CHAPTER 4AVAILABILITY AND JOBSEEKING RULES
There are three basic availability and jobseeking tests that you have to satisfy when you claim JSA. You will have to show that you are:
According to the guidance given to ES staff "availability is concerned with a person’s desire and willingness to return to work and actively seeking employment is concerned with the actions they take to return to work". You must also demonstrate that you are capable of work: "this conditions separates those who can work [and claim JSA] from those who, because of ill-health, should claim Incapacity Benefit"(JSA NJI, ch 3, para 103).
These tests are checked by an ES adviser when you first sign on for JSA. You will have to specify exactly how you intend to meet the availability and actively seeking work conditions in a form called the Jobseeker’ Agreement. You will have to show that you are continuing to meet these conditions of entitlement when you sign on each fortnight. More in-depth assessments of your jobsearch are undertaken at compulsory advisory interviews, such as the Restart interview. Your JSA can be suspended immediately if an adviser believes that you have failed to demonstrate that you are available for and actively seeking work. You have to satisfy these tests under the ‘New Deal gateway’ schemes. There is more information about this in the Unemployment Unit & Youthaid’s New Deal Handbook (see page*).
These availability and jobseeking rules are complex enough in themselves, but there is a range of exemptions and concessions given to certain groups of claimants, and to address particular circumstances, which further complicates matters. However, it is important to have some understanding of these rules as many of the questions in the JSA forms and the questions asked of you by ES staff are designed to assess whether you are entitled to receive JSA on the basis of these entitlement conditions.
Available for work
In general you will be accepted as available for work only if you can show that you are "willing and able to accept at once all offers of employment brought to your notice"(AOG, vol 4, para 26190). However, there are exemptions and qualifications to this rule which are very important as they give some scope for meeting the availability condition to a lesser degree. The main exemptions and qualifications apply to you if the benefit rules say that you can:
Certain groups of claimants may also have extra exemptions, because they:
There is considerable overlap between the availability for work rules and another set of rules which set out what constitutes "good cause" for refusing an offer of employment from the ES or for refusing or failing to apply for a job notified to you by the ES. In general, any restriction on your availability which is agreed by the ES and set out in your Jobseeker’s Agreement can serve as "good cause" for subsequently refusing offers of employment which are clearly not compatible with your restricted availability.
Although willingness to accept offers of employment is central to the availability rule, the guidance also states that the offer of employment is not the only way that the ES can test whether you meet the condition. An adjudication officer can decide that you "are not available for employment even if [you] have not refused an offer of work" and that you "will not be available if [you] are passive and merely wait for someone to find and offer [you] work"(AOG, vol 4, paras 26192 & 26196).
Adjudication officers are told that "it should generally be accepted that people are available for employment if"(AOG, vol 4, para 26200):
Pattern of availability and the 40 hour rule
To be available for employment you "must be willing and able to take up employment of at least 40 hours per week"(JSA Regs, reg 6(1)) unless you are one of the groups who are excused from meeting this requirement (see below). You will be "expected to be willing to work those hours to receive benefit even if [you] would prefer to work fewer hours" (HMSO 1994, para 4.4).
This does not mean that you should give any precedence to this type of employment, only that you must be available for a clearly specified 40-hour period in the week and willing to accept a job that fits within this pattern if it becomes available.
Conversely, if you would like to work at least 40 hours per week but "are offered work of fewer hours [you] will be expected to accept it"(HMSO 1994, para 4.4). However, you can refuse any job of less than 24 hours work per week. If you have been allowed to restrict your availability to less than 24 hours per week, you will be able to refuse jobs offering less than 16 hours per week (JSA Regs, reg 72(5)(a)).
The hours that you say that you will be available in each week must be agreed with an adviser at your first interview and set out in your Jobseeker’s Agreement before you will be entitled to receive any JSA. You will be asked to provide the following information in the Agreement: the days of the week that you are available; your earliest start time and latest finishing time each day; and, the most hours that you can work in each day and in total during the week. This then becomes known as your pattern of availability (for more advice on how to complete the Agreement see Chapter 6).
Restricted availability and the 40 hour rule
You can specify that 40 hours (or a higher number of hours) is the maximum number of hours that you wish to be available for in any week, providing that(JSA Regs, reg 7(2)):
You will be allowed to be available for less than 40 hours a week only if you(JSA Regs, reg 6(1)):
Restricted availability and other aspects of employment
In general you will not be eligible for JSA if you impose restrictions on the nature, rate of pay, location or other terms and conditions of employment which you are prepared to accept. You can place restrictions on your availability with regard to these aspects of employment only if(JSA Regs, regs 8,13(2)&(3),16):
The main way most claimants will be able to restrict the type of work and wage level that they are looking for when claiming JSA is during their permitted period, when they can restrict their jobsearch and availability to their usual occupation and level of pay for up to 13 weeks. However, after the permitted period ends, or from the beginning of your claim if you are not granted a permitted period, you must in principle be "available for any work which [you] can reasonably be expected to do" (original emphasis)(HMSO 1994, para 4.3).
Although individuals with disabilities or health problems and/or certain religious or conscientious beliefs may place some restrictions on the type of work that they are available for throughout their claim, the opportunities to do so after the permitted period are fairly limited for the majority of claimants. You will be able to place restrictions on the nature, rate of pay, location or other conditions of employment after the permitted period only if you "can show that [you have] reasonable prospects of securing employment notwithstanding [your] restrictions"(JSA Regs, reg 8).
Restricted availability and the rate of pay
When you are within your permitted period you can restrict the rate of pay you are looking for to your "accustomed rate of pay" (i.e. the rate of pay in your "usual occupation"). Apart from the permitted period, the only circumstances in which you can place restrictions on the rate of pay that you are willing to accept is if you have been allowed to do so because (JSA Regs, regs 9 & 13(2)):
For more details on placing restrictions on pay in relation to a disability or health problem, see page*.
The other exemption on pay, which is granted to claimants who can show that they have "reasonable prospects of securing employment" despite this restriction, is a new benefit rule which was introduced under JSA. According to a statement made by a Government minister, this is "more generous to jobseekers than the [previous] rules which allow[ed] no restrictions on pay after the permitted period". He explained that this JSA rule "allows jobseekers to continue placing restrictions on the rate of pay for which they are available, providing that they retain reasonable prospects of securing employment [with] an overall limit of 6 months"(Hansard HL Debate, col 1263, 29/1/96).
Subject to the earnings floor brought in by the National Minimum Wage (see page*), ES advisers are instructed that you "cannot specify any minimum pay requirement on [your] Jobseeker’s Agreement after 6 months from [your] date of claim" and that this can be verified at your 6-monthly Restart interview (JSA LOA, ch 2, para 26).
There are other issues related to the rate of pay and job offers made by ES staff, which you should be aware of (e.g. you can refuse any jobs paying on a commission-only basis). These issues are covered in detail in Chapter 8, see page*.
When you become unemployed you may be allowed a short period within which you can restrict your search for work to your "usual occupation" and also to "a level of pay that [you] are used to receiving". This is officially called your permitted period. If you qualify for a permitted period it lasts for a minimum of a week but no longer than 13 weeks from the beginning of your claim(JSA Regs, regs 16 & 20).
The permitted period allows you to restrict both your availability for work and how you are actively seeking work (unless you are self-employed: see page*). During the permitted period you can also refuse any job offer from the ES which is not in your "usual occupation" or at your "accustomed rate of pay".
The ES adviser conducting your first interview will determine whether you qualify for a permitted period and, if you do, how long it will last for. The adviser’s decision will be based on the answers you give in the Helping you Back to Work Form (ES2) and the JSA Claim Form (JSA1). The duration of your permitted period, including the "dates of the start and of the finish" must be written in your Jobseeker’s Agreement, which is completed by you and an adviser at your first interview(JSA Regs, reg 31(f)).
