(For a printable b and w booklet version click on 17-11-11 Know Your Rights – b and w booklet. This is designed to be printed on two sides of A4, folded to A5)
Updates following Autumn 2017 Budget:From January 2018, when you apply for Universal Credit you will be able to get a benefit advance equal to the full payment, which will be paid off by reductions in future benefits over 12 months rather than 6. From February 2018, the first unpaid week will be removed. And from April 2018, if you are already receiving Housing Benefit when you apply for Universal Credit you will be able to continue receiving this for the first two weeks of your claim.
From January 2018, there will be no new Universal Credit claims in areas that have not yet had the full roll out, so if you are a single unemployed person who would currently have to apply for Universal Credit,and can hold off applying till then it could be worth it.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS, DEMAND YOUR RIGHTS – AND THEN DEMAND SOMETHING BETTER!
This has been written to make folk aware of the rights we do still have, and of how we can make sure they are respected.
If you need help arguing your position, please ask us.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT OR NOT UNIVERSAL CREDIT? Universal Credit (UC) is coming in in stages. In some places this only affects the single unemployed, but where they have rolled out the UC Full Service, then everyone who makes a new claim for a means-tested working-age benefit will have to apply for UC instead. If you are already on one of the earlier benefits (means-tested JSA or ESA, IS, HB or Tax Credits) you won’t be moved to UC for now. It is almost always better NOT to be on UC, so try and avoid having to reclaim. You can check the situation in your area here. Once you are on UC, you stay in the system when moving in and out of work, unless you earn over the benefit limit. Contribution based JSA/ESA is not affected.
DO I HAVE TO USE A COMPUTER? The DWP wants to make everyone manage their benefits on line. Outwith UC you should be able to use other means of communication, but if you are on UC in a Full Service area you need to provide a good reason why you can’t go on line, e.g. you are dyslexic or illiterate, or you don’t have access to the internet anywhere within easy reach. If you have a UC online account you will need to give an email address – which needn’t be the same as you use for other things – and you will also need a bank or building society account. Most communication is meant to be via your online UC account, but if you need an urgent response you should write or phone, too. Although they may not check your account regularly, you have to in case you miss their instructions.
WHERE’S THE FIRST UC PAYMENT? UC gives nothing for the first week, and is then paid a month in arrears, so the minimum wait is 5-6 weeks. You can ask the jobcentre for a Benefit Advance, which will probably be for about half as much as you would get in benefits. This is a loan paid off from future payments, which are generally reduced by 40% until it is repaid. If you can’t cope, ask your local council for a Scottish Welfare Fund emergency grant, but they will expect you to have exhausted the advance loan first. If you are having trouble (e.g. in paying the rent), contact local advice services before the problems get even worse and harder to deal with. In Scotland, new claimants are asked via their online account if they want to have their money paid twice a month rather than monthly. This is only done by delaying the second half of the second and subsequent payments.
WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO LOOK FOR WORK? The jobcentre will make you sign a Claimant Commitment listing what you must do. This is supposed to be ‘reasonable’, but you have limited room to negotiate – without signing you won’t get paid. (If you’re unhappy with what you’re being made to agree to do, and make a formal request for a second opinion that doesn’t go in your favour, your claim will be stopped and you have to start again.) You will be made to search for work 35 hours a week, unless you have particular issues such as childcare or poor health, when you should only be expected to look for part-time work. We can help you explain your situation, and you could try and suggest your own choice of voluntary work or courses. If you want to avoid hassle it helps to be able to give a good report of your ‘35 hours’ jobsearch’. For ideas of what counts, see our Universal Credit page. Always check whether any activities you are asked to do outwith your Claimant Commitment are mandatory. If you are on JSA a mandatory activity must be given via a Jobseeker’s Direction, if you are on UC it will be called a Requirement. If you’re 18-21, on UC and unemployed more than 6 months, you’ll be sent for training or a work placement. Mandatory activities are supposed to be reasonable in your particular circumstances and the DWP must follow strict procedures; if not you have grounds for complaint. If you chose to do an activity that is not mandatory, you should check whether you are also free to leave when you wish. If you are sent on a mandatory work placement you can still refuse to sign the documents that are needed for them to process it, so long as you show willing to do everything else. (Ring us, or see our page on the Work Programme.) If you’re on UC rather than JSA you can’t say ‘no’ to zero hours contracts, and there’s no allowance for a holiday, even if you’re working.
WHAT ABOUT UNIVERSAL JOBMATCH (UJM)? Unless you can’t use a computer, you will almost certainly be made to sign up to UJM, but you can never be made to allow the DWP access to spy on your UJM account: just un-tick the box. You can, though, be asked to provide a screenshot to prove that you have used your UJM account. You can never be made to sign up to UJM on your own computer or phone.
