On first glance, Universal Credit rules look deceptively promising: you are able to be out of the country for as long as a month. BUT, there is no holiday from all the things you have committed to do. And, while you might be able to argue that you can search and apply for jobs on the computer wherever you are, you are expected to be able to attend a job interview immediately. This could be a problem even if you are only somewhere else in the UK.
This holiday rule includes people who are in low-paid work that pays less than the equivalent of 35 hours a week on the minimum wage, and who have to look for more or better paid work in order to qualify for help from Universal Credit. People have been caught out after assuming that they are still entitled to their statutory holidays. One way of getting round this, if you can afford it, is to sign off Universal Credit and then sign on again when you get home; but you not only lose the benefit for the time you are away, you also have to go through the initial waiting period all over again.
If you have been found unfit for work and have no tasks you have to do, then going away should not affect your benefit. If you have committed to do a few tasks in preparation for future work, you might be able to get your GP to write and say that a holiday would be more beneficial to your recovery.
Not telling the DWP that you are going away is always a risk – especially if you are a Facebook user! And if you have been found to be keeping things from them once, they may chase you on every detail in future.
And of course there’s still the problem of paying for a holiday…
(Strange how the DWP stress that being unemployed should be like looking for work, with 35 hour a week jobsearch and payment in arrears, but forget about the statutory holiday bit…)
Rona’s poor health meant that she missed too many college courses and lost her bursary. So she left college and signed on. But the DWP won’t give her any benefits because she hasn’t produced a letter from the college to say she is no longer a student. The jobcentre did ask her for a letter, but that was two days before she had an operation, and she had other things on her mind. So she was left to rely on her son for support. She will arrange for the letter, but she doesn’t feel strong enough to fight for any back payments. We suggested she ask the council for a Scottish Welfare Fund grant to help until her benefit is sorted.
John and Amy had had to get professional help to sort out another muddle due to the DWP using out of date information. They have been living separately for three years and had informed the jobcentre about this – but the records had them still living together and they were being treated as a couple.
Kirsty has multiple health problems and gets help from a support worker. She is on ESA but her boyfriend has moved in with her and wants to claim Universal Credit. We explained that they would have to make a joint claim, and that because that is a change of circumstances that affects her benefit it will mean a new claim in the Universal Credit system. It’s not easy stuff to explain out on the street, and we urged her to go to see a welfare advisor who can look at their situation as a whole.
Kirsty faced being moved to Universal Credit because of a change in her claim, but sometimes the Jobcentre’s eagerness to transfer people to Universal Credit causes them to overstep the mark. Bob and Gemma had been made to apply for Universal Credit without having had a change of circumstances. They were getting help from Welfare Rights in challenging this.
Outwith all these muddles, and despite the appalling system, we are aware that the Jobcentre is generally trying to treat people in a more civilised fashion than in the past. Often this is reflected in positive comments when we ask people coming out if they have had any problems. Today, though, one person responded cheerily ‘No problems – she’s a bitch though.’ While another remarked that the place should be blown up!
Thanks to Tony, Jonathan and Kat for help with the stall