The permitted period "only applies where a claimant has a usual occupation"(AOG, vol 4, para 26386). However, you must be given a permitted period of some kind as long as you meet this one condition. ES advisers are instructed that a "permitted period applies to anyone who has a usual occupation" (JSA NJI, ch 3, para 108)
You will be able to restrict your jobsearch to self-employment during the permitted period if you meet certain conditions (see page* for more details).
You will not be given any permitted period if you do not have a usual occupation. This may apply to you because(JSA NJI, ch 3, para 121):
However, if you have temporarily left your occupation (e.g. on health grounds or because of a temporary industrial recession) it "remains [your] usual occupation if [you] have prospects of resuming it". Also, if you retire from "employment of a more general nature" (e.g. clerical work) "it remains [your] usual occupation if [you] are continuing to seek and may be able to obtain that employment from a different employer"(AOG, vol 4, para 26392).
If you have received training for an occupation, but have not been employed in it, it cannot be your usual occupation and qualify you for a permitted period. However, another benefit rules states that if you have undertaken vocational training for at least 2 months you are allowed a period of 4 weeks from the end of the training during which you can restrict your jobsearch to vacancies in the area you trained for(JSA Regs, reg 72(4)).
Length of permitted period
In deciding the length of your permitted period, advisers are told to take into account the following factors(JSA Regs, reg 16(2)):
More detailed guidance has been given to adjudication officers, who are told that some of the following factors may suggest that the permitted period should be longer, rather than shorter(AOG, vol 4, para 26388):
The permitted period and people with disabilities
If you are unable to continue working in your usual occupation due to a disability or a deterioration in your health you are likely to be referred to a disability employment adviser (DEA) for specialist advice. If this is the case "the DEA may need to redetermine the ‘permitted period’" that you were given when you attended your first interview with an ES adviser(JSA NJI, ch 3, para 119).
At the end of the permitted period
ES advisers are told that you should be informed at your first interview that "if you are still unemployed at the end of this [permitted] period [you] will be asked to an advisory interview", at which your Jobseeker’s Agreement "will be reviewed and revised to take into account the need to broaden [your] jobsearch". The procedures following the end of your permitted period are covered in detail in Chapter 7.
Reasonable prospects of securing employment
Unless you have a disability or a health problem or you are within your permitted period, you must demonstrate to the ES that you have "reasonable prospects of employment" in order to restrict your availability for work. Adjudication officers are told that "securing employment means obtaining a reasonable amount of regular employment [and] what is reasonable will differ from claimant to claimant depending on their restrictions and circumstances"(AOG, vol 4, para 26476).
Any assessment by an adjudication officer of your reasonable prospects should take into account the following(JSA Regs, reg 10(1)):
The final criterion (i.e. relocating your home to take up a job) should not be used to assess your reasonable prospects if you are only restricting the number of hours that you are available each week. This matter can only be taken into account to test your reasonable prospects if you "place restrictions on the nature of the employment for which [you are] available"(JSA Regs, reg 10(1)(e)).
Adjudication officers are instructed that if you have "been unemployed for several months and have not found employment in that time within [your] restrictions, the fact that [you] have not found such employment is strong evidence that [you] do not have reasonable prospects of obtaining it"(AOG, vol 4, para 26481).
However, adjudication officers are also told that there may be circumstances in which "a long period of unemployment does not necessarily show that [you] do not have reasonable prospects", for example, if(AOG, vol 4, para 26482):
Adjudication officers will generally assess reasonable prospects on the basis of evidence provided by ES advisers from "their knowledge of the labour market" or evidence from you. However, an adjudication officer "cannot decide against [you] only on the number of vacancies that fit [your] restrictions and are notified to the Jobcentre" on the grounds that most vacancies are never notified to the ES(AOG, vol 4, paras 26484-85).
Evidence that you have reasonable prospects of securing employment can include the fact that you have become "employed in the past with the same restrictions, unless there is other evidence to the contrary", including(AOG, vol 4, para 26488):
Restricted availability: some special groups
Immediately available: exceptions for carers, volunteers, part-time workers and "service providers"
Certain categories of JSA claimant are excused from the requirement that they should be immediately available to take up employment. Claimants with caring responsibilities and those engaged in voluntary work are judged available if they can start a job within 48 hours(JSA Regs, reg 5(1)). The definition of "carers" and "volunteers" for the purposes of JSA, and additional availability and jobseeking rules relating to these two groups, are given on pages * and *.
If you have a part-time job whilst claiming JSA (or you are "providing a service") you are not required to be immediately available for a full-time job provided that you are willing to start a job given 24 hours’ notice(JSA Regs, reg 5(2)). "Providing a service" can involve the following: jury service, being a witness in court proceedings, serving as a justice of the peace or a member of a tribunal, or serving a community service order.
If you are working part-time whilst claiming JSA you are also entitled to require the ES to give you a weeks’ notice of taking up full-time employment providing your employer requires you to give the statutory period of notice (i.e. 1 week)(JSA Regs, reg 5(3)). ES advisers are, however, told that "most employers will be prepared to waive this period of notice, especially for people undertaking small amounts of work". Nevertheless, they are bound to accept this restriction if the "employer insists on a period of notice … only the statutory period is relevant, not any further contractual period" (JSA LOA, ch 2, para 52).
Apart from the above concessions on immediate availability, part-time workers "must show that they are available for work for at least 40 hours in a week" unless they can restrict themselves to less than 40 hours on the same grounds as other claimants (i.e. because they are a carer or a person with a disability or health problem).
However, the "40 hour pattern can include the hours they are already working provided they have reasonable prospects of obtaining work within this 40 hour pattern". The ES guidance emphasises that you "must, if necessary, be prepared to give up the part-time job to take employment of 40 hours a week"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 50).
People with caring responsibilities
If you have caring responsibilities, you are permitted to give 48 hours notice before taking up a job (see above). You can also restrict your weekly availability to less than 40 hours per week providing that you(JSA Regs, reg 13(4)):
In considering whether you meet the first of the above conditions, an ES adviser will look at all the available evidence, but must give particular regard to:
Caring responsibilities are defined as "responsibility for caring for a person in the same household or a close relative who is: a child under the age of 16; of or over pensionable age; or a person whose physical or mental condition requires them to be cared for"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 17).
The ES does not accept that someone has caring responsibilities if they are a friend or a neighbour who acts as a carer. In these circumstances it will be explained to you "that despite [your] caring responsibilities [you] must be available for a minimum of 40 hours employment each week"(JSA SN, ch 2, para 11).
ES advisers are told that if you are "caring for a young child or a person with physical or mental limitations [you] may need to spend more time caring ... than [someone] who has caring responsibilities for a teenage child". Furthermore, the guidance says that a claimant "with a young child may wish to restrict their availability to 16 hours per week, which would be acceptable provided they continue to have reasonable prospects of securing employment"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 41).
Although people looking after older children will "in general" be expected to be available for more hours, the ES guidance does state that if in these circumstances "all [your] caring responsibilities will allow is 16 hours then that is acceptable providing [you] still have reasonable prospects of obtaining employment"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 41).
Remember, your childcare responsibilities can have a bearing on your claim only if they raise doubts about your availability. To be available for work you have to be able to make childcare arrangements within 48 hours and you should have the name of a relative, friend, neighbour or childminder who would be willing to look after your child(ren) for you. You can say that you could make long-term arrangements after you knew the details of any job you might get. Adjudication officers are told that people with childcare responsibilities "should ask about and make use of any facilities such as" day nurseries, childcare schemes, school meals and the help of friends or relatives(AOG, vol 4, para 26438).
The above guidance also applies to claimants with other kinds of caring responsibilities, who should be able to demonstrate that they are able to make alternative caring arrangements within 48 hours in order to take up employment. Adjudication officers are told that they "should ask about and make use of any facilities such as" home helps or friends and relatives(AOG, vol 4, para 26438).