WHAT CAN I DO IF I’M SANCTIONED? If you miss an appointment or activity – explain why asap. If you are sanctioned – challenge the decision. (You have a good chance of success; they may think twice about sanctioning you again; and if they do, the sanction won’t be as bad.) Ask for a Mandatory Reconsideration, explaining why you should not have been sanctioned. If you are on JSA, hand in a letter; if you are on UC it’s on line, but you could also write a letter to be sure they receive it. The decision will be looked at by another person within the DWP. If this doesn’t work, take your case to appeal so it can be heard by an independent tribunal. Check if the DWP have followed procedure, and note that the law only requires you to ‘take all reasonable action for the purpose of obtaining paid work’, even if that takes less than 35 hours and you have not followed your Claimant Commitment to the letter (The Universal Credit Regulations 2013, p51 clause 95). There’s lots of advice on avoiding and fighting sanctions here. You can ask for Hardship Payments, but these aren’t paid straight away or given to everyone. If you are on UC you have to apply for these each month and they are loans paid back off future benefits, so you are on reduced rates for 2 ½ times the length of your actual sanction. You can ask your local council for a Scottish Welfare Fund grant to cover any gaps, but they will expect you to apply for any Hardship Payments you are entitled to first. When sanctioned, you need to keep signing on and doing the tasks set or you’ll be sanctioned further. Even if you have found a job you have to keep up with your set tasks to the last minute.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO TAX CREDITS? People who get a job when on UC, stay on UC; and in a UC Full Service area, new claims are for UC not Tax Credits. If you are on UC and earning less than the equivalent of 35 hours at the minimum wage you will be under similar pressures to find more or better paid work as people who are unemployed, and so can be sanctioned. Because UC is calculated independently each month, irregular earners can lose out particularly badly. If you earn a lot one month and receive little UC, you can’t make up for this the next month even if your earnings are tiny. Try and arrange for earnings to be staggered if you can. UC can be particularly difficult if you are self-employed, so check before setting up on your own. (Ask a welfare advisor.)
WHAT CAN I DO IF I’M TOO ILL TO LOOK FOR WORK? If where you live has not had the full UC roll-out, you can apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). If you live in a UC Full Service area this is included in UC, and once you have been on doctor’s notes as unfit to look for work for 4 weeks, the DWP should send you a UC35 form to apply for being treated as unfit for work long-term. (If you haven’t received this, then ask for it.) This form will lead to a detailed medical form and a Work Capability Assessment, as with an application for ESA; but if you are on UC and waiting for an assessment you will still be expected to look for work and carry out other activities. You can argue – with the help of your GP – that there would be substantial risk to your health if you were treated as fit to look for work or made to do certain things, and it is not ‘reasonable’ to expect you to do these. Get someone who knows the system to help with any medical assessment forms.
WHAT CAN I DO IF I HAVE BEEN FOUND ‘FIT FOR WORK’ WHEN I’M NOT? If you didn’t get enough points from your Assessment you can ask for a Mandatory Reconsideration (MR). While this is looked at, the only way you can receive any benefits is by signing on as though you were fit for work. If your area is not in the UC Full Service, and you apply for the MR first, you should get JSA; otherwise you will get UC. Once you have signed on you can ask your doctor for a note to say that the pressures from the jobcentre are making your health worse and you are not able to work. If the MR doesn’t work (most don’t) get a welfare advisor to help with your appeal. Appeals have a good success rate. If you weren’t already in the UC system, get advice, if you can, from a welfare advisor before applying for UC, as you could be worse off in the long run (e.g. there are no disability premiums on UC).
WHAT ABOUT HOUSING BENEFIT IN UC? HB is included in UC, and in a UC Full Service area it is no longer possible for someone with low or no income to make a new claim for HB on its own. (You still go to the council for Discretionary Housing Payments – e.g. to cover Bedroom Tax – and to arrange for a Council Tax Reduction.)
CAN I BRING A FRIEND? You can bring someone with you to any jobcentre or DWP interview. Your friend can speak to support your case, including asking questions. We would be happy to come with you to your interview – just contact us through phone, email or Facebook – and try not to leave it till the last minute.
SHOULD I KEEP MY OWN RECORDS? The DWP makes mistakes and looses documents, so you have to be super-efficient and keep a record (or photo) of everything. You, or your friend, are allowed to take notes of your interview, which you don’t have to show the jobcentre. You are also entitled to make an audio recording for your own use, but it is generally easier to do this covertly. You can ask the DWP to make you a photocopy of any documents they get you to sign. Keep screenshots from your online account in case you have to dispute a claim the DWP has closed down.
WHAT IF I STILL NEED HELP? When the DWP has left you destitute you can still get help. Charities provide cooked meals most days, and welfare advisors can refer you to food-banks for basic supplies. They may also be able to get you help with fuel charges. You can ask your local council for help from the Scottish Welfare Fund. This gives crisis grants, generally in the form of supermarket vouchers. You may also be able to get a Budgeting Loan or Advance for one-off essential items from the DWP, paid back off future benefits. Ask the Jobcentre for a form, or apply on line. When you ask for help this doesn’t just help you and your family. It creates a record of what UK government policies are doing and provides important evidence in the campaign against their attack on welfare. MPs and MSPs are a good last resort.
ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Please talk us, and check out local advice agencies.