How to sign on for Jobseeker’s Allowance

Until very recently, you could go along to your local Job Centre and pick up an application pack, but many Job Centres have now stopped doing this so your initial claim needs to be made by telephone or online.

The number to call for a new claim is 0800 0 55 66 88, 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday. You can also claim online.

Whichever route you take, you will need to answer a series of questions, and then you will be issued with an appointment to attend an interview at the Job Centre.

Tip: although your local Job Centre may no longer issue application packs, if you pop in and ask they will give you a copy of the form (JSA 1) so that you can work through most of what you’ll be asked in your own time, and gather all the relevant information before you make your call. The opening pages have an excellent description of the kinds of Jobseeker’s Allowance and who qualifies.

What kind of questions will I be asked when I sign on?

Telephone claims may include some questions – particularly about identity and previous claims – that are not on the JSA 1 form used in the Job Centres. Questions may also be asked in a different order, more than once, and in different ways. For all claims, you will be asked:

  • About any previous contact you have had with the Job Centre during the last three years, and if so when, even if you had a claim disallowed
  • Whether you want to claim income-based or contributions-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, and whether you are claiming jointly with your partner.
  • What date you want to claim from. You will not normally be allowed to claim retrospectively – if you want to do so, your claim, with your reasons for claiming belatedly, will go to a ‘decision maker’ which can cause delays
  • Your name, address, date of birth and NI number, and your preferred contact telephone number (a mobile is fine).
  • Whether you have a partner who lives with you, your marital status, and your partner’s name, title and date of birth. If you have any dependent children over 20, their details will also be taken. (From this point on, depending on the type of claim you are making, all of the questions below may also be asked for your partner.)
  • Details of any work you are currently doing, either full time or part time, and whether you are doing this for an employer, as a volunteer, or whether you are self-employed (if so, you will be asked for your self-employed Tax Reference number)
  • About your last employment (going back six months) and how, why and when this ended, including any redundancy or other payments made as a result of your work ending, such as a retainer or a pension refund
  • If you weren’t working during the last six months, you will be asked how you have supported yourself
  • Details of any work you’ve done, or benefits you’ve claimed, outside the UK during the last 4 years
  • Whether you have the right to live and work in the UK, or details of any restrictions on this. If you are an asylum-seeker, you will be asked to bring proof of this to your interview
  • Whether you’ve recently done jury service
  • Whether you have a carer, and whether they receive Carer’s Allowance
  • Details of any Social Security benefits you receive, including dates, amounts and reference numbers
  • About any pension you receive or will receive within the next three years
  • About any caring responsibilities you have, whether you have claimed Carer’s Allowance, and if so when
  • Details of any college or training course, or any work-based learning you are undertaking
  • Whether you are not working because you are taking part in industrial action
  • Whether your job has ended temporarily, for instance, if you have been laid off, or if your job is being kept open for you
  • What kind of work you have been doing, and what kind of work you are now looking for, including the geographical area.

In order to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, you must be fit and available to take up full-time work. Especially if you have mentioned any illness or disability, you may also be asked:

  • Whether you have any illness that would prevent you from taking up work.

Based on the above, if you are making your claim by telephone, the advisor will then be able to tell you whether (based on the information you’ve given them) you qualify for contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). This is important, as, if you need to claim for income-related benefits, you will from this stage onwards be asked some very searching questions about your finances, which are not applicable for contribution-based JSA.

If you are not claiming income-based Job Seeker’s Allowance, you will now be asked for details of the account into which you want your benefits paid, and also to nominate a Post Office branch in case a payment by cheque or Giro needs to be made.

Means- or income-tested Jobseeker’s Allowance

Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance is a means-tested benefit, and this means that the Job Centre will be asking you for a lot of very detailed and personal information. While this may feel intrusive, to anyone who has worked and paid tax and national insurance for many years, it is no less than we would hope the Job Centre advisor would ask all claimants in order to make sure their claims are valid.