Remember, you should carefully consider your options if you are entitled to claim an alternative benefit to JSA because you have caring responsibilities. Lone parents with children aged under 16 and people entitled to Invalid Care Allowance are entitled to claim Income Support in their own right (see page*).
For more details on the effect of your caring responsibilities on your rights in relation to job offers, see page*.
People with a disability or health problem
The exemptions to the availability for work rule granted to people with disabilities and health problems are wider than those for any other group of claimants. Under these exemptions you "may restrict [your] availability in any way providing the restrictions are reasonable in the light of [your] physical or mental condition"(JSA Regs, reg 13(3)). In addition, adjudication officers are told that "claimants who restrict their availability in this way do not have to show that they have reasonable prospects of obtaining employment with the restriction" (AOG, vol 4, para 26442).
This means that you can restrict the hours that you are available for work each week to less than 40 hours. There is no specified minimum number of weekly hours for which people with disabilities and health problems must be available. You may also place any other restrictions on the nature, rate of pay, location or other terms and conditions of employment as long as they "are reasonable in the light of your physical or mental condition".
However, you "must show that all the restrictions are reasonable in view of [your] health"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 35). This means that although ES advisers may accept some of your restrictions on these grounds, they are instructed to check if there are any additional restrictions unconnected to any disability or health problem which may call into doubt your availability for work.
If you place additional restrictions on your availability for work which are unconnected to your disability or health problem, you will have to demonstrate that you have reasonable prospects of securing employment notwithstanding the restriction, like other JSA claimants. For example, an adjudication officer may accept that you can be available for only 2 days per week, but may decide that the wage level that you are restricting yourself to for this week’s work is unrealistic and is not reasonable in the light of your physical or mental condition and therefore makes you unavailable.
Adjudication officers "can obtain medical evidence if they do not have enough evidence to decide if the restrictions are reasonable because of [your] physical or mental condition". However, because you will have to pay for a GP to provide a statement, they are told that this "should be considered only if sufficient evidence cannot be obtained from other sources"(AOG, vol 4, paras 26443-44).
If you have had a medical examination from a BA doctor in relation to a re-assessment of a claim for Incapacity Benefit, an adjudication officer may consider this medical report, but "should have [your] permission before approaching the doctor"(AOG, vol 4, para 26445).
The adjudication officer may also request the views of Disability Service Team within the Jobcentre. When you first sign on for JSA you may be referred to a disability employment adviser from this team and your availability for work and the terms of your Jobseeker’s Agreement may have been considered by one of these specialist advisers. For more details on the signing on process and completion of the Jobseeker’s Agreement for people with disabilities and special needs, see pages* and *.
For more details on the effect of any disabilities or health problems on your rights in relation to job offers, see page*.
Religious beliefs and conscientious objections
You can place restrictions on the type of work (but not the number of hours) that you are available for on the grounds that you have a "sincerely held religious belief or a sincerely held conscientious objection"(JSA Regs, reg 13(2)). However, unlike JSA claimants with disabilities, you must show that you have reasonable prospects of employment notwithstanding these restrictions and meet all the other standard availability rules.
Common restrictions in this category are not working on a Sunday on religious grounds or on another day if this is appropriate to your religion. ES guidance states that "a person who follows a particular religion may object to taking a job which requires them to work on a day which is considered sacred"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 32b). You can also refuse to work in certain jobs (e.g. working in an abattoir, work which involves the supply and handling of alcohol) because of a conscientious objection or on account of religious beliefs.
However, although an adjudication officer may accept your principal restriction on these grounds, they are instructed to check if there are any additional restrictions unconnected to your religious or conscientious convictions which may call into doubt your availability for work.
For more details on the effect of religious beliefs and conscientious objections on your rights in relation to job offers, see page*.
Short-time working and temporary lay-offs:
availability for work and actively seeking work rules
If you are on short-time work or temporarily laid off as a result of adverse industrial conditions encountered by your employer, you are entitled to claim JSA for up to 13 weeks without having to be available for alternative full-time work providing you(JSA Regs, reg 17):
When demonstrating that you are available for casual work during the 13-week period, you are allowed to place the same restrictions as any other JSA claimant on the weekly hours that you are available for work (see page*) and you do not have to be able to start a job immediately if you qualify for this concession (see page *) (JSA LOA, ch 2, paras 357 & 360). If you are on short-time work you must be available for casual work, which when totalled with your short-time working hours, comes to at least 40 hours (or less than 40 hours if you can restrict your availability as a carer or a person with a disability or health problem). Casual employment is defined in the benefit rules as work which does not require you to give an employer notice (JSA Regs, reg 4).
During this 13-week period you will also be able to meet the actively seeking work condition if you take "such steps as [you] can reasonably be expected to have to take in order to have the best prospects of securing" casual employment(JSA Regs, reg 21).
After 13 weeks you "must be available to take any job and must be prepared to give up [your] job in order to do so"(HMSO 1994, para 4.9). However, a Government minister has confirmed that "this does not mean that claimants will have to give up their existing jobs after the thirteenth week", but to receive benefit "they will have to satisfy the normal JSA conditions of being available for work and seeking it actively" and "will risk sanction if they refuse a normal offer of full-time work, even if that means giving up their existing job" (Letter, 24/10/95).
If you are still claiming JSA as a short-time or laid off worker after 13 weeks and the job comes to an end, you "are not entitled to any permitted period" when you start claiming JSA as a wholly unemployed claimant. However, if the job ends before 13 weeks elapse you will be eligible for a permitted period of up to 13 weeks reduced by the number of weeks that you have already been claiming JSA as a short-time or laid off worker(JSA LOA, ch 2, paras 361-62).
A Government minister has stated that there will be "no change to the special redundancy payment procedure whereby employees who have been laid off or put on short-time working for a specified period can serve notice on their employer that they intend to leave and exercise their right to a redundancy payment"(Letter, 24/10/95).
Actively seeking work
Unemployed people "claiming JSA must actively seek employment in each week that they claim … this means that they must take those steps each week which are reasonable and offer them best prospects of securing employment"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 54).
Details of what you have agreed to do to satisfy the actively seeking work test each week are contained in your Jobseeker’s Agreement, "but claimants must in each week take the steps that give them their best chances of employment"(AOG, vol 4, para 26573).
What counts as a step?
Some of the jobsearch steps you can take are defined in the benefit rules(JSA Regs, reg 18(2)). These "include steps to seek work and steps to enhance [your] employability". The following "are regarded as single steps to seek work" (JSA LOA, ch 2, paras 58-59):
The following "are regarded as single steps to improve [your] employability":
The above lists are not exhaustive. Adjudication officers are told that "any other steps can be taken into account providing they give [you the] best chance of getting offers of work"(AOG, vol 4, para 26607).
You will not be able to confine your jobseeking activity just to "steps to improve your employability". ES advisers are instructed that you "cannot satisfy the actively seeking employment requirement if [you] continually take steps to improve [your] employability without ever actually looking, or applying, for a job"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 64).
Steps that "could give rise to offers only of training cannot be regarded as steps to seek employment". However, "taking steps to join certain courses or programmes should be taken into account when deciding what steps to seek employment it was reasonable to expect [you] to take"(AOG, vol 4, para 26609).
The "best prospects" criterion means that you "are not required to take any steps that do not offer [you] any chance of getting an offer of employment". However, it also follows that "if [you] do take such a step it cannot help [you] satisfy the actively seeking employment test"(AOG, vol 4, para 26619).
How many steps do you have to take?
In order to show that you have the "best chance of getting employment [you] are expected to have to take more than one step on one occasion unless taking one step on one occasion is all that it is reasonable for [you] to do in that week"(AOG, vol 4, para 26601).
