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Job Seekers Allowance Survival Guide
intro l active signing l job refusal l restarts/interviews l feedback/help


leaving work and signing on
available for work
questions they ask
jobseekers agreement
actively seeking work

People leaving work are treated as having made themselves voluntarily unemployed. This applies if you resign, walk out or are sacked for misconduct. It doesn't apply to redundancy, end of contracts or on medical grounds (which can include workplace stress), or where you can show good cause (e.g. unfair dismissal).

Otherwise you are automatically classed as voluntarily unemployed. Unless you can disprove it, you face a sanction of up to 26 weeks without any benefit at all. Your case is referred to an Adjudication Officer who decides if it's fair and, if so, how long the sanction applies for. They will write to your employers for their side of the story. During this period you will be on no benefit, or reduced benefit in cases of hardship (see PENALTIES). Stinks doesn't it?

If you leave work on medical grounds - make sure your GP will back you up. If your GP is signing you off work completely you should claim Incapacity Benefit and / or Income Support on an A1 form (claim both if you haven't paid enough NI stamps). If you want to stay on the sick you will have to pass the All Work Test - examination by a DSS doctor, once your Statutory Sick Pay (from work) runs out after 28 weeks. Contact a local advice centre or claimants group before you claim for information and help. But if you want to claim J.S.A. you must make it clear that the ill-health which caused you to leave your job does not affect your ability to do other types of work (i.e. you're still "available for work").

Waiting period - You don't get any money for the first 3 days of your claim. But if it's less than 12 weeks since your last claim they shouldn't impose a waiting period - don't let them tell you otherwise.



In order to sign on Employment Services need to believe you are "Available for Work" and "Actively Seeking Work".

Being Available for Work means taking active steps every week to find paid work, whether permanent or temporary and being ready to start work immediately (or 24 hours notice if you work or study part time / 48 hours notice for carers or voluntary work).

According to the official rules you can be treated as "Not Available For Work" if you:

Refuse without good reason to apply for or take a suitable job and the vacancy still exists

Deliberately spoil your application or interview for a job

Fail to take up a reasonable offer of local short term work

Place unacceptable restrictions on availability in terms of hours, days and wages

Fail to attend an interview with a Client Adviser

Fail or refuse to complete forms about availability for work

You are still counted as available for work if:

You are on an employment related course of no more than 2 weeks in one year

You have short periods of illness - at least 3 days and for a maximum of two weeks and then only twice in any year

In any week when for at least 3 days you are not available because a close friend / relative is seriously ill; there is a funeral of a close friend or relative; there is a domestic emergency affecting a close friend / relative or if someone you have caring responsibility for dies

You are abroad for at least 3 days to attend a job interview and you let them know at least one week in advance.

For up to 8 weeks if you have to take a child abroad for medical treatment

For up to 8 weeks if you are part of a couple with children and your partner is abroad, away from home, ill or looking after a sick relative

You are now supposed to give advance warning if you are going away from home, even if this is only for a day. Obviously there's no need for them to know unless your away on your signing day. But this means you should be careful not to use "being away from home" as an excuse for being late signing on, not attending interviews, receiving letters, etc. If you do go away, you are supposed to continue actively seeking work and be available for work immediately!

Reasonable Employment - You can only rigidly restrict the type of work you say you will do for the first 13 weeks, or if there are physical or mental reasons why you can't do certain jobs, or if you have a sincere, religious or conscientious objection to doing certain jobs.

But by law (JSA Regs reg.10-1) they must take into account your skills, qualifications and experience; the type and number of vacancies within daily travelling distance and any jobs you've been turned down for. So if you have been unemployed and unable to find work for a long time they have to recognise that your chances of obtaining work are limited.

Actively Seeking Work - see the sections on this under JOB SEEKERS AGREEMENT and the stuff on ACTIVE SIGNING.



When you first sign on, you'll get a form to complete and return for interview. It may be called "JSA - Helping You Back to Work" or "Your JobSearch". This form is used as the basis for the Job Seekers Agreement. Be careful how you answer the questions. Similar questions also come up in the Restart Interviews.