You will be asked about:

  • Any children or young persons living in your household, and any Child Benefit or Tax Credit you receive for them
  • Any other people who live in your household
  • Any savings, money, bank or building society accounts you have, and the balances
  • Any properties you own in the UK or abroad
  • Any compensation payments, maintenance, money held for someone else, any money you are owed and any other money, benefits or allowances coming in
  • Tenants or lodgers you may have and any income you have from them (you can set rental expenses, such as agents’ fees, against this)
  • Bills you pay for anyone else, or anyone else who pays things for you
  • Where you live, the costs and charges for this, and how they are paid for
  • What other benefits you are receiving, or intending to claim for
  • Loans or mortgages secured on your home and details of any mortgage or credit insurance you may have to cover these
  • Disability, illness or pregnancy of yourself or a person in your household that might affect your ability to look for work
  • Whether there are any restrictions on your right to live or work in the UK.

Will my data be kept confidential?

To an extent, yes. The Department for Work and Pensions has a privacy policy, but this makes clear that it cross-checks information that you supply, and shares it with other parts of the department, such as pensions and child support.

What happens at my Job Centre interview?

The interview will last around an hour in total, and you will meet with two advisors. The first will walk through your claim with you, and establish your entitlement. You will be asked to bring the following documents with you and present them to the first advisor:

  • P45 or P60, or tax reference number if these are not available
  • Identification, which may be a passport, driver’s licence or birth certificate
  • Documents relating to redundancy and any redundancy payments
  • Any paperwork relating to any asylum application
  • Details of any current training or college courses
  • Last 5 payslips if you are still working
  • Form B16 if you have been self-employed
  • Discharge papers if you have just left HM forces or prison.

If you are claiming income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, you will also need to bring:

  • Evidence of any income from any source, including details of any lump sum redundancy or injury compensation payments or pensions or Social Security grants
  • Evidence of any savings (you will need to show up-to-date statements for all bank accounts), including shares, ISAs, premium bonds, trusts, redundancy payments and money put by against bills
  • Evidence of any mortgage or rental payments and other regular outgoings
  • The policy document for any insurance on your mortgage or home loan
  • If you rent out any property, you will need to show the rental agreement, and evidence of any expenses that are to be set against the rental income
  • The same evidence for your partner or spouse, if they live with you.

Your Jobseeker’s Agreement

The second advisor will work through your Jobseeker’s Agreement with you, and ensure you understand the rules that apply when claiming JSA. Your Jobseeker’s Agreement describes what you agree to do to find work, and the type of jobs you will look for.

If your range of work is too narrow, you may be asked to widen it. You will also be asked what salary you are seeking. Your target salary may initially be accepted, but you may be asked to revise it downwards after a period of time (usually 13 weeks) if you are still unemployed.

When the Jobseeker’s Agreement has been drawn up, you will be asked to agree and sign it. If you and the advisor cannot agree on the content of the Jobseeker’s Agreement, it will be referred to a decision maker to decide whether it is reasonable. If you do not agree with their decision, you can ask for it to be reviewed by another decision maker, and if you still don’t agree, you can appeal.

A note about NI contributions and contribution-based benefits

There have been some under-publicised issues at the HMRC’s National Insurance department, leading to NI contributions not being credited promptly to individuals’ NI accounts. This may affect you if you are claiming contributions-based benefits. For benefits purposes, your NI contributions for the last two complete tax years are assessed. Incredibly, it can take up to a year for NI credits to show up on your record, so in the tax year 09/10, the years of NI contribution being counted are 06/07 and 07/08.

If the benefits office tells you you have ‘paid insufficient contributions’ ask them to raise a file to send to HMRC to check your NI status. (Note that they should be doing the leg work on this, not you – if you are asked to send in ‘evidence’ such as your original P60s, ask to speak to a supervisor.) Raising and sending a query, and hearing back, can take up to 4 weeks, but, all else being well, your claim should then be approved.