Various interventions have been established to support UK-based individuals who do not hold full-time employment. Key among these is the Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA). In this article, we outline the salient elements of this measure, including variations thereof, as well as the eligibility criteria and application process.
What is the Jobseeker's Allowance?
The Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) is a government-issued unemployment benefit that is designed to support individuals living in England, Scotland, and Wales. Specifically, it is intended to help cover living expenses while recipients search for gainful employment.
Though administered in the form of fortnightly payments, the UK government has set maximum weekly amounts for which claimants could be eligible. These are reflected in the table below. Note that final amounts are contingent on factors such as age, income, and savings. Interested parties should use one of the online benefits calculators to obtain more precise information based on their unique circumstances.
Jobseeker's Allowance Rates:
Maximum Weekly Amount
Up to 24 years
25 years and older
Couples (where both individuals are over 18 years)
There are three variations of JSA: the "new style" JSA, as well as the contribution and income-based JSA. In each instance, recipients need to meet a standard set of eligibility criteria. Specifically, they need to:
- reside in England, Scotland, or Wales.
- be 18 years or older. Note, however, that there are some exceptions for 16 and 17-year-olds. Interested individuals should contact Jobcentre Plus for further information.
- be younger than the State Pension age.
- not be engaged in full-time studies.
- be unemployed or working no more than 16 hours each week, on average.
- not be physically ill or disabled in a manner than precludes them from working.
- demonstrate that they are searching for employment.
In addition, recipients of the "new style" JSA need to:
- be permitted to work in the UK.
- have worked as an employee and made Class 1 National Insurance payments, typically in the past two to three years. Self-employed individuals who made Class 2 National Insurance contributions will only be eligible if they were serving as volunteer development workers or share fishermen.
Note that partners' income and savings do not bear an influence on the outcome of "new style" JSA claims. Successful applicants will receive payments for up to 182 days (approximately six months).
Finally, both the contribution and income-based JSA are reserved for individuals who 1) currently receive or are eligible for the severe disability premium, or 2) received or were eligible for the severe disability premium over the past month, and are still entitled to it. Recipients must also be available to work.
Worth noting are the distinctions in eligibility criteria across the two allowances.
Contribution-Based vs. Income-Based JSA:
Recipients must have worked as employees and made Class 1 National Insurance contributions, typically over the past two to three years. Self-employed individuals who made Class 2 National Insurance payments will only be eligible if they served as volunteer development workers or share fishermen.
The past two to three years of employment (and concomitant National Insurance contributions) do not affect eligibility.
Applicants' partners' income will not affect their eligibility.
Recipients must be single, or their partners should work no more than 24 hours per week, on average.
Savings will not affect eligibility.
Recipients and their partners must have no more than £16,000 in combined savings.
Successful applicants can receive payments for up to 182 days (approximately six months).
Successful applicants can receive payments indefinitely.
The Claims Process:
In most cases, applications for the "new style" JSA can be submitted online or by calling Jobcentre Plus. Those aged 16 and 17 must contact Jobcentre Plus directly. Individuals who wish to claim the contribution- or income-based JSA must also phone Jobcentre Plus.
Recipients of the JSA must notify Jobcentre Plus of changes in their circumstances, which might include:
- embarking on or stopping work, formal education, training, or similar.
- having individuals move into or out of their residences.
- changes to their income.
- switching doctors.
- being admitted to a clinical facility or sheltered accommodation.
- traveling abroad.
These can be reported by calling the JSA helpline or by writing to the applicable Jobcentre Plus office. Failure to report changes immediately and accurately could result in prosecution or a £50 penalty.
Due to COVID-19, recipients of the JSA will not be required to attend face-to-face interviews. There will also not be penalties for failing to adhere to the Claimant Commitment, which details each recipient's responsibilities under normal circumstances.
Support beyond the 182 days:
Recipients of the "new style" and contribution-based JSA will receive fortnightly payments for 182 days. Those who are unable to afford basic necessities thereafter should apply for hardship payments which are worth 60% of their JSA. Hardship payments will be awarded on condition that applicants:
- are at least 18 years old.
- have tried to obtain money from elsewhere.
Interested individuals should also enquire about the possibility of receiving the income-based JSA which can be issued indefinitely.
Note that the aforementioned procedures are the standard ones outlined by the UK government. By and large, these have remained unchanged during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, recipients of the JSA should be advised that they do not need to honor appointments with their Work Coaches during this time. Instead, they will be contacted by the Department of Work and Pensions to arrange alternate arrangements in due course.
Gradual Rolling out of Universal Credit:
Universal Credit is slowly being rolled out in England, Scotland, and Wales. Inevitably, it will replace six benefits including the income-based JSA, income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), income support, working tax credit, child tax credit, and the housing benefit.
The intention is to streamline benefits into single monthly payments (with the exception of Scotland, where recipients can request two payments per month). Standard allowance amounts are included in the table below. However, interested individuals should utilize an independent benefits calculator to obtain tailored information.
