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Jobseeker’s Allowance

If you’re struggling to find work, you may be able to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). But what is JSA? How much could you get? How do you claim, and what if you’re working part-time or studying?

Boy walking outside the jobcentre

Understand JSA before taking a trip to the jobcentre

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What is JSA?

Jobseeker’s Allowance is a fortnightly allowance to live off while you’re searching for a job (or trying to get more hours in your current job). To get JSA you need to be:

  • 18 or over
  • Capable of work
  • Available for work
  • Actively seeking work
  • Working less than 16 hours a week

 What are the different types of JSA?

1. Contribution-based JSA

If you’ve been working and paying Class 1 National Insurance Contributions for most of the past two full tax years, you may be able to claim contribution-based JSA. You can only claim for six months, but if you’re still looking for work you may be able to claim income-based JSA after that (see below).

  • You can’t get contribution-based JSA if you’ve only been self-employed (you might be able to get income-based JSA instead).
  • Your savings, or a partner’s earnings don’t affect the money you’ll get.
  • You can only claim contribution-based JSA for yourself (not a partner).

2. Income-based JSA.

The majority of JSA claims are for income-based JSA.

  • If you (and your partner if you live together) have over £6000 in savings, your JSA will be reduced. If you have £16,000 or more you won’t get anything.
  • You can claim income-based JSA as a couple.
  • You can claim income-based JSA at the same time as contribution-based JSA if you’re claiming for a partner, you’re disabled, or you’re caring for someone disabled.

How much money will I get?

For 16–24 year olds, the basic rate is £57.35 a week. For 25 and over, it’s £72.40.

Either type of JSA can be reduced if you have part-time earnings (or a pension).

How do I claim JSA?

The Jobcentre prefers you to claim online. You can also phone 0800 055 6688 (open 8am–6pm Monday to Friday), but you’ll need to explain why you can’t make the claim online.

In Northern Ireland you’re encouraged to fill in a claim form – find your local office here.

What are the ‘Jobseeker Interview’ and ‘Jobseeker’s Agreements’?

When you claim you’ll also have a Jobseeker’s Interview. Your advisor will:

  • Make sure you understand the rules for JSA
  • Discuss the kinds of work you’re looking for and the best ways of finding a job
  • Give you information about jobs, training and other opportunities
  • Check that you have filled in your form fully

You will also have to sign a Jobseeker’s Agreement (in some areas this is now called a Claimant Commitment). This sets out:

  • What hours you’re available to work
  • The kind of work you’re looking for
  • What you’ll do to find jobs and improve your chances of finding work

Important!

Be realistic and make sure you agree with what’s set out in the agreement – you can have your benefits stopped if you don’t fulfil your side of the bargain.

Do I have to just do any job?

Mostly yes – sorry. But you can put certain restrictions on how and where you’re able to work. For example, if you have a health condition or caring responsibility you may be able to restrict times. And if you’re reliant on public transport, then you can take account of first and last buses and trains, and how long it would take you to get to work (although you are expected to commute up to an hour and a half each way in normal circumstances).

For more on what happens when you go to the Jobcentre, see our Using the Jobcentre and claiming benefits video.

When will I get paid?

It can take up to two weeks to get paid after signing on.

You’ll then have to ‘sign on’ at the Jobcentre every fortnight. This involves a short interview to check your situation, job seeking progress and any change of circumstances. You should get your money fortnightly, within three working days of your visit.

My money hasn’t turned up, help!

If your money doesn’t arrive when you expect it, you should get in touch with your local Jobcentre as soon as possible (see our article on JSA Complications).

Can I claim JSA if I’m under 18?

Unfortunately, 16–17 year-olds can only claim JSA in exceptional circumstances. You have to fulfil all the criteria above, plus one or more of the following:

  • You’re responsible for a child
  • You don’t have any support from parents or guardians and can show that you don’t have any parents, or that your family relationship has broken down
  • You’ve just been laid off and can show that you’re experiencing ‘extreme hardship’

If you want to claim under exceptional circumstances, you have to make a strong case. So we’d suggest getting advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

If you don’t qualify for JSA, you may be able to get Income Support, although again only in certain circumstances.

Can I study and claim JSA?

You can’t usually get JSA if you are studying full-time. Although, if you’re a lone parent or part of a couple with responsibility for a child you may be able to claim during the summer holidays only.

If you’re studying part-time you might be able to get JSA, but you’d have to be available for full-time work, and you’d be expected to quit your course if you get offered a job.

You may be able to do an Open University course and still get JSA.

Can I work and claim JSA?

You can work part-time and claim JSA as long as it’s for less than 16 hours a week. You still need to be actively seeking and available for more work, so make sure that you keep signing on and job-hunting if you want to get your JSA.

Any income that you earn over a small amount (£5 a week for a single person, £10 for a couple, up to £20 if you’re disabled, a carer or a lone parent) will be subtracted from your benefit. So if you’re single and earning £30 a week, you’ll have £25 deducted from your benefit.

But while you might not do much better financially from doing a few hours, it looks great on your CV that you’ve kept working, and increases your chances of finding more work.

I found work! But then I lost my job again

If you earn more in a week than you’d get paid in JSA, then your JSA claim will finish. But if you lose the work within 182 days, you can make a rapid reclaim online, which should only take around 10 minutes.

Can I get expenses?

You can get a loan from the Jobcentre to help with things like going to interviews, transport to work and smart clothes for interviews. These are called Budgeting Advances.

Compulsory schemes

After 13 weeks on JSA, you may be required to go on a job scheme to help you get work experience. On some schemes, failure to do so could mean you lose some of your benefit.

For more information about job schemes – including voluntary schemes – see our Government Employment Schemes article.

JSA and Universal Credit

Over the next four or so years (the timetable isn’t completely clear yet), income-based JSA will gradually be phased out and replaced with Universal Credit (UC) (contribution-based JSA won’t become part of Universal Credit).

The basics will stay the same – you agree to job hunt in return for some money. But some things WILL be different – you’ll probably have to do more job-hunting, and you’ll only get your benefit once a month. To find out more see our Universal Credit article.

Where can I go for help with JSA? 

Getting benefits is often a frustrating process. But there are lots of places you can go for help:

  • Citizen’s advice volunteers know all about the benefits system and can help you understand your rights. You can visit your local bureau to get face-to-face advice and support. You must remember to bring along details of your benefits and general financial situation.
  • If you’re angry or frustrated about your treatment by the Job Centre, you can complain. Find out about the complaints process.
  • This benefits calculator from Turn2us shows you how much benefit you should be getting – many people don’t realise how much they’re entitled to.
  • If you want to challenge a decision about your benefit, you can appeal.

Unfortunately we are unable to offer benefits advice here at TheSite.

Important!

Remember to tell your benefits advisor if your circumstances change ­– for example, if you get a pay rise, new job or move in with a partner. If you don’t you could face a £50 fine, as well as having to pay back any extra benefit. See GOV.UK for more information.

Photo of jobcentre by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • The Citizens Advice Bureau has a great Advice4Me page, which explains legal rights specifically for under-25s.
  • Use the Turn2Us calculator to work out what benefits and grants you're entitled to, or call their helpline on 0808 802 2000
    • Got a question about friends, dating, love or family life? Ask one of our trained advisors. This service is free and totally confidential.
    • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
    • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Danny Sherwood

Updated on 24-Jun-2014

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