Home > Employment Issues > Understanding Unemployment Benefit

Understanding Unemployment Benefit

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 19 Dec 2015 | comments*Discuss
Unemployment Benefit Income Support Is

Unemployment benefit has existed in the UK since before the First World War, when mass unemployment reared its head for the first time. In the slump that followed the war, the number of people receiving the benefit rose to two million, which, as the population was 20 million fewer than today, was a far greater proportion of the available workforce.

Today the amount of Jobseeker's Allowance that's given out to unemployed people is dependent on how long they've been working and their circumstances.

Job Seeker's Allowance

The name change to Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) was a deliberate attempt to change the image away from the idea of a payment for being unemployed towards a payment to encourage people to look for work.

You can claim JSA if you are:

  • Available for, capable of, and actively seeking work
  • Aged 18 or over but below State Pension age
  • Working less than 16 hours per week on average
  • Living in Great Britain
JSA isn't paid to 16 or 17 year olds, except in special cases.

Applying for JSA

JSA requires people to attend an interview at your local Jobcentre. You can make an initial application online or by calling the Jobcentre Plus on 0800 055 6688. You will then be involved in drawing up a jobseeker's agreement. This details the steps you've agreed to take in order to find work.

To keep getting the allowance you'll have to attend your local Jobcentre fortnightly and undertake job search reviews. If you find that you are refused JSA and believe that you are entitled to it, there is an appeals procedure, which will allow you to question the decision.

Income Support

There is another form of benefit available to those who are not working or are on a Very Low Income, known as Income Support (IS). People who are applicable for IS are often those who are unable to work because they are disabled, caring for someone full-time, or a lone parent.

It can also be given to people who are on maternity or paternal leave, or perhaps they are off sick and IS would give them more income than Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Whether IS or JSA applies to an individual would be decided by the Jobcentre and the local Department for Work and Pensions office.

Where to Go for Advice

Benefits can be a real minefield and fortunately there are a number of places you can turn to try and make head or tail of it all. If you have access to a computer and the internet, then the government's website at www.direct.gov.uk is a good place to start. All public services provided by the government are linked by this site. Another good place to start, particularly for people who are beginning to get into trouble because of unemployment, is the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

What Are Freelancers' Rights?

Are you a freelancer looking to claim unemployment benefits? Read our Q&A to find out whether you qualify.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
Mike - Your Question:
Hello,I've a question.I'm an EU citizen,suffering from a muscle illness ,I lived in the U.K. From 2010 till 2012 paid council tax and was not on any uk's benefit.In 2012 I went back home ,and I returned to the uk in May of 2015. I am again not on any uk's benefit.and I have no job.I am supporting myself,I mean I do pay the rent and the council tax out my own packet.Please tell me what to do and am I eligible for any kind of benefit here?As I told,I'm a disable person.Kind regards Mike

Our Response:
You can check via the Turn2Us site here. I hope this helps.
WorkingRights - 21-Dec-15 @ 1:44 PM
Hello, I've a question. I'm an EU citizen,suffering from a muscle illness ,I lived in the U.K. From 2010 till 2012 paid council tax and was not on any uk's benefit.In 2012 I went back home ,and I returned to the uk in May of 2015. I am again not on any uk's benefit.and I have no job.I am supporting myself,I mean I do pay the rent and the council tax out my own packet . Please tell me what to do and am I eligible for any kind of benefit here?As I told,I'm a disable person. Kind regards Mike
Mike - 19-Dec-15 @ 7:49 AM
I want to work overseas with my dad but I'm on probation, how long do I have to wait be for I can go ?
Omar - 23-Nov-15 @ 11:58 PM
Hi I'm currently on contribution based JSA but over the pass couple of days I've started really suffering with mmy anxiety and stress again. So much so that I went a day late for my meeting at the job centre and then just had a total breakdown. I have been advised to get a sick note which my Dr has given me and to ring the ESA. I did this but I've been asked if I want to stay on JSA on extended sickness or make a new claim for ESA. I'm totally confused as what to do for the best. On top of that my grandparents want to take me abroad to help me feel better but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to or not. Please can you help
Sally - 9-Oct-15 @ 6:18 PM
Brendan - Your Question:
I am 63 UK citizen living in Australia, we are thinking of returning to the UK next year. I will job hunt when there, am I entitled to receive job seeker benefit when we arrive my wife is a Australian citizen, I have worked in Australia for over 45 years.