Universal Credit Standard Payment Amounts:
Standard Monthly Allowance
Single individual under 25
Single individual aged 25 or older
Individual member of a couple where both people are under 25
Individual member of a couple where one or both people are 25 or older
Recipients may be eligible for top-ups based on their unique circumstances, as indicated in the table below.
Note that those who currently receive the income-based JSA and/or another of the five benefits mentioned earlier need not transition to Universal Credit unless they are instructed to do so by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
New applicants should contact Jobcentre Plus to ascertain whether they should claim the income-based JSA or Universal Credit. If instructed to do the latter, they should navigate to universal-credit.service.gov.uk/ to set up a Universal Credit account and submit a claim.
Universal Credit Top-Ups:
For the first-born child
£281.25 if born before April 6, 2017; £235.83 if born on or after this date
For the second-born child and other eligible children
For a disabled or severely disabled child
£128.25 or £400.29
Individual who requires help covering childcare costs
Up to 85% of applicable costs (max. £646.35 for one child and max. £1,108.04 for two or more)
Individual with limited capacity for work and related activity
Individual with limited capacity for work, where they claimed health-related Universal Credit or the Employment and Support Allowance prior to April 3, 2017
Individual who cares for a severely disabled person for 35+ hours per week, where the recipient gets a disability-related benefit
Eligibility for Universal Credit:
Those who reside in the UK may be eligible for Universal Credit if they are:
- unemployed or receive a low income.
- at least 18 years old (although there are exceptions; see below).
- below State Pension age, or if their partner is below State Pension age.
- have no more than £16,000 in savings when combined with their partners' savings.
Note that those who are 16 or 17 years old can claim Universal Credit if they:
- have limited capacity to work or medical evidence and are awaiting a Work Capability Assessment,
- assume responsibility for a child,
- are a member of a couple that is responsible for at least one child, where the partner can claim Universal Credit,
- are pregnant and expecting to give birth in 11 weeks or less,
- have had a child within the past 15 weeks,
- are caring for someone who is severely disabled, or
- do not receive parental support.
There are also specific criteria for individuals who are studying or in training on a full-time basis.
Recipients of Universal Credit will be required to adhere to the terms and conditions outlined in their Claimant Commitment. The precise nature of the agreement will differ between individuals and could include responsibilities such as writing a CV, searching and applying for jobs, and pursuing further training.
Those who receive assistance with their childcare costs, specifically, ought to report these expenses once they are paid, and provide evidence thereof. This includes providing evidence of the childcare provider's existence (for example, by submitting an invoice or contract that details the provider's contact information and registration number). Recipients should also include proof of payment (amount and date) by submitting a receipt, bank statement, or another applicable document.
All evidence can be submitted via the recipient's Universal Credit account.
Finally, all claimants are obligated to report pertinent changes to their circumstances via their Universal Credit account. Examples include:
- securing or completing a job.
- changes to bank details.
- alterations to living arrangements, including moving in with one's partner or relocating.
- changes in caring responsibilities, such as having a child or looking after a disabled individual.
- rent hikes and decreases.
- significant alterations to one's state of health.
- becoming too sick to sustain employment or other obligations tied to Universal Credit.
Failure to adhere to these obligations typically results in payments being reduced or stopped altogether – a phenomenon that is referred to as a sanction. Note, however, that individuals who are unable to honor the contents of their Claimant Commitment due to COVID-19 will not be sanctioned.
- Unemployment Benefits in Northern Ireland.
- Help for UK Self-Employed Affected by COVID-19.
- Resources for UK Workers Laid Off due to COVID-19.
- UK COVID-19 Job Retention Scheme.
- Companies in the UK Hiring During Coronavirus.
- What is a Key Worker in the UK?
- Essential Businesses in the UK.
- Resources for UK Businesses Affected by COVID-19.
- Government Aid for UK Small Business Owners Affected by COVID-19.
- COVID-19 Small Business Grant Funds (UK).
How much do you get for Jobseeker's Allowance?
The precise amount varies based on factors such as age, income, and savings. Individuals up to the age of 24 years are eligible for a maximum of £58.90 per week, while those aged 25 and above can receive up to £74.35 per week. Couples that comprise individuals over 18 years are eligible for a maximum of £116.80 per week. In each instance, payments are usually made on a fortnightly basis. Interested parties can use one of the online benefits calculators to obtain more specific information.
Do I qualify for Jobseeker's Allowance?
Can I get Jobseeker's Allowance if I have savings?
You will be able to receive the "new style" or contribution-based JSA, provided that you meet all of the eligibility criteria. However, recipients of the income-based JSA can have no more than £16,000 in savings (which includes their partners' savings).
What can I do if I disagree with the outcome of my claim?
Those who are dissatisfied with the outcome of their claim can challenge the decision. This is referred to as a request for mandatory reconsideration.
How are Jobseeker's Allowance payments made?
The Jobseeker's Allowance is typically issued once every fortnight. Payments are made into claimants' bank, credit union, or building society accounts.