ES advisers are told that "in most cases [you] are expected to take more than one step a week to satisfy the actively seeking employment condition" and that it is only "exceptionally [that you] may satisfy the actively seeking employment condition by taking only one step on a single occasion in the week". An example of circumstances in which one step may be accepted as sufficient is if you are homeless and are spending most of your time in the week looking for somewhere to live.
A good rule of thumb is to take more than one step unless you have good reason to believe that the ES will accept that your circumstances in the week in question were exceptional enough to warrant only a single step.
It does not matter whether you take some steps to seek work on every day of the week, or concentrate your activities into a few days (or even one day), providing that you take these steps which are reasonable to satisfy the condition. ES advisers are told that "each step is expected to be taken on a separate occasion, although [you] may satisfy the actively seeking employment condition by taking steps on only one day in the week"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 57). The guidance for adjudication officers states that "for example, writing to three employers, or applying for three vacancies, on the same day is taking three steps to seek employment" (AOG, vol 4, para 26611).
Factors influencing what steps are reasonable
Whilst claiming JSA you have to take those steps each week which are reasonable and offer you the best prospects of finding work. Adjudication officers are required to look at these factors when they examine whether you have met the actively seeking work condition.
In deciding whether or not the steps taken were reasonable, adjudication officers must "consider all the circumstances of the case". In particular they must take into account a number of factors which, while they do not free you from the obligation to actively seek work, will influence the number and type of steps you can be expected to take. These factors are(JSA Regs, reg 18(3)):
Some of the above activities can exempt you completely from actively seeking work during a week if the activity lasts for at least 3 days (see page* for more details).
ES advisers should take into account all the factors listed above when they are assessing if you are taking steps offering you the best prospect of securing employment. In addition, they must take into account any restrictions that you have placed on your availability and related matters such as any permitted period you are covered by (see page*) (AOG, vol 4, paras 26619-20).
Your skills/qualifications and best prospects of finding work
The guidance given to ES advisers says that "some jobseekers will have good prospects of employment and there may be many steps they can take which may lead to offers of work". If this is the case, "provided [you] take the steps which are most likely to give [you the] best prospects of receiving a job offer [you] are not expected to take every step open to you". However, the guidance also says that "other jobseekers will have poor prospects of employment and there may be only a few steps open to them". In these circumstances it "may therefore be reasonable to expect [you] to take all of them"(JSA LOA, ch 2, paras 323-24).
Claimants who are highly skilled or qualified and who are allowed to restrict their jobsearch (e.g. because they are within their permitted period) are also given greater flexibility about how they look for work. The guidance given to adjudication officers suggests that for these people "consulting job advertisements in professional magazines or registering with a specialist employment agency may be steps that would give these people their best chance of getting employment [and] visiting their local Jobcentre may not give these people their best chance of getting offers of employment"(AOG, vol 4, para 26620).
Claimants who are looking for semi-skilled or unskilled work are given less flexibility about how they look for work. The guidance given to adjudication officers suggests that for these people "activities such as regularly visiting their local Jobcentre and applying for jobs advertised in the situations vacant pages of local newspapers may be steps that would give these people their best chance of getting employment"(AOG, vol 4, para 26620). Remember, this may apply to you even if you are highly skilled/qualified because you are no longer allowed to restrict your jobsearch because your permitted period has ended.
Jobsearch in previous weeks
The jobsearch steps that you have undertaken in previous weeks "will often have a bearing on what steps it is reasonable for [you] to take in the week in question". For example, if you have "written to an employer and [are] awaiting a reply or [have] been told no work is available, it is clearly not reasonable for [you] to write to that employer again immediately". However, it may be reasonable to expect you to apply for a newly-advertised vacancy with the same employer while awaiting a response to a previous application(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 310(a)&(e)).
The same principle applies if you have registered with an employment agency which has promised to let you know about any suitable vacancies. In this case it is "normally reasonable for [you] to wait for the agency to contact [you], at least for a couple of weeks". However, you will be expected to take other steps to seek work while waiting for the agency to contact you(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 310(c)).
If you are expected to use the vacancy service in the Jobcentre as part of your regular jobseeking an ES adviser can suggest that "it may be reasonable for [you] to contact the Jobcentre every week because of a high turnover of vacancies"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 310(d)).
Actively seeking work and travelling time
You normally should not have to travel more than an hour in each direction when you are looking for work in person (e.g. visiting employers’ premises). ES staff are told that "a travelling time of one hour each way on public transport is not unreasonable for a jobseeker with no physical or mental limitations"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 317).
In general "it is not reasonable to expect [you] to look for work further afield to satisfy the actively seeking employment test even if [your] prospects of obtaining employment in [your] home area are poor"(AOG, vol 4, paras 26665-66).
However, there is one exception to this. Adjudication officers are told that "it would be reasonable to expect [you] to look further afield to satisfy the actively seeking employment test" if you:
The two groups of claimants who do not have to show "reasonable prospects" when restricting their availability in this way (people with disabilities and people within their permitted period) are exempted from this ruling and cannot be forced to "look further afield to satisfy the actively seeking employment test". However, anyone who does have to show reasonable prospects when restricting their availability in this way (see page*) is not exempt.
You will receive assistance with fares to attend job interviews only if you qualify for the Travel to Interview scheme (see Chapter 12).
"Special needs" and actively seeking work
ES staff are told to be aware of the particular jobsearch difficulties faced by some claimants, especially if they have health problems or disabilities, or if they have reading and writing difficulties, or if English is their second language.
Advisers are told that "a mentally or physically disabled jobseeker may not be able to cope with the amount or type of jobsearch which would be reasonable for a jobseeker who is not disabled". They are also told that if you are undertaking training in the use of aids to help you obtain or retain employment, it should be recognised that you "will not have as much time available to [you] to seek work as other jobseekers"(JSA LOA, ch 2, paras 304-5). Specific jobseeking problems, such as travelling difficulties, are highlighted: you "may not be able to make many personal visits to employers or employment agencies". However, you must "still take whatever steps [you] can reasonably be expected to take allowing for [your] disabilities and the facilities available to [you]" (AOG, vol 4, para 26640).
ES staff are told that they "should not expect jobseekers who have literacy problems to write to employers or read advertisements." However, the ES guidance also says that if you have reading and writing difficulties, you can "make arrangements with a third party to draw vacancies to [your] attention and should take other steps which are reasonable in [your] case, such as visiting or telephoning employers". ES staff may recommend that you get help with your literacy problems on the grounds that "attending a course designed to help [you] with [your] literacy would enhance [your] employability"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 306).
Actively seeking work rules for homeless people
ES staff must take the following factors into account in deciding what jobsearch is reasonable for you to undertake if you are homeless(JSA LOA, ch 2, paras 321-22):
The ES guidance suggests that "some homeless jobseekers may be able to arrange for friends or relatives to receive their mail". However, "all the facts must be taken into account when deciding whether this is reasonable in [your] case"(AOG, vol 4, para 26661).
ES staff are also told that if you are homeless you "may not have much time left to actively seek employment and it may be acceptable for [you] to take only one step"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 57).
Restricting your jobsearch
There is a direct relationship between any restrictions you have been allowed to place on your availability for work (as detailed in your Jobseeker’s Agreement) and the jobseeking steps that you are expected to undertake. Adjudication officers are instructed that "it is not reasonable to expect [you] to take steps that could result in an offer of employment in a job outside the restrictions [you] have placed"(AOG, vol 4, para 26664). For more details on the restricted availability rules, see page *.
The permitted period
If you are within your permitted period (see page*) you can restrict your jobsearch to your "usual occupation" and to your "accustomed level of pay". However, you "are not exempt from the actively seeking employment condition [and you] must take these steps each week which are reasonable in [your] case and offer [you the] best prospects of securing employment, albeit in [your] usual occupation". If you wish to do so, you "may also choose to look for work outside [your] usual occupation even though [you] are within the permitted period" (JSA LOA, ch 2, para 70).
