Job Seeking Single Parents: how to avoid being sanctioned
From our research we know that single parents can be confused about what is expected from them as a job seeker, including the actively seeking work requirements and the subsequent threat of financial sanctions.
This is real worry for single parents especially since a harsher sanctions regime was introduced in 2012. It is an issue that we campaign about to politicians; we want to make sure that single parents are treated fairly and that as well as being a job seeker it is recognised that they have sole responsibility for the care of their child.
The purpose of this article is to explain about a Jobseeker’s Agreements (or Claimant Commitment) that you have to sign as a job seeker and making sure it reflects your caring responsibilities. The article also explains about financial sanctions including how to try to avoid them, and what you should do if you are sanctioned and who can help. This article is particularly focused on single parents who are job seekers either on Jobseekers Allowance or Universal Credit.
Jobseekers Agreement or Claimant Commitment
In order to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, or the jobseeking requirements of Universal Credit, you must demonstrate that you are available to work and that you are actively seeking work.
At the Jobcentre you will need to sign a Jobseeker’s Agreement or Claimant Commitment (referred to in this article as your ‘Agreement’) that sets out the steps that you agree to take each week to prepare for and actively seek work. So for instance it might state:
- how many jobs you are going to apply for each week
- courses or events you are going to attend and
- how you are going about looking for vacancies.
You will also be told:
- when to sign on at the Jobcentre (and the frequency)
- to show how you have complied with your Agreement.
You can also be instructed to carry out mandatory work activity (including volunteering).
However, your Agreement should also reflect your personal circumstances including your caring responsibilities and this can somewhat curtail your jobseeking requirements.
Your agreement should reflect your caring responsibilities
As well as being a job seeker, it is recognised in law that as a single parent you also have responsibility to care for your child. But there are flexibilities that make your job preparation and job search different from other claimants. When you start a claim for JSA you should be given the ‘Lone Parent Flexibilities fact sheet’ and any Agreement should reflect the flexibilities. The Agreement should be negotiated with your Adviser to reflect your caring responsibilities.
See Our Guide to the Flexibilities and The Department for Work and Pensions short guide that you can take with you.
For instance, if you have a child aged under 13 you can have it written into your Agreement that you will only need to apply for jobs that fit in with your child’s school hours. Obviously there will be fewer jobs for you to apply for than someone who can work at any time so this also should be reflected in your Agreement. If you are expected to move into work for, say, 16 hours a week, then these are usually the hours that you are expected to spend looking for work when you are unemployed. As well as being a job seeker you need time to care for your child.
If you do not think that your Agreement reflects your caring responsibilities then tell your Adviser. You also have the right to ask for a different Adviser to review your Agreement. This is also the case if your Adviser wants to change the terms of your Agreement. It is much better to make sure your Agreement reflects your caring responsibilities than deal with provisions and instructions that are going to be too difficult for you fulfill and could lead you to being inappropriately threatened with a sanction. When you are asked to follow an instruction that you think goes against your Agreement tell your Adviser.
Make sure that they have on record the age and needs of your children (including if they have a disability or any special needs). It is good to establish with your Adviser how they will deal with your circumstances during the school holidays and if, for instance, your child was off sick from school and needed to attend a medical appointment. Any Agreement and instructions should be written to take account of the wellbeing of your child. An Agreement that is drafted collaboratively, and is reflective of your circumstances, can be a helpful tool in focusing your job search activity and to show your Adviser the efforts that you are making to move into work.
If you think you will not be able to do an activity or you are going to be late for your appointment, you must contact your Jobcentre straight away. It is in your best interest to try to avoid being sanctioned in the first place.
What is a Sanction?
If your Adviser (sometimes referred to as a ‘work coach’) does not think that you are complying with your Agreement or you turn down a suitable job then you can be issued with a ‘sanction’. This is a financial penalty where you will lose your Jobseekers Allowance, or an element of your Universal Credit, for a period of time. It should not affect your other benefits such as housing benefit.
How long will any sanction last?
The amount and length of a sanction depends on which level of sanction has been applied to you. There are lower, intermediate and higher level sanctions. For example for the lower level sanction you can lose four weeks of your Jobseekers Allowance. For a second failure you can lose 13 weeks of your Jobseekers Allowance. With a subsequent higher-level sanction you can lose benefits for up to three years!
What can you do if you are sanctioned?
- Don’t panic. Contact the Jobcentre straightway to try to resolve the problem.
- You can ask for the sanction to be revised but if this fails you can formally appeal the sanction decision.
- Make sure that the Jobcentre are aware that you are a single parent and have care of a child aged 16 or under.
- Ask the Jobcentre for a hardship payment form (and emphasise that you are responsible for the care of a child) and other forms of support such as a foodbank. Hardship payments are 60% of your usual Jobseeker’s Allowance.
- If you appeal the decision of the Jobcentre you will need to explain why you disagree with the decision and make sure you do so in the time scales that they set out. A sanction should not stand if you can provide a ‘good reason’ as to why it should not apply. There is no legal definition of what is a ‘good reason’. You can appeal using an appeal form from the Jobcentre or www.gov.uk/appeal-benefit. As a group, single parents are more likely than other job seekers to have their sanction overturned so it is well worth appealing. We would argue that this is because they were given inappropriate instructions in the first place.
- While your sanction is appealed make sure you demonstrate that you are still actively seeking work. You do not want to risk another sanction (which could be for a longer period).
- In addition if you do not feel that you are being treated fairly by the Jobcentre you can formally complain. See www.gov.uk/complain-jobcentre-plus
- More information on benefits for people looking for work see Benefits for People looking for Work from Citizens Advice.
- See our informative article All you need to know about JSA