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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 22:46 GMT 23:46 UK
Pitfalls in claiming Jobseekers' Allowance
By Richard Exell
TUC senior policy officer

Richard Exell
This week's expert is Richard Exell

Nearly 150,000 jobless people have been refused Jobseekers' Allowance (JSA) during the past year.

A benefits expert outlines some of the pitfalls that face people who are trying to claim JSA.

Jobseekers' Allowance is the main UK benefit for unemployed people, and Job Centre Plus, the agency based in local job centres, administers it.

JSA is paid only to people who lost their job through no fault of their own, and there are rules designed to back up this approach.

Job Centre Plus officials known as decision makers decide whether claimants have broken these rules, and whether they should face a benefit sanction - which can involve losing some or all of their benefits for up to six months.

You may lose your JSA for up to 26 weeks if they (Job Centre Plus officials) rule that you left employment voluntarily

Every year thousands of people in Britain are sanctioned.

The vast majority of these cases were people who left their last job voluntarily or lost it through misconduct.

If you become unemployed and claim JSA you will normally have to attend a new jobseeker's interview.

One of the things this interview is designed to find out is whether you left your job voluntarily or for misconduct, and the adviser (the Job Centre Plus official at the interview) will ask how your last job ended.

Leaving voluntarily

The rules governing voluntary leavers are applied like a two stage test.

If the adviser thinks you may have left your job voluntarily you may be asked to complete a form giving your version of events, and your former employer might also be asked for their version.

The papers will be passed to a decision maker.

If the decision maker rules that you left your last job voluntarily, you may be barred from claiming JSA for 26 weeks.

However, if you can show that you had just cause for leaving then the decision maker may rule that you receive JSA immediately.

Just cause could occur if you were being paid less than the national minimum wage or are alleging some form of workplace discrimination.

Proving just cause is not straightforward, and you must show that you have asked your employer to rectify the situation prior to leaving your job.

Misconduct rules

If your last job ended through dismissal (or if you left to avoid dismissal) and the adviser thinks there may have been misconduct, your former employer will be sent a form asking for their version of events.

The decision maker should not impose a sanction until they have received a statement from your employer describing the alleged misconduct and is satisfied that you have had an adequate chance to respond to the allegations.

If a sanction is going to apply, the decision maker has to be satisfied that you lost your job through misconduct.

The decision maker's opinion should be based on the evidence and case law and be appropriate on a balance of probabilities.

Anyone who finds that they are facing sanctions should get advice and representation as quickly as possible from an Unemployed Workers' Centre, council welfare rights office or Citizens Advice.

The views expressed are solely those of Richard Exell's and not the BBC's. Any guidance is for general information only and does not constitute financial or legal advice.

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