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Preparing for your JSA interview

This advice applies to Scotland

You'll be asked to go to an interview at the Jobcentre as part of your application for Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA). You'll need to go to this, otherwise you can't get JSA.

The main part of the interview is making an agreement called a jobseeker's agreement - sometimes called a 'claimant commitment'. This includes things like what type of work you can do, and how you'll look for it. It's a good idea to think about this in advance so the jobseeker's agreement is realistic for you.

If you don't keep to your agreement your JSA could be stopped or reduced - this is called a sanction.

Your interview will be with your 'work coach' - this is the person at the Jobcentre who'll help you find work.

lf you're applying for Universal Credit (UC) as well as JSA, you'll have a UC interview instead of a JSA interview. Read the page on preparing for your UC interview, because the interview will be different.

If you missed your interview 

Call the Jobcentre straightaway. Explain why you didn't go, and ask them to give you another interview. If you don't have their phone number you can look it up on GOV.UK.

If the Jobcentre agrees you had a good reason for missing the interview and you go to the new one, you'll get JSA from when you started your claim.

If the Jobcentre decides you didn't have a good reason, you can still arrange a new interview. Ask for one as soon as possible because your JSA won't start until the day of the interview. Try not to miss the new interview without a good reason - your application will be cancelled, and you'll have to apply again.

Make a note of the date and time you call the Jobcentre. Also write down the name of the person you spoke to. You might need these details if you have to prove you arranged a new interview.

Follow up with the Jobcentre after your call - either by email or by writing to their address. Repeat what you said on the phone and include any evidence that shows why you missed the interview - for example, a doctor's note. You can ask for the email address when you're on the phone, or find their postal address on GOV.UK.

It's a good idea to call the Jobcentre to confirm your appointment before you go.

If you don't think you can get to the interview

If you can't make the date or location of your interview, phone the Jobcentre to explain. Their number will be on the interview invitation - or you can look it up on GOV.UK. Ask them to give you a new interview as soon possible.

You can ask the Jobcentre to make any arrangements you need to help you attend. For example, if you're hard of hearing you can ask for a quieter room.

Make a note of the date and time you call the Jobcentre, and write down the name of the person you spoke to. You might need these details if you have to prove you arranged a new interview.

Follow up with the Jobcentre after your call - either by email or by writing to their address. Repeat what you said on the phone. You can ask for the email address when you're on the phone, or find their postal address on GOV.UK.

It's a good idea to call the Jobcentre to confirm your appointment before you go.

Planning for your interview

Before your interview you should plan what kind of jobs you can do. You can either fill in your 'helping you back to work' form if you were given one, or note down your ideas on paper.

You should also think about anything that makes it harder for you to look for work - for example if you're a carer or part-time student. You can ask for your circumstances to be taken into consideration when you agree your jobseeker's agreement.

Think about the jobs you'll look for

In the first few weeks of getting JSA you can ask to only look for jobs similar to ones you've done before. After that you'll have to apply for a wider range of jobs.

If you want to find a job similar to your old one, think about what kind of role you can do.

For example, if you've been a taxi driver before, you could think about other jobs that involve driving. It's worth listing as many options as you can if you want to keep working in an area you've got experience in.

You should also think about roles you can't do. For example because of your beliefs or if you have a disability.

If you want to be self-employed, mention this at the interview. You'll still have to look for jobs with an employer but your work coach might be able to help you become self-employed eventually. For example by sending you on a course about setting up a business.

Decide how much you'll need to earn

You can say how much you're willing to work for during the first few months of getting JSA. After this you'll have to apply for any jobs, including ones that don't pay as much as you'd like.

Work out how much you need to live so you know the salary you'll need to aim for - you can use our budgeting tool to help.

Decide where you can travel to for work

Check public transport costs and timetables so you know how far you'll be able to travel for work, and what you can afford to spend on transport.

You'll generally be expected to travel up to 90 minutes each way to work - if you won't be able to, explain why, For example, if you can't sit on a bus for that long due to a back problem. Ask to limit your travel time to what is manageable for you.

Think about the hours you can job hunt and work

You'll be expected to:

  • go to job interviews at very short notice
  • start work quickly when you get a job
  • look for a full-time job
  • treat job hunting like a full-time job - you'll need to do it every day

If this isn't possible, think about what you can do instead and tell your work coach.

Plan how you'll describe your previous jobs or training

Your work coach might ask about your training, education and previous jobs so bring your CV if you've got one.

If you resigned without a good reason your JSA payments might not start straight away - this is called a sanction. Check what counts as a good reason for resigning from your job.

If you did leave for a good reason - for example being made redundant - bring any documents or letters you have to show this.