When claiming JSA you are allowed to be "available for self-employment provided that [you] are still prepared to take a job as an employee" and you meet some other conditions(HMSO 1994, para 4.3). According to the Government this "widening of the scope of the availability condition recognises that more people than ever are moving between working as an employee and becoming self-employed [and] it is right that the availability rules should recognise that many unemployed people are looking for opportunities to work for themselves".
Under JSA the permitted period has been extended to self-employment to reflect this approach. If you qualify you "will be able to restrict [your] jobsearch to opportunities for self-employment during the permitted period, although [you] will be expected to take a job as an employee in [your] own field if one is offered to [you]"(HMSO 1994, para 4.7). To qualify for restricting your jobsearch in this way during the permitted period, you must have been self-employed at some stage during the 12 months preceding the date of your claim for JSA (JSA Regs, reg 20(3)).
You are not expected to look for any employment opportunities arising out of a trade dispute in order to meet the actively seeking work condition(AOG, vol 4, para 26664.2).
"Good cause" for refusing job offers
Under JSA Regulations(JSA Regs, reg 72) you are not expected to "take steps that could result in an offer of employment that [you] would have good cause for refusing if it was notified to [you] by an [ES adviser]" (AOG, vol 4, para 26664.4). For the full range of what constitutes "good cause" for refusing offers of employment from the ES, see page *.
Appointing someone else to help with your jobsearch
Some claimants can "ask someone else to seek work on their behalf or assist them in their efforts to find work". These claimants include:
When you appoint someone else in these circumstances you are "still responsible for supplying evidence of jobsearch undertaken for [you]". The ES will "assess this in the same way as if [you] had undertaken the jobsearch". Furthermore, appointing a third party "does not mean that [you] need not take other steps" to find work. ES staff will consider what you can do in addition to what is being done on your behalf(JSA LOA, ch 2, paras 297-99).
Reducing your prospects of obtaining employment
A jobseeking step which you undertake will not count towards the actively seeking work condition if there is evidence to show that you deliberately reduced your prospects of obtaining employment(JSA Regs, reg 18(4)). This rule was introduced "to enable benefit to be stopped where an unemployed person’s behaviour is such that it actively militates against finding work" (HMSO 1994, para 4.13).
The rule is that "a step that would otherwise count towards satisfying the actively seeking employment requirement may be disregarded where it is taken in such a way as to reduce its chances of being successful". ES advisers will disregard steps where you have(JSA Regs, reg 18(4)):
The ES expect that "circumstances in which jobseekers reduce their prospects of obtaining employment will normally come to light through contact with the employer [and] in most cases the employer will probably notify the Jobcentre of any problems". However, the ES guidance says that "advisers may also find out about such cases if they take follow up action on jobseekers they have referred to a job"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 315).
If an adviser believes that such circumstances apply to your jobseeking activity s/he can suspend your benefit immediately and refer your claim to an adjudication officer on the grounds that you were not "genuinely" looking for work during the week in question. You will be able to show "good cause" for your behaviour or appearance in these circumstances only if the adjudication officer accepts that the "circumstances were beyond [your] control" when you acted in this way.
The ES guidance says that circumstances beyond your control may be accepted if you have "a history of mental illness"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 314). You may also be able to show that inappropriate behaviour on your part was beyond your control as a result of a drink- or drug-related condition. The ES does accept that such problems "can interfere with mental and physical health and any jobseekers with a known problem will have their circumstances taken into account when considering their availability for employment" (Hansard WA, col 528, 18/3/97). However, you will not be excused unless there is evidence to substantiate that you have a "known problem" and you should therefore inform an ES adviser of any drink- or drug-related problem which will prevent you meeting the standard availability for and actively seeking work entitlement conditions for JSA.
Alternatively, you may wish to provide evidence supporting your case on the grounds that you were not deliberately undermining your prospects of getting the job and that the ES adviser or prospective employer either misread the situation or wrongly attributed "spoiling tactics" to what were simply inferior jobseeking skills (e.g. a badly written application form).
You can receive a much longer benefit penalty for reducing your prospects of obtaining employment than is permissible under the actively seeking work rules if an ES adviser decides that your behaviour constituted "refusal of employment", which carries a benefit penalty of up to 26 weeks. However, the "refusal of employment" rule can be invoked only if you had been officially notified of the vacancy in question beforehand by an ES adviser (see page* for more details).
There may also be circumstances in which ES staff decide to issue you with a Jobseeker’s Direction instructing you to change certain aspects of your appearance which they believe are reducing your prospect of obtaining employment (see page* for more details).
Treated as available for work and actively seeking work
In addition to the concessions covered in earlier sections of this chapter, there are certain circumstances in which claimants are "treated as" being available for work and actively seeking work. If these circumstances apply, you are automatically treated as available for work and actively seeking work without having to meet any of the conditions normally attached to these benefit rules.
Usually, you continue to be treated as available for and actively seeking work "for as long as these circumstances apply" or for the specified maximum period linked to the particular situation.
During any days in these periods you "are treated as available for the number of hours that [you] are required to be available for on that day as in [the] pattern of availability recorded in [your] Jobseeker’s Agreement"(AOG, vol 4, para 26377). If you do not have a pattern of availability because you have not restricted the number of hours that you are available for, you are "treated as available for eight hours on each day that these circumstances arise for the purpose of determining whether [you] were available for 40 hours in the week" (JSA LOA, ch 2, para 76).
There are also certain circumstances in which you are treated as actively seeking work but not treated as available for work. In these circumstances you do "not have to take any steps to look for work" but you "must remain available for work" (original emphasis)(JSA LOA, ch 2, paras 73 & 78).
When the following guidance refers to a 12-month period, this refers to the previous 12 months "that ends with the week or benefit week being considered"(AOG, vol 4, paras 26371 & 26785) (except when you are treated as available under the temporarily treated as capable of work rule: see page *).
Many of these circumstances specify that you must be engaged in the activity for at least 3 days per week before you are completely exempted from the actively seeking work condition for the week in question. If you are engaged for less than 3 days you are required to "take some additional steps to actively seek work in that benefit week, unless taking only one step was all that was reasonable for [you] to take in that week"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 85). However, some of these activities lasting less than 3 days may help you meet the actively seeking work condition.
On Government programmes
The New Deal
Under the New Deal schemes you must continue to satisfy the availability for work and the actively seeking work rules whilst undergoing the compulsory initial Gateway scheme. You will continue to get JSA if you do. For more details, see page* for the New Deal Handbook.
If you don’t get an unsubsidised job during your time on the Gateway, then you will enter one of the New Deal options. If you are on the Employment Option you will be treated as an employee and will be paid a wage. If you are on the Full-time Education and Training Option you get an allowance which is equivalent to your benefit. The Environment and Voluntary Sector Options pay an allowance or a wage. If you get a training allowance you retain the "passported benefits" like Housing Benefit. If you get a wage you will lose JSA since you are working. You may be able to claim in-work benefits like Housing Benefit and Family Credit (Working Families Tax Credit from October 1999).
Programmes paying a training allowance
You are treated as available for work and actively seeking work when you attend a Government programme, such as Work-Based Learning for Adults (WBLA), for which you receive a training allowance consisting of your previous entitlement to JSA plus £10(JSA Regs, reg 170). When you attend these programmes you are not required to sign on each fortnight in order to demonstrate that you are available for and actively seeking work.
Other Government programmes
For other Government programmes, which are normally run by the ES, you have to remain available for work when you attend them. However, you are treated as actively seeking work if you attend any such programme for at least 3 days per week(JSA Regs, reg 19(1)(q)).
If you are attending for less than 3 days per week you "must take some steps to satisfy the actively seeking employment condition for the week, unless taking only one step was all that was reasonable for [you] to take"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 261). However, if you are attending a Government programme for less than 3 days a week, this must be taken into account by adjudication officers if they are assessing whether you have undertaken enough "reasonable steps" to look for work (see page * for more details).
