (including any restrictions imposed by your condition), the sort of work you are looking for, how you will look for work and what you intend to do to improve your job prospects.
3. Placing restrictions on the type of work you’ll accept
You can restrict your availability in any way (eg pay, hours, travel time, type of work), providing the restrictions are reasonable given your physical or mental condition.
If you refuse a job offer where the hours of work or other conditions of the job are beyond your agreed restrictions, you won’t generally be sanctioned for this.
Non Disability-related restrictions
Provided you can show you have ‘reasonable prospects of securing employment’, you can restrict:
- the nature of the employment (eg due to sincerely held religious or conscientious objections);
- the terms and conditions of employment;
- the rate of pay – but only for the first six months of your claim (after six months you can’t insist on a rate of pay higher than the relevant national minimum wage); and
- the areas you will work in – generally, you are expected to be prepared to travel for up to 1½ hours both to and from work.
In order show that you have reasonable prospects of securing employment you must make convincing case for the JSA decision maker, who must consider all the evidence, and in particular:
- your skills, qualifications and experience;
- the type and number of vacancies within daily travelling distance;
- how long you have been unemployed;
- your job applications and their outcome; and
- if the restrictions are on the nature of the work, whether you are prepared to move home to take up work.
It is important to think carefully before you put restrictions on your availability. If you can’t show you have reasonable employment prospects, your benefit could be disallowed.
If you fall ill
If you fall ill, you may choose to stay on JSA for up to two weeks: you must fill in a form to declare that you are unfit for work and for how long. You may only do this twice.
If your illness is expected to last for more than two weeks, but no more than 13 weeks, you may choose to stay on JSA for a continuous period of up to 13 weeks. If you are still sick after 13 weeks, you cannot stay on JSA but need to claim ESA instead.
For more information see the Disability Rights Handbook.
Sanctions can be applied if you fail to comply with the above conditions. With a sanction, payment of JSA will normally stop for a fixed period of between four weeks and three years. If a sanction is applied, you may be eligible for hardship payments. For more information about sanctions and hardship payments, see our Factsheet F70 – Sanctions.
5. How much is contribution-based JSA?
The rate for contribution-based JSA is:
age under 25 - £57.90
age 25 or over - £73.10
If you receive an income of over £50 a week from an occupational or personal pension, this will be deducted from the amount of contribution-based JSA you get. For example, if your pension is £55 a week, £5 will be deducted from your benefit. If your pension income is below £50 per week, then your contribution-based JSA is unaffected.
6. How much is income-based JSA?
Your income-based JSA is calculated by comparing your needs with your resources (ie any capital and income you have). Set amounts for different needs are added together to reach the total amount the law says you need to live on: your ‘applicable amount’. Any income (including any earnings) you have is deducted from your applicable amount. This leaves the amount of income-based JSA you are entitled to.
Income-based JSA normally only provides support for you and your partner. If you have children, claim child tax credit. For more information on this, see our Factsheet F9 - a guide to tax credits.
Your applicable amount
Your applicable amount is made up of the following:
- a personal allowance;
- premiums; and
- housing costs
You can view the current benefit rates for income-based JSA on our website.
This is a basic allowance. The amount paid depends on your age and whether you are part of a couple (whether married or living together or civil partners).
You can get extra amounts in the form of premiums if you satisfy certain conditions. There are five in all:
- carer premium;
- disability premium;
- enhanced disability premium;
- pensioner premium; and
- severe disability premium
Details of the qualifying rules for these are in the Disability Rights Handbook.
Generally this helps with the payment of mortgage interest plus other allowed housing costs. This support will normally be limited to the first two years of your claim. This time limit will not apply if you (or your partner) were claiming income support or employment and support allowance in the 12 weeks before your JSA award. For details, see the Disability Rights Handbook.
You cannot get income-based JSA if your (or your partner’s) capital or savings are above an upper limit of £16,000. There is also a lower limit, normally set at £6,000. If your capital is between the lower and upper limits, a ‘tariff income’ is assumed: one pound a week for every £250 (or part of £250) above the lower limit is included as your income in the income-based JSA calculation.
Disregarded earnings and benefits
Some of your earnings are not taken into account when working out income-based JSA. This is normally £5 if you are single or £10 if you have a partner. You will have £20 of your earnings disregarded if you qualify for the disability premium, the carer premium or are a lone parent.
Some benefits are not taken into account when working out income-based JSA. These include child benefit, attendance allowance, disability living allowance, personal independence payment and armed forces independence payment.
7. How to claim JSA
You can start your claim for JSA by ringing the Jobcentre Plus claim-line (0800 055 6688; textphone 0800 023 4888). Information to start processing your claim is usually first taken from you over the phone. Appointments can then be made for you to discuss your benefit entitlement and your employment options at a ‘work-focused interview’. You can also claim online: www.gov.uk/jobseekers-allowance/how-to-claim.
If you have a partner, but do not have dependent children, and are claiming income-based JSA, you will have to make a ‘joint claim’ for the benefit. In this case, you will normally both have to be available for work, actively seeking work and sign up to a claimant commitment (see Section 2 above).
The work-focused interview
At the work-focused interview, a ‘work coach’ will discuss your application and ensure you understand the rules for JSA. They will look at what type of work you want and the best ways for you to find a job. You will also be asked to discuss, agree to and sign a claimant commitment.
You will normally be expected to ‘sign on’ at your local Jobcentre Plus office (usually every two weeks) to discuss how your job search is going. In addition, you must also attend regular, more detailed interviews to look at your situation.
8. Students and JSA
Students attending a full-time course are normally excluded from JSA until the end of the course, or until they abandon it or are dismissed from it - but there are exceptions.
If you are single, or have a partner who is also a student, and you have responsibility for a child (aged under 16) or a young person (aged under 20 who is undertaking a full-time course of non-advanced education) you can get JSA during the summer vacation as long as you are available for work.
You can also get JSA temporarily while you are waiting to return to your course after an agreed break because you were ill or because you had to care for someone. You can claim JSA once you have recovered or your caring responsibilities have ended until either the date you go back to your course or the date your education establishment has agreed that you can go back, whichever is earlier, but only for a maximum period of one year and providing you are not eligible for a student loan or grant during this time.
You can study part-time and get JSA if your course or training takes place outside of the hours you are required to be available for work. These times are usually recorded in your claimant commitment (see Section 2 above).
If the course overlaps with the hours in which you must be available for work, you can still get JSA for part-time study if you are willing and able to rearrange the hours of your course immediately to take up employment or are willing and able to give up the course if a job becomes available.
9. Residence and Presence Tests
To claim income-based JSA you must
- be present in Great Britain (there are rules that may allow you to be treated as present during a temporary absence);
- be habitually resident in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Republic of Ireland or the Isle of Man; and
- have the right to reside.
The term ‘right to reside’ is not defined but is dependent on your immigration status and nationality. There is no legal definition of 'habitual residence'. Relevant factors are where you normally live, where you expect to live in future, your reasons for coming to this country, the length of time spent abroad before you came here, and any ties you still have with the country where you have come from.
For more information, see the Disability Rights Handbook.
10. Where can I get more help or information?
This factsheet is a basic introduction to jobseeker's allowance. You can find out more detailed information in our Disability Rights Handbook. This and all our other publications are available from our shop at https://crm.disabilityrightsuk.org/. You can also place orders by contacting Disability Rights UK.
You can get help and information at your local advice centre, such as a Citizens Advice Bureau. You can get more information about where to get personal advice from our Factsheet F15 - Getting advice. All our factsheets are free to download on our website at disabilityrightsuk.org.
23 December 2015