Our Response:
I'm afraid not. You may have to sit an habitual residency test, which means you will not be eligible to recieve benefits for at least three months. Also, if you wish to bring your wife to the UK, there are certain financial requirements you would have to fulfil. Please see link here.
WorkingRights - 9-Oct-15 @ 2:38 PM
I am 63 UK citizen living in Australia, we are thinking of returning to the UK next year. I will job hunt when there, am I entitled to receive job seeker benefit when we arrive my wife is a Australian citizen, I have worked in Australia for over 45 years.
Brendan - 9-Oct-15 @ 5:13 AM
@Vg - please see gov.uk link: 'claiming benefits if you live, move or travel abroad' here. You may have to contact the UK Jobcentre Plus directly for more information on how it might tie in.
WorkingRights - 6-Jul-15 @ 2:30 PM
Hello, I am French and relocating to French after 12 years in UK. I found a job in France. My partner is British and will follow me with our children of course, but he has to quit his current employment to do so, and we don't know if he will be entitled to any benefit in France. Does he have to first claim benefits here to be able to claim in France and look for employment there? He would like to work until we move. Any advice would be welcomed, we have been looking on the web and calling a few people without obtaining a real answer to this, and being in UK at the moment makes it difficult to receive advices from the French administration. Many thanks.
Vg - 4-Jul-15 @ 7:30 AM
@bond - you can read more about the benefits available for people who are serving members of the armed forces via the Turn to Us website, link here. I hope this helps.
WorkingRights - 29-Jun-15 @ 10:22 AM
Hi I'm joining the army but wanted to know if my partner can claim jsa nd houseing benefit
bond - 26-Jun-15 @ 3:34 AM
@Skates - you would need to contact the JobCentre Plus or the telephone number on any correspondence and explain the situation.
WorkingRights - 2-Apr-15 @ 11:45 AM
@G - in order to receive Jobseekers Allowance you actively have to be looking for employment, if this is not the case then you would not be eligible.
WorkingRights - 1-Apr-15 @ 2:41 PM
I won my appeal in court for my esa but now my girlfriend wants kick me out would I have to make a new claim
Skates - 31-Mar-15 @ 2:24 PM
I suffer from a long term ongoing conditions COPD, Arthritis & stress which I have had sick notes on two occasions over the past year or so from my Doctor. I have recently been made redundant from my last job,. I have a JS interview on Wed. The thought of attending this is filling me with horror and more stress. Should I attend this interview or should I ask my doctor for a Sick note?
G - 30-Mar-15 @ 10:59 PM
I have an interview for JS on wednesday, I have not claimed JS before but I suffer from COPD, arthritis and Stress which I have had doctor sick notes for over the last year although these conditions are ongoing. should I attend the interview or should I ask my doctor for a sick note? I feel I could work but the thought of going through the JS interview is not filling me with joy!
G - 30-Mar-15 @ 10:51 PM
hi, i lived in uk since 2003, in 2013 went to spain and received some benefits, 2015 i came back to uk in 2015 and now i want to ask for JSA. all this time in Uk 2003 til 2013 i worked. Now...there is a question saying if i have recived any benefits from other country in the last 5 byears...what shall i answer?
gio - 25-Mar-15 @ 7:26 PM
@jim - it is difficult to advise without any further information on what it is you do and what your wages are and whether you have any dependants etc. I have included a link on working tax credits which you may be eligible for here. I hope this helps.
WorkingRights - 24-Feb-15 @ 12:05 PM
Hi i work full time,my hours slight change from winter short hours insummer longer hours. I cannot survive on my wage. I get payed monthly,iam already having to use food banks. Iam looking for new job but finding it hard. Can advise what to do?
jim - 21-Feb-15 @ 8:25 PM