Other courses and programmes
The exemptions below do not cover the benefit rules relating to availability for work and actively seeking work for claimants who are using the JSA part-time study provisions. These are covered in detail in Chapter 18 of this Handbook.
You are treated as available for work on any day that you are attending a course or programme of the following types. You are also treated as actively seeking work if the activity lasts for at least 3 days per week(JSA Regs, regs 14 & 19):
You are treated as actively seeking work, but have to remain available for work, when attending the following types of courses and programmes(JSA Regs, regs 4 & 19):
Deaths, funerals, domestic emergencies
You are treated as available for work if(JSA Regs, reg 14(2)&(6)):
However, in these situations you are treated as available "for the time required to deal with the emergency or other circumstances and for a maximum of 1 week" for any occurrence. In addition, you are only allowed to make yourself unavailable on these grounds for a maximum of four times in any 12-month period.
You are treated as actively seeking work in these circumstances only if they last for at least 3 days and you are also being treated as available for work during the period in question(JSA Regs, reg 19(1)(o)).
Whether an illness is a "serious illness" in these circumstances is decided by the adjudication officer "based on all the available evidence". If there is not sufficient evidence the adjudication officer "may obtain evidence form the claimant’s GP, but this must only be done with the claimant’s permission"(AOG, vol 4, para 26334).
In deciding whether you have to deal with a domestic emergency the adjudication officer is instructed to consider ((AOG, vol 4, para 26335):
General emergencies and the emergency services
You are treated as available for any period in which you are(JSA Regs, reg 14(1)(d)):
You are not treated as actively seeking work unless the emergency activity lasts for at least 3 days during the week in question(JSA Regs, reg 19(1)(d)).
Adjudication officers are told that you "are engaged during an emergency in duties for the benefit of others" if you are a "member of a group organised wholly or partly to provide help or protection" and you are(AOG, vol 4, paras 26348-49):
The guidance also says that "events that may give rise to an emergency" include: a fire, flood or explosion; a natural catastrophe; a railway or other transport accident; a cave or mountain accident; an accident at sea; and the organisation of a search for a missing person.
Beginning and end of your claim
You can be treated as available for work and actively seeking work for some days at the beginning and end of your claim for JSA. This applies to(JSA Regs, reg 18(a)):
This is a complex rule due to the fact that the "benefit week" does not reflect a standard calendar week. Your "benefit weeks" are directly linked to your fortnightly signing-on day: your second benefit week ends on your signing-on day and your first benefit week ends on a date 7 days before your signing-on day. In essence this rule treats you as available for and actively seeking work for "part benefit weeks" at the beginning and end of your claim.
Discharged from custody
You are treated as available for work and actively seeking work for 1 week if you have "been discharged from detention in a prison, remand centre or youth custody institution". The week begins with the date of discharge(JSA Regs, regs 14(1)(h))& 19(1)(h)). You may be treated as available for and actively seeking work for longer than a week because you also qualify for an exemption for a "part benefit week" at the beginning of your claim (see above).
Absence from Great Britain, temporary childcare responsibilities, illness and holidays abroad
You will be treated as available for work if you(JSA Regs, reg 14):
You will be treated as actively seeking work in any of these weeks only if you are engaged in the activity for at least 3 days in the week in question.
Apart from the above exemptions you cannot normally claim JSA for any other period that you are absent from Great Britain. However, there are exceptions to this if you are going abroad as part of your training under the Work-Based Learning for Adults programme (see page* for more details) or if you are visiting Northern Ireland.
If you are simply going to Northern Ireland for a holiday, you are treated in the same way as a JSA claimant who is going on holiday within Great Britain (see below). If you go to Northern Ireland for an extended period, you can continue to claim JSA there for up to 4 weeks providing you continue to show that you are available for and actively seeking work and that you intend to return to Great Britain within a year(JSA Regs, reg 50(2)).
If ES staff know that you are going abroad for a holiday they will ask you to fill out the section of the Going away from home form (ES674) entitled "Going abroad". Your claim will be terminated and you will need to make a new claim for JSA when you return from abroad.
Holidays and absence from home in the UK
Although you cannot claim JSA when you go abroad on holiday (see above) you can go on holiday in the UK (i.e. Great Britain and Northern Ireland), or be absent from home in the UK for other reasons (e.g. to visit a sick relative), and continue to receive your benefit. In addition, you are excused from actively seeking work in these circumstances for a maximum of 2 weeks in each 12-month period, providing you arrange your absence with the ES before you leave and you remain available for work while you are away(JSA Regs, reg 19(1)(p)). You can stay away for longer than 2 weeks providing that you are available for work and actively seeking work after the first fortnight has elapsed.
The ruling that you must remain available for work means that the Jobcentre has to be able to contact you while you are away from home. You will be required to provide details of where you are staying in the Going away from home form (ES674). If you cannot give an address and telephone number at which you can be directly contacted every day while you are away, you can give "the name, address and telephone number of someone who you will be in contact with while you are away" (question 7 in the ES674 form). You should be able to demonstrate that this arrangement will enable the Jobcentre to contact you about job opportunities on any day that you are away.
There are a number of questions in the form asking whether you are willing and able to return home immediately to take up a job opportunity. If you do not answer yes to these questions your availability for work will be in doubt and you could lose benefit. This also applies if you cannot demonstrate that while you are away you will be available on the days and hours that are set out in your Jobseeker’s Agreement.
The form concludes with a number of questions about your jobseeking. If you are only going away for 2 weeks you can specify that you will not be looking for work. However, if you are going away for longer you must show that you will also be actively seeking work after 2 weeks has elapsed. Alternatively, you may be required to look for work throughout your absence because you have used your 2-week exemption period within the previous 12 months. If you wish, you can use your 2-week actively seeking work exemption for two separate periods of absence lasting a week each(AOG, vol 4, para 26743).
If you do not have time to complete the ES674 you may be allowed to make arrangements about your absence by telephoning the Jobcentre before you go(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 226).
You will be expected to return home on the date you gave on the ES674 (or verbally over the phone) and attend the Jobcentre on the appointment date given to you before you left or risk losing benefit.
Blind people attending a training course in the use of guide dogs can add the 2-week actively seeking work exemption to the 4 weeks they are allowed to attend such a course (see page*). They therefore have a maximum of 6 weeks during which they can be away from home without actively seeking work (JSA Regs, reg 19(2)(c)).
Availability and actively seeking:
people engaged in other activities
The benefit rules in general allow claimants to undertake part-time study and training within certain limitations but do not allow full-time students to claim JSA. The rules affecting students, especially those relating to part-time study and training, are very complicated and a whole chapter in the Handbook is dedicated to the subject. For more details, see Chapter 18.
Unemployed people are allowed to do voluntary work. You may even be encouraged to participate in voluntary activity, for example, if you leave a scheme without a job. However, if you are a volunteer claiming JSA you must continue to show that you are available for full-time paid work, take active steps to look for this kind of work and if necessary be willing to give up your voluntary work for employment. The ES defines voluntary work as(JSA LOA, ch 2, paras 15-16):
In recognition of the value the Government places on voluntary work, there are a number of concessions for volunteers in relation to the availability and jobseeking rules. Like carers, volunteers are not required to be immediately available for a full-time job provided that they are willing to start a job given 48 hours’ notice(JSA Regs, reg 5(1)). The ES guidance says that this ruling means that you must be willing and able to rearrange or give up your voluntary work, on being given 48 hours notice to (JSA LOA, ch 2, para 394):
Adjudication officers are told that it should also be confirmed whether you "can be contacted promptly enough for any notification to reach [you] in time"(AOG, vol 4, para 26266). A provider of a voluntary work placement can assist you to meet this condition by ensuring that Jobcentre staff are able to contact you at any time.