Are you able to work ? - Yes

Are you willing to work ? - Yes

Are you looking only for temporary or casual work ? - Everyone has to look for permanent full time work. But if you are about to start another job, or a course, you can look for only temporary or casual jobs. They will want to know when the job / course starts. You'll still be expected to show evidence of actively seeking work. If you're still signing on after that date they'll want you to look for permanent jobs.

What is your usual job? - Put down the job you last did or the one you've done most often. You can look for work in your usual occupation for up to 13 weeks after you first sign on. After that you have to look for any available work.

What types of jobs are you looking for? - They won't let you write "Any" and its probably not a good idea anyway. Put down jobs that you are able to do and don't mind doing. Be careful - you may later be asked to apply for these types of jobs. They may try to get you to put down very general categories, e.g., if you are a bricklayer, they may want you to put down "building labourer". Put down specific jobs appropriate to your skills and experience. They can also say that your expectations are "unreasonable" - e.g. Director of the Bank Of England.

Do you have a disability or health problem? - You have to be capable of work to sign on. Unless you think you've got a reasonable chance of going on the sick answer No - if there's a specific job you can't do for health reasons, put that down but make it clear that it doesn't affect your ability to work in general / do other jobs.

Please tell us about any interests or abilities which may help you get a job? This can be used to say that you could do types of work you don't want to do (e.g. tele-sales). If you have interests / hobbies relevant to a job you want, put them down. Otherwise answer generally - sport, T.V., music etc. The problem if you declare any voluntary work is that it can be used against your availability for work - more than 16 hours pw and you won't be!

Do you have a written summary of your skills and abilities? - Because they're all white collar workers they think everyone should have a CV. Most manual workers don't have and don't need a CV. If you've got one they may want to see it - make sure there's nothing on it they shouldn't know about. If necessary do a new one just for them, and keep the real one to send for jobs you actually want. If you haven't got one they may ask you to do one or go on a course. It's better to do it yourself, or argue that the work you're after doesn't need one.

Can you start work as soon as you find a job? - Yes. To sign on you have to be available for work IMMEDIATELY (same day), unless you have a part-time job - you must be available at 24 hours notice or if you are a carer (looking after a child or adult) or do voluntary work - 48 hours notice.

What is the lowest wage you are willing to accept ? - This should be the going rate in the area for the job or the same as (but not higher than) your last job. You can only restrict your availability for work on grounds of wages if you have a usual occupation and then for a maximum of 13 weeks. After that you have to consider anything - but as a general rule you can say that you are looking for work that pays (take home) at least equivalent to your full benefit entitlement (including Housing and Council Tax Benefit, free prescriptions etc.). They may still make you apply for jobs that pay less - saying that your wages can be topped up by benefits.. See Can I refuse to accept a job?


Are you doing any education or training ? - There are strict rules about claiming and doing courses (unless they're Employment Service ones). Full time students are not eligible for JSA - part-time students have to be doing a course funded in whole or in part by the Further Education Funding Council, involving less than 16 "guided learning hours" a week. Guided learning hours are lectures, tutorials, assessments, supervised study. You will need a letter from the college, etc. confirming that it is less than 16 hours pw.. Make sure that your college officially calls your course "part-time" (less than 16 hours) BEFORE you sign on.

Part-time students are not exempt from the actively seeking work regime of the JSA. You may also be targeted to test your availability for work. Its not surprising that many part-time students don't tell the dole about their studying because of the grief they get. Contact us for our student leaflet.

Do you want to limit the days and hours you are available for work ? - To sign on and get JSA you must be "able and willing" to take employment of at least 40 hours a week. You can specify a pattern of availability over the week. The standard answer should be 8am - 6pm Monday to Friday - which gives 50 hours. You can put down that you are only willing to do 8 hours between 8am and 6pm provided the total over the week is not less than 40 hours. If the types of job you have said you're looking for (and want) usually involve Saturday or Sunday or evening / shift work - then put this down. Otherwise 8-6 Mon. to Fri. is the safest answer. Note - although you have to be available for 40 hours pw you must also be willing to work for less - see Can i refuse to apply for a job ?

