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Jobseeker's allowance

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Disability Rights UK Factsheet F46

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   

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 full tax years before the year you claim. 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).

Contribution-based JSA is not means-tested, so it is not generally affected by other income or savings you may have. However, the amount you get may be affected by part-time earnings or an occupational or personal pension (see section 5 below). Only your earnings are taken into account – any earnings of a partner are ignored.

Income-based JSA  

Income-based JSA is a means-tested or income-related benefit. It is intended to provide for your basic living expenses (and those of your partner, if you have one). 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 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 Section 9 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.

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:

  • satisfy the labour market conditions (see section 3 below);
  • are not working 16 hours or more a week;
  • are not in full-time education (with limited exceptions, see section 8 below);
  • live in the UK; and
  • do not have a limited capacity for work because of ill health or disability that is expected to last more than 13 weeks (see below).

Additionally, for contribution-based JSA you must pass the contribution conditions, and for income-based JSA you must pass the income-related conditions.

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 a year.

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 Employment and Support Allowance instead; for more information, see our Factsheet F31 - Employment and Support Allowance.

3. The labour market conditions

To satisfy the labour market conditions, you must:

  • be available for work;
  • be actively seeking work; and
  • have entered into a claimant commitment that remains in force.

If you fail to meet any of these conditions, your JSA may be sanctioned (see section 4 below).

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.

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.

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.

For more information, see the Disability Rights Handbook.

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.

4. Sanctions

Your JSA can be sanctioned if you fail to meet a labour market condition. 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, the excess will be deducted from your contribution-based JSA. For example, if your pension is £55 a week, £5 will be deducted from your benefit. If your pension income is below £50 a week, 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.

Personal allowance

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.

Housing costs

Generally this helps with the payment of mortgage interest and some service charges. 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.

Since April 2018, payments towards mortgage interest have been replaced by ‘support for mortgage interest’ (SMI) loans. These must be repaid with interest once your property has been sold. The SMI loans may be secured by a charge on your property. You do not need to accept an offer of these loans; the scheme is voluntary. If you are already getting your mortgage interest covered by your jobseeker's allowance, the DWP should contact you to offer the SMI loans; you will not be able to stay on the existing system of support.


You cannot get income-based JSA if your (and 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, it is treated as generating income. This is called ‘tariff income’: £1 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

If you are eligible to claim universal credit, you need to call the universal credit helpline (0345 600 0723; textphone 0345 600 0743) to claim JSA. Otherwise, you can claim JSA online (www.gov.uk/jobseekers-allowance/how-to-claim) or ring the national claim number (0800 055 6688; textphone 0800 023 4888; Northern Ireland 0800 022 4250).

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’ (see below).

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 meet the labour market conditions (see Section 3 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.

‘Signing on’

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

Full-time courses

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 themselves) 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.

If you are a postgraduate student on income base JSA, 30% of your degree loan is taken into account as income. Any special support loan you get is disregarded.

For further information on the above and the support that is available for disabled students, contact the Disabled Students Helpline: tel: 0330 995 0414 or email: students@disabilityrightsuk.org

Part-time study

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 3 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 (or Northern Ireland, if you live there) – 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. Universal Credit

Universal credit is a new benefit which will eventually replace several means-tested benefits, including income-based JSA. If you are already getting income-based JSA, you will be moved, at some point, over to universal credit.

For more information see our Factsheet F55 - universal credit

11. 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://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/shop. 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.

9 April 2018