Unemployment Benefits in Northern Ireland

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

Unemployment Benefits in Northern Ireland

July 23rd, 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. Learn about the core elements of each, as well as their 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 However, these have since been replaced by Universal Credit.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:

Circumstance

Standard Monthly Allowance

Single individual younger than 25

£342.72

Single individual aged 25 or more

£409.89*

Member of a couple where both are younger than 25

£488.59

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

£594.04

*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 after August 7, 2020.

Depending on their circumstances, individuals may be entitled to additional support over and above their standard allowance. Further details are included in the table below.

Additional Universal Credit:

Circumstance

Additional Monthly Allowance

For the first child born prior to April 6, 2017

£277.08

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

£231.67

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

£231.67

For a child with disabilities

£126.11–£392.08

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

£336.20

Claimant cares for someone with disabilities

£160.20

Note that claimants of Universal Credit 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 or young individual, and those who have a disability or other health condition that impedes 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 £503.00 before the deduction is applied. On the other hand, recipients of the housing benefit can earn up to £287.00 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 up to one hour. Be sure to follow the steps below.

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.

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

  • Note whether you are single or if you have a partner. Those who are single can proceed to the next step.
  • 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.

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."
  • You will be able to keep track of the items you have completed by navigating to your journal.

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.
  • You will know that the details have been captured correctly if you are able to proceed to view your commitment in the following step.

5. Indicate whether you understand your commitment.

  • You and/or your partner will be notified of your obligations, should you receive Universal Credit. Check "I understand these commitments" if appropriate.
  • Note that you may be asked to schedule a meeting with your Work Coach to agree to your Commitment in person. If this is the case, appointments will likely be scheduled once the threat of COVID-19 has subsided.
  • Click "Next."

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."

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.

Also note that claimants will not be penalized if they are unable to meet the conditions outlined in their Commitment as a result of COVID-19. This includes being available for and searching for employment — a requirement that has been waived until August 7, 2020.

"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 between March 30, 2020, and August 7, 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 if they are able to. 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. Note, however, that this allowance is taxable.

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-related 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. The allowance is not taxable.

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.

Those who do not own a textphone but require one should try asking their local library or Advice NI for assistance.

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

Applicants can also download the ESA1 application form and complete it themselves. Note that electronic signatures are permitted. The form should be returned via email or post.

Interested parties should visit the download page for further information about completing and emailing their 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 payment amount – the size of which depends on their age. Further details are included below.

Assessment Phase Rates:

Circumstance

Maximum Weekly Amount

Single person younger than 25

£58.90

Single person aged 25 or more

£74.35

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:

Circumstance

Maximum Weekly Rate

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

£103.90

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

£74.35

Single person belonging to the support group

£113.55

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.

Obligations:

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

  • performing any work, whether paid or voluntary.
  • starting training.
  • being granted a training allowance.
  • 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.

FAQs:

Is Universal Credit coming to Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland has already started rolling out Universal Credit.

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 do I apply for Universal Credit in Northern Ireland?

  1. Create a Universal Credit account by navigating to universal-credit.service.gov.uk and following the prompts.
  2. Decide whether you will be claiming as a single individual or a member of a couple.
  3. Create your claim by completing the to-do list presented to you.
  4. If you intend to claim as a member of a couple, you should add your partner to the claim. To do this, you should ask them to follow the first three steps. Thereafter, you can enter the linking code that will be sent to you via email.
  5. Indicate whether you understand and agree to fulfill your obligations.
  6. Declare whether the information you have provided is correct.
  7. Submit your claim for Universal Credit.
  8. Verify your identity online or by calling the Universal Credit Service Centre.

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.

Is it free to ring Universal Credit?

Yes, it is free to call the Universal Credit Service Centre when dialling 0800 012 1331.

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.

How do I apply for the New Style Jobseeker's Allowance in Northern Ireland?

  1. Download the applicable claim form online.
  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.
  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. Send this to holywoodroad.jsaonline@nissa.gsi.gov.uk.

How long can you claim the New Style JSA for?

Eligible individuals can claim the "New Style" Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) for a maximum of 182 days, which is equivalent to roughly six 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.

Who is eligible for the ESA?

There is a standard set of eligibility criteria that applies to the contribution-based, income-related, and "New Style" Employment and Support Allowances (ESAs). Be sure to view the additional criteria that are specific to each type of ESA.

What is the number for the ESA?

For queries about the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), or to apply for the benefit, call 0800 085 6318.

How do I claim the ESA in Northern Ireland?

  1. Phone or textphone the ESA Centre. You'll be able to speak to an adviser who can answer your questions and complete the application on your behalf.
  2. Alternatively, you can download and complete the ESA1 application form. Additional information about the electronic submission process can be found on the download page. Be sure to contact the Universal Credit Service Centre if you would like to learn more about posting your completed documentation instead.

How much do you get for ESA?

During the 13-week assessment phase, the maximum weekly payments for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) range from £58.90 to £74.35. Thereafter, these range from £74.35 to £113.55.

What unemployment benefits can I claim in Northern Ireland?

Key unemployment benefits include Universal Credit, the "New Style" Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA), as well as the contribution-based, income-related, and "New Style" Employment and Support Allowances (ESAs). Be sure to review the eligibility criteria for each in order to determine which benefit(s) you can claim.