Surviving The JSA
Andy Johnson examines ways around the Government's latest welfare statistics fiddle.
Squall 14, Autumn 1996, p. 24.
Re-write the script. There are loopholes in the JSA which, used with a bit of intelligence, may fend off the worst. Here at Squall we have waded through some of the most boring literature known to humanity to pick a few out. But first: General Advice:
1 - Know your rights, know the rules. (See the minutiae below).
2 - Consider signing off. Obviously what the Government wants and easier said than done. Some will find such a suggestion tantamount to capitulation. Fair enough. But by use of LETS schemes, strong community bases and alternative economics some resourceful types may be able to survive outside the system. This is an equally potent stance.
One point to bear in mind: employment service staff may have targets for "helping people back to work" (?!). Signing off may release the pressure on less resourceful people.
3 - Join a local unemployed centre, claimants action group or other body opposing the JSA. Groundswell are very much on the case. Phone 01865 723750 for local contact.
JSA is the new benefit for the unemployed. Unemployed people on income support will have to claim JSA. But others on Income Support who do not have to be available for work - lone parents and carers - can continue to claim IS.
Job Seeker's Agreement
Those claiming JSA will have to sign a Job Seeker's Agreement outlining what they are going to do to find work; the type of work sought and hours willing to work. It has to be signed by the "Job Seeker" and the claimant advisor (hereafter known as Clement).
Drive a hard bargain. You do not have to accept work, or follow a "Job Seeker's Direction" if it does not match the conditions in your Job Seeker's Agreement. But don't ask for ridiculous conditions or else Clement won't sign and you won't get dole. Clement has to be convinced you have "reasonable" prospects of finding work. You only have 13 weeks to find your preferred type of work.
If you think the restrictions you place on your availability for work are reasonable, and Clement refuses to sign, you have the right of appeal. Skills, qualifications and experience are relevant in the type of work you are looking for. To qualify for JSA you have to be ready and willing to work 40 hours a week. But you can refuse to accept work that offers less than 24 hours a week. If you have been allowed to restrict your hours to less than 24 (because of disability, caring responsibilities) you can refuse work of less than 16 hours a week. Caring responsibilities primarily refer to looking after a child or elderly relative or friend.
Restrictions on the type of work, wage level, location or other conditions you are willing to accept (as opposed to what you are looking for) may disqualify you from JSA unless you can show you still have reasonable prospects of finding work; or you have a disability or you have a "sincerely held religious belief or conscientious objection". This last clause is important. It is the same reason you can refuse to accept a job or a direction. It is obviously open to interpretation but guidelines given to benefits agency on the type of objections include:
- an objection to work concerned with the supply of alcohol
- an objection to work with material which may be used for the destruction of life
- an objection to being, or not being, a member of a trade union or similar association where membership or non-membership is a condition of the employment
Try and incorporate these latter two in the Job Seeker's Agreement. (You will still have to prove your employment prospects are reasonable).
You will have to prove you are "actively seeking work". Drawing up CVs, researching employers can be proof of this. If you throw an interview, or your "behaviour actively militates against you finding work" JSA may be suspended. But, you can argue your behaviour (eg, poor interview performance) was simply bad "job seeking" skills/lack of confidence, ie you did not do it on purpose.
Be careful when filling in the new claim form Helping You Back to Work. Although the Job Seeker's Agreement decides if you get JSA or not answers on the HYBW form may also be used.
Under threat of sanction (JSA withheld for two weeks or four weeks) Clement Advisor can instruct you to follow up vacancies, attend interviews and other things to make you employable.
If you refuse to take a job, JSA can only be stopped if the job was offered to you by Clement. "Good Cause" for refusing a job includes:
- being able to show the job would "cause significant harm to your health or subject you to excessive physical or mental strain".
- you had sincerely held religious or conscientious objections.
- you had caring responsibilities which made it unreasonable.
- travelling time or work based expenses (tools, clothes etc) were excessive.
And if the job does not conform to the restrictions you have placed on the days and hours you are available for work. You do not have to accept a job that pays commission only or if the travel involved in the job is more than an hour each way. These get out clauses are pretty much the same for refusing to carry out a "Job Seeker's Direction".
If you cannot show good cause benefit will be suspended for two weeks for a first offence, four weeks for further offences within a 12 month period. No hardship payments are payable for the first two weeks of any sanction. After two weeks you can apply (and have to apply - it will no longer be automatically payable) for hardship payments. But you will have to show you are suffering hardship! (see below for definitions of hardship). Some people will be able to claim for the first two weeks (see below).
If you give up your job, are sacked, refuse to accept a job offered by the ES or "neglect to avail yourself of a reasonable opportunity of employment" JSA can be suspended for up to 26 weeks. Again, during the first two weeks claimants cannot apply for hardship payments. But, if you have been unemployed for more than 13 weeks you can use Employment on Trial. There will be no sanction if you leave between the beginning of the fifth week and end of the twelfth week of employment.
Definitons of hardship
- You or your partner is pregnant.
- you or your partner are caring for a child or young person.
- you or your partner have other caring responsibilities.
- you or your partner suffer from a chronic medical condition.
Falling into these categories does not automatically qualify you for hardship payments. You must show that unless a payment is made there is a "substantial risk" that you will go without the essentials such as food, clothing, shelter, heating. This is by no means an exhaustive account of the fiddly bits of the JSA.
An excellent resource book (from which much of the above is taken) is the Unemployment and Training Rights Handbook by Dann Finn, Iain Murray and Clara Donelly. It's published by the Unemployment Unit, 322 St John Street, London, EC1V 4NT (0171 833 1222) and costs £12.
Manchester Pansies Sieze Job Centre - activists take over job centre in protest against Job Seekers Allowance - in this issue