What towns or areas are you looking for work in? Within reasonable travelling distance (by car / public transport etc.). You can only refuse to apply for a job that involves more than one hour travelling each way ! If you say you're willing to move, they may test this, using the new computer system to access jobs in other towns and offer them to you as "Notified Vacancies"

Please tell us how you are going to look for work - Tick the boxes for contacting employers and for activities they can't check up on, i.e. looking in Job Centre; looking in newspapers and asking friends and family. Otherwise they won't consider that you are looking for work. The one that says "Register with employment agencies (other than the Job Centre)" is more tricky - see EMPLOYMENT AGENCIES. The boxes you tick will later be used to complete the Job Seekers Agreement.

Please tell us about anything else you will do to find work or improve your chances of finding work - Anything you write here will also end up in your Job Seekers Agreement and you'll be expected to prove that you've done it - so be careful. Don't make a rod for your own back. If you want to do a CV or draw up a list of potential employers or find out about other types of work you could do - fine. If not, keep it fairly general - e.g. look in shop windows, community centres, trade papers, ask around sites, etc.

What help do you need?

Preparing a written summary of your skills, abilities and experience (CV)

Writing letters to employers

Filling in application forms

Doing well at interviews

Talking to employers on the phone

If you tick these you will probably be offered a place on one of the many "schemes" or even instructed to go on one. So don't, unless you specifically want this kind of help - see VOLUNTARY / COMPULSORY SCHEMES.

Benefits for people in work, for example, Family Credit

If you tick this you may be pressured to look for jobs that pay below Income Support / Family Credit levels. "If you work for £50 a week we can top it up, why don't you consider a job like that?" No thanks!

Advice on starting a small business

To qualify for Business Start Up Allowance you need to have a realistic business plan and some financial backing, and they only give you £500.

Advice if you have a health problem or disability -
People with disabilities can get help from a specialist adviser.

Any other help

Its a good idea to put something here. Ask for the help or training you really need to get a job, which they can't provide, e.g. tools; driving lessons; PSV; HGV, other qualifications that you want but can't afford.



The Job Seekers Agreement is a contract you must sign, setting out what you will do to find work. If you break the Agreement you can lose benefit.

For fresh claims the Agreement is drawn up at your first interview. For existing claims it will probably be drawn up at your next Restart. Everyone is supposed to have signed an Agreement by mid-1997. This will depend on how efficient your local Job Centre is, unemployment levels in your area, and how much the dole workers are opposed to it. The Agreement is based on the information you've given in the "Helping You Back to Work" form and interview (see above). The main difference is in the following section :

To identify and apply for jobs I will:

Write to at least ___ employers per week

Phone at least ___ employers per week

Visit at least ___ employers per week

Contact the Job Centre at least ___ per week

Ask friends, families and people I have worked with before

Look in these newspapers and trade papers

How often will you look?

Register with these employment agencies and contact them ___ times a week

Other activities

Unlike the first form the Agreement requires you to agree specific figures. As a legal contract you are saying you will do this every week in order to receive benefit. The unknown factor is what the Client Adviser will regard as acceptable and how much pressure they will put on you to "intensify your Job Search". There have been cases where the Client Adviser has put 0 in all the boxes except visiting the Job Centre and looking in the papers. Fair enough. But they could put down more if they want to.

You have to sign an Agreement. If you refuse outright you won't be allowed to sign on. But the important thing to remember is that you have to agree to what you're signing. If there is a dispute between you and the Client Adviser, it gets referred to an Adjudication Officer. Provided you show that you meet the Actively Seeking Work requirement and you are prepared to sign an alternative Agreement, the Adjudication Officer should give you preference. They should make the decision within a fortnight.



You are supposed to take such steps "as can reasonably be expected" to find work. But the legal definition of Actively Seeking Work is that you are "expected to take more than one step on one occasion in any week" to find work (JSA Regs reg 18(1)).

Recognised steps are:

Applying for jobs in writing, personally or by phone.

Seeking information on jobs from adverts, recruiting agencies and employers

Registering with employment agencies and businesses

Appointing someone else to help you find work

Drawing up a CV

Getting a reference from a previous employer

Researching potential employers / occupations.

They must take into account your particular circumstances (eg. skills, qualifications, length of unemployment) in determining what you can reasonably be expected to do.

