jobseeker's allowance

Jobseeker's Allowance, how do you claim it and how much do you get paid?

Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) - or 'the dole' to many young people - is paid if you are:

  • Capable of working
  • Available for work
  • Actively seeking work
  • 18 or over
  • Working less than 16 hours a week on average
How to claim

You can claim JSA by phone or online (except in Northern Ireland, where you're encouraged to fill in a claim form). When you claim you'll also have to go to your JobCentre Plus to discuss your jobseeker's agreement (an agreement setting out what steps you will take to find work). You must 'sign on' at the job centre every fortnight. You'll have a short interview to check your situation, job seeking progress and any change of circumstances, then you receive payment within a few days of signing on.

Types of JSA

1. Contribution-based JSA

This is based on your National Insurance Contribution record and is paid for a maximum period of six months.

  • If you are 18-24 years old you will find that the level of your benefit has been set at a reduced rate.
  • You can only claim contribution-based JSA for yourself.
  • Your right to claim contribution-based JSA is not affected by your partner's earnings or by the amount of savings you have.
  • You cannot get contribution-based JSA if you have only been paying NI contributions for self-employment. You may be able to get income-based JSA.

It is possible to get both at the same time (such as if you have a partner or are disabled or caring for someone who is disabled).

How much?

  • Single people, aged under 25: £50.95 a week
  • Single people aged 25 or over: £64.30 a week
  • Couples and civil partnerships (both aged 18 or over): £100.95 a week
  • Lone parents (aged under 18): £50.95 a week
  • Lone parents (aged 18 or over): £64.30 a week

These are maximum amounts. You may get less once household income and savings have been taken into account.

What about under 18s?

If you're aged 16 or 17 you can only get JSA in exceptional circumstances, for example, being cut off from or leaving your family leading to severe hardship. If you think that you might have exceptional circumstances, contact your nearest Jobcentre Plus office.

The more information you give Jobcentre Plus about the breakdown of your family relationship, the quicker they can make a decision about whether or not you're entitled to JSA. If you'd like someone else to be with you when you're interviewed, you can ask another adult who knows about your situation to go with you. Your parents won't be told about your meeting unless you want them to be.

If you don't qualify for JSA, you may be able to get Income Support.

Job Grant

If you find a job but cannot afford to pay one-off costs, such as new clothes or transport, you may be eligible for a Job Grant. It's a tax-free payment that won't affect other benefits or tax credits you're entitled to.

You must have been claiming benefits (for example, JSA or Income Support) for at least 26 weeks in order to qualify. Job Grant is set at £100 for single people or couples without children and £250 for single parents and couples with children.

You have to work at least 16 hours a week in your new job, although you can also get Job Grant if your partner works 24 hours a week and your benefits stops as a result and the work must be expected to last for at least five weeks.

You should automatically receive Job Grant, but you must tell your JobCentre Plus that you're about to start a new job.

Flexible New Deal

If you've been unemployed and receiving JSA for 12 months (or in some cases, six months), you must take part in Flexible New Deal if you live in one of the areas where it's being introduced. It's a programme designed to get you back into work. There's a list of areas where Flexible New Deal is being offered on the Directgov site.

Flexible New Deal replaces New Deal and, in some areas during 2009-10 (the transition period to the new system), you will have to take part in New Deal rather than its replacement. With New Deal, you have to sign up to it once you've received JSA for six months if you're aged 18-24 or for 18 months if you're aged 25 and over.

Both programmes are designed to help you find work. There are other New Deal programmes (such as New Deal for lone parents and New Deal for disabled people), where you decide whether or not to sign up to them.

Universal credit and changes to Jobseeker's Allowance

Currently the benefit system is undergoing a dramatic makeover, and it's all a tad up-in-the-air and complicated.

But the grand plan is to combine Jobseeker's Allowance with other benefits into one personal allowance called universal credit. To add to the confusion, it's not actually 'universal' at all as it won't replace disability living allowance, child benefit, statutory sick pay, maternity pay, or maternity allowance.

The major aim is to encourage the jobless, and particularly the long-term unemployed, to get back to work. Sounds good, but this emphasis on working isn't voluntary. There is a crime and punishment element to universal credit. If you don't actively seek employment or turn down a job offer - then you can say bye-bye to your benefits. Sanctions will allow your benefits to be frozen for four weeks for your first failure, and three whole months for your second.

The exact figures and policy are still being discussed, and we at will provide you with the gritty detail as and when we get them. But, for now, the legislation isn't going to be proposed as law until 2011, and universal credit won't be introduced until 2013.