A Government minister has stated that "there is no limit on the hours a person may undertake voluntary work while in receipt of JSA, so long as they are actively seeking work and available for work at 48 hours’ notice"(Hansard WA, col 420, 16/12/96). However, you "must be available for work of at least 40 hours each week" in the same way as other JSA claimants (JSA LOA, ch 2, para 393).
Another concession for volunteers is included in the actively seeking work rules. These specify that, although voluntary work is not treated as a jobseeking step in itself, "time spent in voluntary work is taken into account when considering [your] efforts to seek employment in any week"(JSA NJI, ch 3, para 335, JSA Regs, reg 18(3)(g)).
What aspects of voluntary work should be taken into account?
Despite the above concessions ES advisers are told that "voluntary work should be seen only as a step towards full employment [and] involvement in voluntary work should not reduce the importance of getting back to paid work as quickly as possible"(JSA NJI, ch 3, para 297). In addition, adjudication officers are told that in deciding whether your voluntary work calls into question your availability for work, the "following may be relevant" (AOG, vol 4, para 26267):
Your availability for work can also be called into doubt if the adjudication officer thinks that you are committed to continuing your voluntary work without regard for other employment opportunities. For example, an adjudication officer may take into account "how important the successful completion of any voluntary work is to [your] future career including to what extent, if any, completion will enhance [your] chances of getting work". This could lead the adjudication officer to decide that you are wholly committed to your voluntary work and are unavailable on this basis(AOG, vol 4, para 26267.3).
You may be able to prevent this amount of detailed information about your voluntary work being taken into account in relation to your availability for work if you qualify under another concession outlined in the benefit rules called JSA Regulation 12. Under this rule ES staff are instructed that, if you have already demonstrated that you are willing and able to rearrange the hours of your voluntary work in order to take up employment on being given 48 hours’ notice, then "when deciding whether [you] are available [they] do not need to consider either the nature of work or time spent doing voluntary work". You still have to continue to satisfy the benefit rules for volunteers set out in the previous paragraph(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 393).
If you are given form ES672V to complete because you are a volunteer claiming JSA, you should try and confirm a willingness and ability on your part to rearrange your hours in this way. If this is accepted you will qualify for Regulation 12 and it also means that you should not have to complete Part 2 of this form, which asks more detailed questions about aspects of your voluntary work. If you are unable to do this and you have to complete Part 2, you should take into account the advice above when answering the questions (e.g. you should not demonstrate commitment to continuing with your voluntary work thereby implying that you are not available for paid employment).
Community self-build schemes
There have been problems around the availability for work and continued benefit entitlement of unemployed people who become involved in self-build housing projects. ES guidance says that "there are no special provisions in JSA for people who participate in self-build house schemes [and you] must be available for and actively seeking employment". However, ES advisers are also instructed to "accept [your] availability for work while [you] are participating in the self-build scheme provided [you] are willing and able to rearrange the hours of [your] participation in the scheme to take up paid employment"(JSA LOA, ch 2, paras 333-34). If there are any doubts about your availability then your case will be referred to the Sector Adjudication Officer for a decision (JSA LOA, ch 2, para 335).
Demonstrations, marches and rallies
ES advisers are told that if you are "involved in demonstrations, marches or rallies [you] must continue to satisfy the availability and actively seeking employment conditions"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 354). Furthermore, if you are going away from home to engage in such activities you are obliged to complete a Going away from home form (see page * for more details).
Evidence of jobsearch and suspension/disallowance of JSA
If there are any doubts about your availability for work or whether you have met the actively seeking work condition, ES advisers are instructed to immediately suspend your benefit (or your National Insurance credits) and to give you a Notification of an entitlement doubt letter (ES48). This letter indicates whether your JSA is being suspended for a specific period or indefinitely. It also recommends that you continue to sign on and includes information on how to apply for hardship payments.
Your JSA will be suspended for a minimum of 1 week because JSA is a weekly benefit. "If an availability or restricted availability doubt arises on one day in a week [ES staff] input a suspension for the complete benefit week in which this day falls"(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 410).
You will also be suspended for any week(s) in which ES staff think you did not meet the actively seeking work condition. Unlike the availability condition, benefit is not normally suspended indefinitely for not actively seeking work. In most cases the adjudication officer’s decision is retrospective and refers to the previous 1 or 2 weeks of your claim.
As well as having to demonstrate that you meet the entitlement conditions every time that you sign on, you must have a Jobseeker’s Agreement in force which shows how you intend to meet the availability and actively seeking work rules in the longer term. However, suspension and disallowance of your JSA for not having a Jobseeker’s Agreement in force follow different procedures. These are explained in Chapter 6.
Doubts about your availability
It is not necessary for you to have refused the offer of a job before it can be decided that you are not available for work. Advisers can decide that there are doubts about your availability immediately from the way that you answer questions at your first interview, or on the basis of the written answers you give in the Helping you Back to Work form (ES2). At your New Jobseeker interview you will have to draw up a Jobseeker’s Agreement which will be accepted only if the adviser accepts that the proposals in it meet the availability condition.
Throughout your claim your availability for work will be examined when you sign on and attend your fortnightly jobsearch review. A more intensive check of this condition is carried out at any advisory interview you attend. Remember, being found to be unavailable for work for just 1 day of the week is likely to lead to a suspension of benefit for the week in question.
You should ensure that when answering questions from ES staff that you always demonstrate that you are meeting the availability for work conditions set out in your Jobseeker’s Agreement. This form is the principal monitoring tool used by staff to check whether you are meeting the availability and jobseeking conditions for JSA.
Doubts about your jobseeking
Problems around the actively seeking work condition normally arise at your fortnightly jobsearch review because an ES member of staff thinks that you are not taking enough steps to look for work.
Evidence of jobsearch benefit
You may have to produce evidence that you have been actively seeking work in the previous 2 weeks every time that you sign on and attend your fortnightly jobsearch review. In addition, a more detailed record of your jobseeking activities may be required of you when you attend any advisory interview.
At your New Jobseeker interview the adviser is told to "make sure you understand that [your] jobsearch will be reviewed each fortnight" and that if you cannot show that you have been actively seeking work your "JSA will be suspended and [your] case referred to an Adjudication Officer". You will also be advised to "keep a record of what you do, each week, to find work and improve [your] chances of finding work". However, staff are also instructed to tell you that you "do not have to keep a written record of [your] jobsearch activities, but [you] do have to show that [you] are actively seeking employment" when you attend your fortnightly review(JSA NJI, ch 3, para 150).
At this first interview you will also be offered a pre-printed jobsearch activity log – the Looking for Work form (ES4) – in which you can record and date your jobsearch activities. ES guidance says that people "may find it useful to record their jobsearch activity" and that "the log will prove useful in showing that people are actively seeking employment". However, it also emphasises that "they do not have to keep a log" to demonstrate that they are meeting this condition(JSA NJI, ch 3, para 150).
Nevertheless, the ES does assume that most people will be able to produce acceptable evidence that they are actively seeking work and it will be in your interests to keep such evidence to bring along to your fortnightly review and to advisory interviews. ES staff who undertake the fortnightly reviews are told to advise you to keep a record of what you do and to explain that keeping a record will help you show that you are actively seeking work(JSA Int, ch 5, para 13).
It is advisable to keep some form of written log of what you have been doing each week either by using the Looking for Work form or other means. Remember, the rule says that you must be actively seeking work each week, not just during the previous fortnight.
If you are not able to keep a record or log of what you have done you should get advice from ES staff. If you have problems with reading or writing you would not be expected to keep written jobsearch records and could "provide a verbal account of the steps [you] have taken"(Hansard WA, col 295, 23/3/95). Alternatively, you may be able to get a friend or relative to help keep a record for you.
