What happens after I’ve signed on?

Your claim will be ‘built’ on the Job Centre system, and, after about 2 weeks, you will begin to receive payments directly into your bank account. Remember that you don’t get paid for the first 3 days of any claim. If your payment doesn’t arrive, or it seems to be wrong, call your local Job Centre. Their number will be on the back of your ES40 (the signing-on booklet).

At your interview, you will have been given a regular day and time to sign on each fortnight, and the first two appointments will have been written down for you on your signing-on booklet. At each signing, you will be asked what you have done to find work. There is a form in your signing on book to write down what jobs you have applied for, and any progress on previous applications, but if you are keeping a day book or folder you can take that along instead.

Be sure to let the Job Centre know if you cannot attend because you are attending interview (pretty much the only acceptable excuse). If you are late for your appointment otherwise, or miss it, you may not be seen and your claim may be closed down. If you cannot attend due to illness, then you may find you cannot claim Jobseeker’s Allowance because you are not fit for work. In this circumstance, you should phone the Job Centre. You will receive sickness benefit if you are eligible (it is a means tested benefit). Other excuses, including holidays, tend not to be accepted, and your claim will probably be closed and your benefit will be affected. You can re-open it by calling the claims line. If it is re-opened within 26 weeks, your details will still be in the system, which will speed things up somewhat.

If you are still signing on after six months, you will be invited to a review interview to discuss your progress and whether your goals are still realistic. You may be asked to agree to apply for jobs that pay less, do additional things such as attend training courses, or visit the job centre to discuss your progress weekly instead of fortnightly.

Can I do any work while signing on?

Yes, you can work up to 16 hours a week on a regular basis, and, in some cases, still continue to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, although an adjustment may be made to reflect your income.

Can I do voluntary work while signing on?

Yes, but any voluntary work over 16 hours per week needs to be approved by a decision maker.

What do I do if my circumstances change?

You need to either close or amend your claim. Start by telephoning the claims line.

Can the Job Centre really help with my job search?

With the best will in the world, the Job Centre is set up to help people find jobs, not to help people develop their careers. The advisors are there to make sure you are genuinely looking for work, and they will know about local agencies, and local employers, and the kinds of jobs that you will see up on their boards – largely unskilled and some supervisory or lower management. It is unlikely that they will be able to provide support for a management or executive job search, so, if this is what you are looking for, it is better sought from other sources.

I have heard some real horror stories about how people are treated by the Job Centre

There are good and bad people in every walk of life, and the Job Centre is no different. You will find some advisors more reasonable than others. If you really feel that you are being treated unfairly, ask to speak to a supervisor. The hard reality is, these advisors deal every day with people who don’t want to work, are not willing to try, or have given up, and that can make anyone hard-edged or impatient.

The rules the Job Centre insist on may feel rigid or silly, but go along with them, even if the requirements of your job search are totally different to the job seeking activities you’ve actually set yourself. The advisors have a job to do, and you need to get the boxes ticked to get your benefit. Hopefully, your experience of signing on will be brief.