Unemployment Benefits in Northern Ireland

Key forms of support, eligibility criteria, and application procedures.

Unemployment Benefits in Northern Ireland

June 2nd, 2020

Northern Ireland's government has established a number of interventions to support those who are not employed on a full-time basis. Key among these are Universal Credit, the "New Style" Jobseeker's Allowance, and the Employment and Support Allowance. In this article, we outline the core elements of each, as well as their concomitant eligibility criteria and application processes.

Universal Credit:

Until fairly recently, the Northern Ireland government awarded either the contribution or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) to those who were unemployed and actively seeking gainful work. However, these have since been replaced by Universal Credit.

What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a payment intended for individuals who are older than 18 years but have yet to reach State Pension age. Unlike the JSA, Universal Credit can be accessed irrespective of one's employment status. However, payments are intended to support low-income and unemployed individuals, specifically.

Universal Credit is typically paid to households twice a month, where households can comprise a family, couple, or one individual. Depending on personal circumstances, recipients can request to be paid monthly, and/or that payments be split between a couple living in one household.

Currently, payment amounts are contingent on individual factors such as age and number of children. Standard monthly allocations are noted in the table below, but interested parties may wish to use an independent benefits calculator for more precise information.

Universal Credit Standard Allowance Amounts:


Standard Monthly Allowance

Single individual younger than 25


Single individual aged 25 or more


Member of a couple where both are younger than 25


Member of a couple where one or both are older than 25


*Increased from £317.82 per month as of 6 April 2020.

Note that self-employed individuals may also claim Universal Credit. In instances where claimants are both employed and self-employed, the Department for Communities will perform a "gainful self-employment test" to ascertain which is the claimant's main occupation. Those who are not deemed to be gainfully self-employed will be required to search for and be available for work as of 30 June 2020.

Depending on their circumstances, individuals may be entitled to additional support over and above their standard monthly allowances.

Additional Universal Credit:


Additional Monthly Allowance

For the first child born prior to April 6, 2017


For the second or subsequent child born prior to April 6, 2017


For the first and/or second-born children birthed on or after April 6, 2017


For a child with disabilities


Claimant needs assistance with childcare expenses

Up to 85% of childcare costs (max. £646.35 for one child and max. £1,108.04 for two children)

Claimant has a health condition that precludes them from working


Claimant cares for someone with disabilities


Note that claimants are not restricted in terms of the number of hours that they can work. However, for every £1.00 earned after tax and deductions, payments will lessen by £0.63. For example, those who earn £100.00 per month (net) will have £63.00 deducted from their Universal Credit payment.

However, there are exceptions. Those who assume responsibility for a child, and those who have disabilities or other health conditions that impede their ability to work, are eligible for a work allowance. This refers to the amount of income that recipients of the Universal Credit can earn before the £0.63 deduction is applied.

Those who do not receive government assistance to help cover their housing costs can earn up to £512.00 before the deduction is applied. On the other hand, recipients of the housing benefit can earn up to £292.00 before the deduction is applied.

How to claim Universal Credit:

Individuals who wish to submit a claim for Universal Credit should set aside approximately 30 minutes, while couples should block out an hour. Be sure to follow the steps below.

Step 1: Create a Universal Credit account.

  • Navigate to universal-credit.service.gov.uk.
  • Click "Start."
  • Indicate whether you are receiving disability benefits.
  • Create a username and password.
  • Select and answer two security questions.
  • Provide your personal details.
  • Indicate your preferred method of contact.
  • Key in the code that was sent to your email address.

Step 2: Decide whether you are claiming as a single individual or a couple.

  • Note whether you are single or if you have a partner with whom you live. Those who are single can proceed to step 3.
  • Request a linking code if your partner does not have one.
  • Jot down the linking code that appears on the next screen – you'll need it later on.

Step 3: Create your claim.

  • Complete the "To do list." This entails providing information about your nationality, living arrangements, income, assets, bank details, and more.
  • If you are sure that you have provided accurate information, click on "Confirm your details are correct."

Step 4: Add a partner to your claim (if applicable).

  • Request that your partner makes their own claim by following the first three steps. They will be asked to provide the linking code sent to you, as well as your first name and postcode, to ensure that the linking process happens correctly.

Step 5: Indicate whether you understand your commitments.

  • You and/or your partner will be notified of your obligations, should you receive Universal Credit. Check "I understand these commitments" if appropriate.
  • Click "Next."

Step 6: Sign the declaration.

  • You will be asked to declare whether the information provided is correct. If you're unsure, click on the "Journal" tab to review your details. You will also be asked to agree that you'll declare pertinent changes in a timely manner, whether online or telephonically. If you are satisfied with these, click "I understand and agree."
  • Click "Submit claim."