More than one step on one occasion - in effect you could argue that looking in the papers on two different days and visiting the Job Centre once a week meets the requirement. Include at least these for your Job Seekers Agreement. Some Benefit Advisers may push you to agree additional steps. You can suggest you'll contact family and friends for jobs, but, if they insist this is not enough, agree to apply for one job a week. If you think applying by phone is the easiest get the adviser to make it clear that this is phoning for a specified advertised vacancy not phoning on spec., which is a different type of job seeking activity.

For writing to and phoning employers about an advertised vacancy, you could argue that you can't specify a figure because you don't know that there will be a job available in any week, and that you would then be in breach of your contract.

Visiting employers - this is best suited to people who work on sites, so don't agree to it unless it's something you want to do and can name the sites you have visited. Also applies to shops, other businesses.

Contacting the Job Centre - include this, because looking at the Job Centre boards when you sign on is a job seeking step. But if you say you will go once a week to the Job Centre you are committing yourself to doing that. It doesn't mean you have to apply for any of the vacancies on offer. But if you do they will be able to monitor whether and how you have applied for it - see NOTIFIED VACANCIES.

Asking friends, families and people I have worked with before - easy, just asking mates in the pub if there's any work. It counts as a job seeking step.

Looking in newspapers and trade papers & how often you will look - put down the main local papers with regular job columns, including the freebies. If you know of any specialist papers put them down - some national dailies have jobs every day.

Registering with employment agencies - this is a difficult one. They may try to force you to register with agencies for casual / temporary work. If you agree to register, you are committing yourself to doing it. If you don't it might be used against you. We would advise people to resist this - see Employment Agencies.

Other activities - this includes stuff like CV's; getting a reference from a previous employer; researching potential employers or occupations. On the value of CVs, see page 3. Obviously you can only get one reference once from a previous employer. "Researching" employers etc. could be as simple as photocopying a section out of the Yellow Pages. This would count as a job seeking step. But most of this stuff is one-off activity - so you could argue that you don't want it in your Agreement because you can't guarantee to do it every week. You can then use this sort of thing to provide evidence of job seeking activity when you need it.

Once signed, the Agreement can be changed but only if agreed by you and the Client Adviser. It seems likely that reviews and changes of the Agreement will only happen at Restart interviews, although you can request a change at any time.



This is a summary of the stricter system of benefit sanctions under J.S.A. The different "crimes" are explained in more detail in the relevant sections

"CRIME" - Not Available for Work, Not Actively Seeking Work, Not Completing Job Seekers Agreement, Failing to attend Employment Service Interview or Restart (or show good cause why you haven't within 5 days):
"PENALTY" - Immediate 100% suspension of benefit for as long as you don't meet the required conditions.

In practice this means your benefit is stopped from when you last signed on - so no giro. Your case is referred to an Adjudication Officer. Where the penalty concerns "Availability" and "Actively Seeking" they decide whether you lose all or only some of the money. If you can show, for example, that you were available for and actively seeking work for ten days you should get money for those days. You should also be able to sign on again at your next signing day as long as you can show you meet the requirements, though they can make you do a fresh claim and Job Seekers Agreement. If you miss a Restart etc. you will have to make a fresh claim. If your refuse to complete a Job Seekers Agreement you don't get any benefit till you do.

"CRIME" - Voluntarily Leaving Work, Refusing Notified Vacancy
- 100% disqualification for up to 26 weeks. For refusing a Notified Vacancy suspension is immediate. For Voluntarily Leaving Work it goes to an Adjudication Officer first. In both cases the Adjudication Officer decides how long the penalty lasts.

"CRIME" - Refusing to attend Compulsory Scheme, Failure to comply with Job Seekers Direction:
- Referred to Adjudication Officer. 100% disqualification for 2 weeks, 4 weeks for second & further refusals.

Hardship Payments - as a general rule if your claim hasn't been stopped but your benefit is suspended you can only get a hardship payment or access to Social Fund / Crisis Loans if you are in a vulnerable group (got kids, caring responsibility or your partner is pregnant, sick or disabled) or if the suspension is for longer than two weeks. Hardship payments are set at a reduced rate (40% or 20%) of benefit levels. Most single people will have zero access to help for the first two weeks of any suspension. But if in doubt tell them you want to apply for a hardship payment.

Appeal against any sanction or suspension of benefit. Get advice & representation if you can.

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