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Welfare Reform - changes to looking for work

If you want to speak to someone about changes to benefits, you can phone the independent welfare changes helpline for free on 0808 802 0020 or contact your local Citizens Advice.

When Universal Credit is introduced in Northern Ireland there will be changes to the way welfare benefits are paid if you're out of work or in work but on a low income. In order to get your benefit, you're going to have to show what you're doing to either find or prepare for work.

If you don't do this, you may lose some or all of your benefit.

This page tells you about the proposed changes, who'll be affected and what conditions you'll have to meet before your benefit will be paid.

What will change about looking for work?

A new single benefit called Universal Credit (UC) will replace many existing benefits. These include benefits that support you while you're not working and tax credits that currently support you if you're on a low income.

When you make a claim for UC, in order to get your benefit you'll have to show you're doing as much as you can to either look for work, find better paid work, or prepare for work.

This means new work-related requirements will be introduced. These are part of the claimant commitment you'll have to sign before you can get your benefit. This is an agreement that sets out the work-related requirements you'll have to meet. It's also used to record what you're doing to find or prepare for work.

If you can't work at the moment

If you’re not in work and can't take up work immediately when it’s offered, you’ll have to show you’re preparing for work. This could be because you’re caring for children or you’re sick.

If you're already working

If you’re already working, you’ll have to agree to look for a job with more pay or more hours to increase your income.

If you have a partner

If you have a partner, the new requirements will apply to them too and you'll both have to sign a claimant commitment.

If you don’t stick to the claimant commitment, you could lose some or all of your benefit. These are called sanctions.

People who don’t have to sign the claimant commitment

Some people don’t have to sign the claimant commitment, for example if you:

  • are a carer
  • are very ill
  • are about to or have just had a baby
  • are a recent victim of domestic abuse
  • are already working full time
  • have reached the age for getting Pension Credit.

Who will be affected by the changes?

The changes will apply to you if you apply for Universal Credit.

You may also have to sign a claimant commitment and meet work-related requirements if you’re already getting:

  • Income Support
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Employment and Support Allowance.

There are four new work-related requirements. These are:

Work-focused interviews

This means you’ll have to go for interviews with an employment adviser to discuss your plans for returning to work.

Work preparation

This means taking part in activities to prepare you for work. Activities could include:

  • Having a skills assessment
  • Going on a training course
  • Improving your personal presentation
  • Preparing a business plan.

Work search

This means looking for jobs you can apply for.

Work availability

This means you have to take up paid work, additional hours or better-paid work as soon as you’re offered it. In some cases, you’ll be given longer to do this, for example, if you’re a volunteer or need to arrange childcare.

Which group will you be put in?

You’ll be put into one of four groups, depending on your circumstances. The groups are:

  • people who don’t have to meet any work-related requirements
  • people who must only have a work-focused interview
  • people who have only to prepare for work.
  • people who have to meet all four requirements.

You don’t have to meet any work-related requirements if you:

  • have limited capability for work because of ill-health or disability. The test is the same as people in the support group for ESA
  • give regular and substantial care to someone who is severely disabled
  • are the lone parent of a child under one
  • are in a couple and you are the main carer of a child under one
  • are already earning the equivalent of a full-time job (35 hours a week) at the national minimum wage
  • are a victim of domestic violence in the past 13 weeks.

People who have to go to work-focused interviews

You’ll have to go to work-focused interviews if you’re the lone parent or main carer of a child aged under five (or under 16 if they're a foster child).

You won’t have to actively seek work, or be available for work, or prepare for work. But you may have to attend occasional interviews to say what your plans are for returning to work.

People who only have to prepare for work

You'll only have to meet the condition of preparing for work if you’re in the Work-Related Activity group and have limited capability for work. You may also have to go to a work-focused interview. You won’t have to search for work or be available for work

People who have to look for work

You'll have to do as much as you reasonably can to find work, more paid work or better-paid work.

The SSA can make you do things such as:

  • apply for jobs
  • register with an employment agency
  • write or update your CV
  • get references from a previous employer.

You might not have to do these things if, for example:

  • you’ve already done everything you can to find work
  • you’ve been temporarily sick
  • you’ve got an emergency at home
  • a relative or close friend has died.

If you're doing voluntary work, you may be able to reduce the number of hours you spend looking for work while you're volunteering.

Next steps

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