Step 7: Verify your identity.

  • Finally, you must verify your identity. Typically, this can be done via gov.uk/verify or at your Jobs and Benefits local office. However, no in-person appointments will be made due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Those who cannot verify their identity online should phone the Universal Credit Service Centre.

Claimants will not be required to attend appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic, even if they are asymptomatic. However, they should report pertinent changes to their circumstances online or by calling 0800 012 1301. Claimants can text 0800 012 1441 if they are unable to reach a staff member.

"New Style" Jobseeker's Allowance:

Although Universal Credit has replaced the traditional Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA), individuals with sufficient National Insurance contributions may be eligible for the "New Style" JSA.

What is the "New Style" JSA?

The "New Style" JSA is a form of government support intended to assist those who are unemployed and in search of full-time work. Payments are made at regular intervals for 182 days (approximately 6 months). Interested parties should use an online benefits calculator to determine their eligibility for the allowance, as well as the precise amount for which they could qualify.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, new and existing claimants will not be required to search or be available for work for three months as of March 30, 2020.

Interaction with other benefits.

Depending on their circumstances, recipients of the "New Style" JSA could also be eligible for Universal Credit. In these instances, the "New Style" JSA will be deducted from Universal Credit payments. Thus, where the former is equal to or greater than the latter, claimants will not receive additional funds.

Once more, prospective recipients should consult one of the online benefits calculators for further information.

How to claim the "New Style" JSA:

There are two ways to submit a claim for the "New Style" JSA. The first, and perhaps quickest, is to do so online, as follows:

  1. Download the "New Style" JSA claim form from nidirect.gov.uk.
  2. If you're using Chrome PDF Viewer, proceed to right-click on the document, save it to your desktop, and then open it with Adobe Reader.
  3. Complete all applicable sections. Since the document is interactive, this can be done on your computer.
  4. Click the envelope icon located on the top left-hand side of your screen.
  5. Press "Send Copy."
  6. Choose "Default email application" and hit "Continue."
  7. Select "Allow Adobe Acrobat" (if this pops up on your screen).
  8. An email containing your "New Style" JSA claim form will appear on your screen. Copy and paste "holywoodroad.jsaonline@nissa.gsi.gov.uk" as the recipient of this email.
  9. Proceed to send the email.

Those who are unable to submit their form online should call the Department for Communities (DfC) on 0800 022 4250 in order to claim the "New Style" JSA. Individuals with hearing impairments should dial 0800 587 1297 to be transferred to the DfC's TexBox service. Upon receiving the claim, the DfC will contact applicants to complete the form telephonically.

Note that there may be long waiting periods due to increased demands tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Typically, all claimants ought to attend an interview at their local Jobs and Benefits office. During this time, they would be required to draft a Jobseeker's Agreement in consultation with their advisers. However, interviews have been suspended temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other special arrangements due to COVID-19:

Since routine, face-to-face appointments and assessments have been suspended temporarily, Work Coaches will communicate with claimants telephonically, via their online journals, or at a later, agreed-upon date. Claimants should only visit their local office if instructed to do so, or in case of an emergency.

Employment and Support Allowance:

Finally, eligible candidates may wish to apply for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – a weekly payment that is designed to support people while they search for gainful employment. The allowance is also intended for those who are unable to work due to illness or disability.

There are three variations: the contribution-based, "New Style," and income-related ESA.

ESA Eligibility Criteria:

Irrespective of the ESA for which they apply, individuals need to:

  • be unemployed, self-employed, employed, or a student receiving the Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment,
  • have had their Statutory Sick Pay come to an end or be unable to receive it,
  • have been receiving Statutory Maternity pay and have not returned to work due to an illness or disability,
  • be below State Pension age, or
  • not be receiving the JSA.

In addition, applicants must:

  • have had an illness or disability that impeded their capacity to work,
  • be receiving specialized medical treatment, or
  • be incapable of working for at least two out of seven consecutive days.

Further information about each type of ESA is included below.

Contribution-based ESA:

Those who meet the abovementioned criteria and have made sufficient National Insurance contributions may be eligible for the contribution-based ESA. Applicants' partners' income and savings will not affect the size of their payments. Prospective candidates should contact the ESA Centre for additional information.

"New Style" ESA:

Individuals who receive or have submitted a claim for Universal Credit may be entitled to the "New Style" ESA. This can be obtained in addition to or in lieu of Universal Credit. In the former instance, the "New Style" ESA amount will be subtracted from the claimant's Universal Credit payment, and the balance (if any) will be paid in addition to Universal Credit.

Note that the "New Style" ESA works similarly to the contribution-based ESA. The outcome of applicants' claims will not be influenced by their partners' income and savings.