Jobseeking evidence can include evidence of direct applications for work, such as: copies of advertisements of jobs about which you have requested details; lists of employers you have written to or approached; copies of letters of application or application forms. Remember also that under the JSA rules you can show evidence that you have been actively seeking work by undertaking certain activities which do not involve direct applications for work but which do "improve your employability". Such activities could include drawing up a CV, seeking a reference or obtaining information about potential employers or occupations. However, you will not be allowed to restrict yourself to this type of jobsearch activity. For more details on the full range of activities that the ES accepts as jobsearch steps, see page*.
While some employers may acknowledge job applications or approaches, and you may sometimes be given an interview, other employers will not. Because of this adjudication officers’ guidance states that "corroboration of claimants evidence is not essential", especially where you have "‘asked around’ or applied for jobs that are normally advertised and filled by word of mouth". The adjudication officer should seek to corroborate your evidence only if it "is inconsistent or seems unlikely"(AOG, vol 4, paras 26593-94). However, where an ES staff member has reason to doubt your jobsearch is genuine, they may consider getting corroboration (see below).
Your jobsearch activity will be checked every fortnight when you have to sign on at the Jobcentre and attend a short jobsearch review. More in-depth assessments will be undertaken at advisory interviews. See Chapter 7 for more information on these reviews and interviews.
At these reviews and interviews, ES staff will call up your details on a computer screen. This computer record will include information on any interviews or vacancies that you were referred to at previous jobsearch reviews and any other jobseeking commitments that you have made. This computer system is officially called the "Labour Market System". For more details about the information which is stored on it, and your rights of access to this information, see page*.
ES staff who undertake the fortnightly review are instructed always to ask you what you have been doing to find work by(JSA Int, ch 5, para 9):
Staff are told to use the evidence that you provide and the information that you give along with their knowledge of the local labour market to review your jobsearch activity. However, your answers will not always be accepted at face value and staff are instructed to "ask supplementary questions". If you say that you have contacted employers about vacancies, they are told to ask you: "Which employer? How did [you] contact them? Who did [you] speak to? What happened?". If you say that you contacted the Jobcentre, they are told to ask you: "Did [you] call in or ring? Who did [you] speak to? What happened?" In addition, staff will "check what vacancies were available and find out if [you] followed any of them up, and if not, why not"(JSA Int, ch 5, para 11).
There is a policy in the ES of following up claimants who are referred to interviews and vacancies in order to give a "professional service to both employers and jobseekers", and because "it is also vital for tracking the progress of people receiving JSA". According to the guidance "follow up simply means making regular contact with employers, usually by phone". One of the objectives of this is "to check that JSA recipients who were submitted attended for interview and behaved appropriately"(JSA GJB1, ch 6, paras 1 & 3).
If you have not been able to fulfil the exact jobseeking steps set out in your Jobseeker’s Agreement, but you have undertaken some other acceptable jobsearch activities, you should not be sanctioned for not actively seeking work. The guidance emphasises that "although the activities set out in the Agreement will have been agreed with an adviser as those which will offer the best chance of success, [you] do not have to comply with these" as long as you "show that [you] are actively seeking work and [you] may do this by undertaking alternative activities"(JSA Int, ch 5, para 16). However, if this is a regular occurrence at your fortnightly review, you are likely to be referred for an advisory interview to review the contents of your Agreement.
Suspension and disallowance of benefit
If your JSA is suspended for not actively seeking work or not being available for work, you are entitled to money from the beginning of the suspension period (or the beginning of your claim) only if you qualify for hardship payments as someone from a "vulnerable group". If you are not classified as being in a "vulnerable group", you can apply for hardship payments only after your JSA has been suspended for 2 weeks. In some cases this means that you will not be able to apply for hardship payments during the whole period of suspension (e.g. if you lose JSA for 1 or 2 weeks for not actively seeking work).
It may be the case that your JSA entitlement is terminated after an adjudication officer has made an adverse decision about your claim if you are not classified as belonging to a "vulnerable group". You will then have to make a new claim for JSA. Whatever the circumstances, if you are not receiving any money, you should immediately ask to make an application for a hardship payment. If you are told that you cannot do so because your claim has been terminated, you should then ask to make a new claim for JSA.
If your JSA is suspended for not actively seeking work, it is normally only suspended for one, or both, of the previous 2 weeks and your case is referred to the adjudication officer. ES staff are told to explain "that [your] jobsearch activity will be reviewed again when [you] next attend the Jobcentre". They must "explain that as long as an actively seeking employment doubt remains [you] will be interviewed on each subsequent day of attendance about [your] jobsearch activity" and that any further doubts will incur new suspensions(JSA LOA, ch 2, para 403).
So it is clearly in your interests to demonstrate that you have changed your behaviour when you next attend the Jobcentre and that you are now meeting the actively seeking work condition. If you have been suspended for not being available you should be able to demonstrate by then that your circumstances and/or any unacceptable restrictions you had specified have been modified so that you are available for work again.
Whilst your benefit is suspended it is important to continue to demonstrate that you are available for and actively seeking work and attending the Jobcentre every fortnight. If your benefit is subsequently reinstated by the adjudication officer, arrears will be paid only for the days on which you met these conditions.
The process of applying for hardship payments, the definition of "vulnerable groups" and the criteria used by adjudication officers to assess eligibility are very complex and are covered in detail in Chapter 10. This chapter also includes specific guidance on your eligibility for hardship payments when your claim is referred to adjudication for not actively seeking work or not being available for work.
Capable of work
To be entitled to JSA you will have to demonstrate that you are capable of work(JS Act, sec 1(2)(f)). If you are not capable of work you may be eligible for a disability-related benefit, such as Incapacity Benefit or Income Support. For more details on these benefits and the medical test, see pages * and *.
Concerns have been expressed that individuals who are judged to be capable of work under the strict medical test for IB or IS could be refused JSA because the ES finds them incapable of work for the purpose of signing on for JSA. However, this should never happen.
Adjudication officers are instructed to "apply the tests of incapacity as applied in Incapacity Benefit claims to decide whether or not someone is capable of work" for JSA. They are also told that you "do not have to provide medical evidence to the contrary to show that [you] are capable of work, unless these is a doubt about this"(AOG, vol 4, paras 25988 & 25997).
ES advisers are told that "capability for work is automatically accepted for all ex-Incapacity Benefit claimants who claim JSA ... because the Benefits Agency Adjudication Officer has decided that [you] are capable of work". This must be accepted even if you are only capable of work to a very limited degree. Regardless of your circumstances, the adjudication officer’s "decision must not be questioned by ES [advisers] nor should an opinion be expressed about it to [you] … Doubts will therefore only occur about [your] jobsearch intentions and the question of [your] availability and willingness to work"(JSA NJI, ch 3, para 295).
For more information on how the ES deals with people with disabilities who have to sign on for JSA (including ex-IB claimants who have been judged capable of work by the All Work Test), refer to the sections in this chapter on the availability and jobseeking rules (pages* and *). In Chapter 6 there is a section on the procedures which are followed when claimants with disabilities and other special needs sign on for the first time and have to complete a Jobseeker’s Agreement (see page *). This section also explains the rules if you are claiming JSA pending an appeal against a disallowance of IB.
Short periods of sickness when claiming JSA
You will be able to remain in receipt of JSA for up to 2 weeks during short periods of illness instead of having to sign off to claim IB. You will be required to fill out a form declaring that you are unfit for work. As long as this satisfies the requirements, you will "be treated for a period of not more than 2 weeks as capable for work" and still entitled to JSA(JSA Regs, reg 55). You will be entitled to JSA in these circumstances on a maximum of two occasions in each 12-month period.
Once you have been unemployed for more than a year you become eligible again to receive JSA during two periods of sickness in the following 12 months. Claimants are entitled to claim JSA in these circumstances "in each successive 12 months within [their] period" of unemployment(JSA Regs, reg 55(3)). It is important to be aware that this rule does not refer to your most recent 12 months of unemployment, but to static 12-month periods based on the date of your initial claim.