By Jaclyn Glover, Deputy Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey
Q: I have been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for the last two months but the Job Centre have stopped my money as I had a stomach bug and did not start a course they told me I had to go on. What are my rights as I do not have any other income?
A: While you are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, the officer you see at the Job and Benefits Office may make suggestions about things you could do to increase your chances of finding work. If you fail to take these steps, you may be given a Jobseeker’s Direction. This is a formal instruction for you to take certain steps to help you find work, for example, attending a particular course, registering with the Universal Jobmatch service or with an employment agency, responding to an advert or taking part in a ‘back to work session’.
If you do not follow the Jobseeker’s Direction and do not have a good reason, you will be sanctioned. This means that your Jobseeker’s Allowance is reduced or stopped altogether for between one and 26 weeks. The Jobseeker’s Direction must be reasonable, taking your circumstances into account. You shouldn’t be sanctioned if you can show you had a good reason for not following a particular direction, for example if you were taken seriously ill, so that you were unable to do what they asked.
If your Jobseeker’s Allowance is stopped because of a Jobseeker’s Direction, you may be able to claim a hardship payment. This is a reduced amount of Jobseeker’s Allowance. If you want more information about hardship payments, and how to apply for them, you should ask in the Job Centre for form JSA 10, ‘Jobseeker’s Allowance Hardship Application’.
If you have been sanctioned and you think the decision is unfair, you can challenge it. You can challenge either the decision to stop or reduce your benefit, or the length of the sanction period. You have one month from the date on the decision letter to challenge the decision and we can help with this.
For more information about Jobseeker’s Directions and what is a good reason for refusing to follow one, or for more information about hardship payments, you should consult an experienced adviser at your local Citizens Advice.
• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice – go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/nireland or call at: Citizens Advice Newtownabbey, Dunanney Centre, Rathmullan Drive, Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, BT37 9DQ. Telephone advice is available 9am – 4pm each day on 028 9085 2271 (Lunch 1pm - 1:30pm), email advice is available at firstname.lastname@example.org