Income-based ESA:

Low-income individuals, as well as those who have not made sufficient National Insurance contributions, may be eligible for the income-related ESA. In order to qualify, applicants should have no more than £16,000 in savings. Moreover, their partners should work less than 24 hours per week (on average).

Note that individuals who receive or are eligible for the severe disability premium can claim the income-related ESA.

How to claim the ESA:

There are a few ways to claim the ESA.

1. By telephone or textphone.

Perhaps the most convenient option is to phone or textphone the ESA Centre and speak to an adviser, who will discuss the contents of the application and complete it on behalf of claimants.

2. By downloading, completing, and submitting the form.

Applicants can also download the ESA1 application form and complete it themselves. This should be returned via email or post.

Interested parties should visit the download page for further information about emailing their completed applications. Those who wish to submit their documentation via post should contact the Universal Credit Service Centre for guidance on how to do so.

A note about repeat claims:

Those who were found to be capable of performing work during a previous assessment will generally be ineligible for the ESA. However, individuals whose current condition has deteriorated significantly, or who are claiming for a different ailment, may qualify. The abovementioned application procedures still apply.

Phases of ESA claims:

New recipients of the ESA will first endure a 13-week assessment phase while their capacity to work is determined using the Work Capability Assessment. During this time, they will receive a basic rate – the size of which depends on their age.

Assessment Phase Rates:


Maximum Weekly Amount

Single person younger than 25


Single person aged 25 or more


Week 14 marks the start of the main phase. Based on the outcome of the Work Capability Assessment, claimants will be placed in one of two categories: the work-related activity group, which is expected to search for work, or the support group, which will not be required to partake in work.

During this time, weekly payment amounts will be contingent on group membership and the date on which the claim was submitted. Further details are included in the table below.

Main Phase Rates:


Maximum Weekly Rate

Single person belonging to the work activity group; claimed before April 3, 2017


Single person belonging to the work activity group; claimed on or after April 3, 2017


Single person belonging to the support group


Members of the work-related activity group will be able to claim the contribution-based or "New Style" ESA for up to 365 days. Those belonging to the support group can claim these indefinitely. Recipients of the income-based ESA can also claim this benefit indefinitely.

In most cases, individuals who claim the ESA will not receive payment during the first seven days after submitting their claim. Worth noting, however, is that "New Style" ESA claimants will not be subjected to this waiting period as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.


To remain eligible for the ESA, recipients must report pertinent changes to their circumstances. This could include:

  • performing any work, whether paid or voluntary.
  • moving to a new address.
  • traveling abroad.
  • deterioration in one's condition(s).
  • being hospitalized for 52 weeks (where a portion of the benefit is paid to another individual).

Those who receive the income-based ESA should also report changes to their partners' circumstances. This could include changes to their working arrangements and their receipt of benefits.

Recipients may also be required to submit fit notes on a regular basis to prove that they are still capable of working.

Individuals who were laid off due to COVID-19 should apply for the "New Style" JSA or Universal Credit, rather than the ESA.


What is Universal Credit and how much will I get?

Universal Credit is a form of government assistance that is intended to support low-income and unemployed individuals that are older than 18 years but younger than pension age. Standard amounts are contingent on individual factors such as age and number of children. Some may be eligible for further support. Be sure to use one of the online benefits calculators to learn more.

How long do I have to submit my claim for Universal Credit?

You must submit your claim for Universal Credit within 28 days of creating your online account, failing which you will be required to set up another account and the 28-day window will restart.

What assistance is available while I await my first Universal Credit payment?

Recipients of Universal Credit typically receive their first payment five weeks after submitting their claim. However, those who may endure financial difficulty during this time should contact the Universal Credit Service Centre through their online account. Alternatively, they should consult with their Work Coach. Assistance could include, among other things, an advance payment that gets recovered from subsequent Universal Credit payments over numerous months.

Can I claim the New Style JSA if I am diagnosed with COVID-19?

No. However, you can apply for Universal Credit and/or the "New Style" Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Can I claim the New Style JSA if I am self-isolating due to COVID-19?

No. However, you can apply for Universal Credit and/or the "New Style" Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Can I claim the New Style JSA if I am unable to work because of an underlying condition?

No, but you will be able to apply for Universal Credit and/or the "New Style" Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Can you claim Universal Credit and the Jobseeker's Allowance?

Individuals may be able to claim Universal Credit and the "New Style" Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) depending on their circumstances. In those cases, the latter will be deducted from the former, and the balance (if any) will be paid in addition to Universal Credit. Interested parties should contact the Universal Credit Service Centre to learn more.

How much do you get for ESA?

During the 13-week assessment phase, the maximum weekly payments range from £58.90 to £74.35. Thereafter, these range from £74.35 to £113.55.