If something makes it harder for you to find work

Think about these things before the interview. You'll need to mention them so they can be taken into account in your jobseeker's agreement. This will make sure you won't commit to anything you can't do.

If you're disabled or have health problems

You can ask to job hunt and work in a way that suits your condition. For example, if your disability makes you tired a lot you can ask for jobs with flexible hours or ask for the distance you travel to work to be reduced.

You can also ask to only apply for jobs that pay enough to cover your needs. For example, if you need to travel to work by taxi, your salary needs to be enough to cover the taxi costs.

Take any proof you have with you - for example a letter from your doctor that explains the effect your health has on your ability to work.

Make sure your work coach understands that you want to work. For example, let them know if there are times of day when your condition isn't so bad and say which jobs you'll be good at.

If your condition often changes, think which pattern of working would suit you now. You'll be able to change your jobseeker's agreement later if your health gets worse.

If you've challenged an ESA decision

If you're applying for JSA while you wait for a decision about your ESA, contact your nearest Citizens Advice. They'll help you prepare for your JSA interview.

The ESA decision won't be affected by the fact you're job hunting so you can get JSA.

If you're a carer

You can ask to job hunt and work at times you're not caring. You can also request up to 48 hours to get ready for a job interview and a week's notice to start a job.

You'll need to tell your work coach:

  • how many hours you spend caring for someone
  • the days and times you're caring
  • about the person you care for - including their health and age

If you have a child

You can ask to work and job hunt in a way that fits in with looking after your child. You can ask to:

  • look for part-time jobs (as long as it's more than 16 hours a week) - if your child's under 16
  • only work during school hours - if they're under 13
  • have up to 48 hours to prepare for job interviews 
  • have up to a month to get ready for a job

If there's no-one else to look after your child in the school holidays, tell your work coach. Ask if your claimant commitment can be changed at these times.

If you're a volunteer

Write down the days and times you volunteer because your work coach will ask about this. You can ask for up to 48 hours to get ready for a job interview and a week to start a new job.

If you've recently been affected by domestic abuse

Abuse doesn't just mean you've been hurt physically. It could mean you've been bullied into doing something you don't want to do.

If the abuse was in the last 26 weeks (6 months) and you don't live with the person who abused you, tell your work coach. They can write in your jobseeker's agreement that you can postpone job hunting or accepting job offers for a while. If you live with the person who abused you you won't be able to ask for this.

You might want to take a letter from a social worker or doctor, or a police report to explain what's happened.

You can contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you've been affected by abuse.

If you can't read or write English very well

You’ll need to tell your work coach if you struggle with reading, writing or using a computer in English, even if English is your first language.

Try to explain how this will make it difficult for you to find work and what you want to do to improve your English skills. For example, you could ask to go on a course to improve your English language or writing skills as part of your jobseeker’s agreement.

What to do at the interview

It's important to build a good relationship with your work coach because you'll meet them regularly while you're on JSA. They'll be the one to decide whether you get sanctioned or not if you're not able to keep to your agreement.

You can do this by:

  • being prepared for your interview, for example by having all the documents you've been asked to take
  • explaining what you can do as well as what you can't - they have to accept you're willing and able to work or you can't get JSA
  • answering their questions as best you can - if you don't know the answer it's OK to say so
  • asking questions if there's anything you don't understand

Your work coach will tell you:

  • what you can do to make it easier to get a job, for example writing a CV or going on a course
  • the best way for you to job hunt, for example the websites you should check and the agencies to join

Make sure you can commit to these as they'll be written in your jobseeker's agreement - if they don't sound realistic you should say. For example if you can't access the internet at home but you've been asked to check your email every day.

If you're unsure about what you need to do while you're on JSA, ask your work coach. For example:

  • when do I have to sign on, and what do I have to bring?
  • how do I record my job hunting and how much detail do I have to give?
  • what should I do if I'm ill, have childcare problems or want to plan a holiday?
  • what should I do if I can't keep to my jobseeker's agreement?

Also ask when you'll hear if your claim is successful and when the first payment will be. 

If you need money before your first payment

If your health or safety is at risk because of financial problems, you can ask your work coach for a ‘short-term advance’. You’ll get some of your JSA early and pay it back from your JSA when it starts.

If your work coach says your claim will be delayed, you can ask for hardship payments. Read our help with applying for hardship payments.

Documents to take

You'll need 2 forms of ID - find out what you can use on GOV.UK.

You should also take your P45 if you've got one - your employer will have given you this when you left your last job.

If you have a 'helping you back to work' form, take it with you and make sure you've filled it in as best you can.

Also take any information about the job hunting you've done since you started your claim (including copies of applications and details of people you've contacted).

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