@waynie - you would have to contact the department directly as I'm afraid we do not have access to this information.
WorkingRights - 18-Feb-15 @ 1:47 PM
Hi there I've received letter saying that from 3rd feb I will get esa when can I expect this will it be 17th which is two weeks?
waynie - 16-Feb-15 @ 8:00 PM
@waynie - I'm afraid we can't really advise on this. You will have give the number a call on any of the correspondence you have received in connection with this matter.
WorkingRights - 4-Feb-15 @ 12:16 PM
@mash - you could possible hire a night nanny, but that will cost. You should also be eligible for income support if you are a single parent with a young child. link here. I would ring and ask for another appointment at your Job Centre, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be given one. Or you can apply for benefits online and they wil bring you in for a chat. I hope it works out.
WorkingRights - 3-Feb-15 @ 2:34 PM
Hi there I signed off on the 21/1/15 die to going in esa...I was due to sign on tomorro Tuesday 3/2/15 lady said Friday I will get payment in three days how much will I get has my esa payment isn't due while 18/2/15 which is long time to wait with no money
waynie - 2-Feb-15 @ 8:50 PM
hi there, I am a single mother to an 8 yr old. I work evenings so that my mother can babysit for me. However my mother is moving away in 4 weeks and can no longer babysit. I've been frantically looking for new jobs in school hours and asked my boss for change of hours but to no avail. O went to my local Job Centre, the usher chap refused to let me speak to an advisor and said he advises on queries. He said I would not be entitled to job seekers as I would be willingly leaving employment. I am so worried about this, I can't leave my daughter home alone and I do not have any other options with regards childcare. What do I do? Thank you.
mash - 2-Feb-15 @ 12:06 PM
@Marloo - if you're a British citizen you have an automatic right to reside in the UK. However, if you've recently returned to the UK or plan to, then you may have to show that you satisfy the habitual residence test in order to claim certain means-tested benefits. New rules specify that if you want to claim income-based jobseeker's you cannot be viewed as habitually resident until you've been living in the UK for at least three months, meaning that if you claim when you return, you wont recieve it for at least 12 weeks.I hope this helps.
WorkingRights - 21-Jan-15 @ 2:46 PM
I was born in England but I moved to Australia with my parents when I was 4. I am now 18 and want to move back to the UK permanently. Will I be able to receive a JSA as soon as I arrive or is there a waiting period?
Marloo - 21-Jan-15 @ 8:22 AM
@none - it depends upon whether you have any savings and whether those savings including your redundancy take you over the threshold of£6,000. If they don't then you should be eligible to apply. Here is a link to eligibility criteria here. I hope this helps.
WorkingRights - 15-Jan-15 @ 11:49 AM
Hi, please help cant find answer anywhere..will I get JSA if I accept voluntary redundancy of £3000 and 10 wks notice (without having to work notice?) I am a single parent with two kids, worried id be better waiting to be made redundant without volunteering (bonus of 10 weeks not working notice if I volunteer now) Thanks
none - 14-Jan-15 @ 10:09 PM
@the travel man - you should be able to claim JSA, but a lot depends on whether you have paid your NI and how long you've paid it for previously, I'd fill in the apply for JSA benefit form to see, they are quite good at giving a quick decision. Also, some people returning to the UK have had problems claiming benefits, but you should be OK given you have been working back in the country for some time.
Steph - 13-Jan-15 @ 3:19 PM
I have been working in Gibraltar for the last 5 years, I returned to the UK and spent a year looking for work without claiming benifits. I have now been working for 7 months and the job is coming to an end will I be able to claim JSA
the travel man - 11-Jan-15 @ 8:14 AM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments