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Can I claim JSA if I don't have a fixed address? Will my work coach give me a break because I'm homeless? What does being 'disallowed' even mean? AMANDA COX, a work coach for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), answers some pressing questions about claiming JSA when you're homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
1. Are there DWP specialist advisors or work coaches for homeless people at Job Centres or do they just do outreach work with hostels etc?
All JCP advisors and work coaches are fully trained to help customers with their individual needs, including those who are homeless. This can include measures such as signposting to sources of advice and information and working with their support worker. In addition, outreach work is carried out throughout the country, which involves JCP staff going out into the community and working with other organisations.
2. How many of these specialist advisors/work coaches are there currently in the UK (or England if those figures are not available) to assist homeless people?
We have a network of more than 700 JCPs across the country and all of our JCP advisers and work coaches are fully trained to be able to help homeless people. We work closely with a range of organisations to design and improve services, such as Crisis and Shelter. We also work with Homeless Link, which represents 500 homeless organisations. Furthermore, districts will also have working relationships with organisations in their area.
3. Can I claim JSA if I don't have a fixed address? i.e. sofa surfing or rough sleeping?
Yes, JSA is available to everyone provided that they are actively looking for work. It is not a requirement to have a fixed address.
4. The DWP reissued guidance last year that if your JSA is sanctioned, your Housing Benefit should not be affected. What can I do if my HB is (wrongly) stopped too?
Being sanctioned should not have any effect on the payment of a customer’s Housing Benefit. We recently carried out a review of our processes and found that there was no evidence of this happening. We reissued our guidance last year to local authorities to ensure that the system continues to work properly.
If an individual is concerned that their Housing Benefit may have been incorrectly affected by a sanction they should contact their local authority.
5. What's the difference between a 'sanction' and being 'disallowed'?
A disallowance is applied where the claimant has not met the basic eligibility requirements for JSA, such as not being available for work. A sanction is applied when the basic eligibility conditions have been met but JSA cannot be paid due to an infringement of the regulations, such as failing to attend a Jobcentre interview without good reason or refusing to apply for a job.
6. Mr Duncan Smith said last year that homeless people will be able to get hardship payments as soon as they are sanctioned – from day one. Can I do this yet?
We have a well-established system of hardship payments that offers additional support for those who need it. We are still considering extending the definition of JSA “vulnerable” groups for hardship payment purposes. Work in this area is on-going.
7. Will the changes to JSA for young people affect homeless young people? Or will they be exempt from the new Youth Allowance system coming in 2017?
Much progress with regard to youth unemployment has been made in recent years. Since 2010 there are 246,000 more young people in employment, and the employment rate for young people who have left full-time education is at a 10-year high of 74.7%. What’s more, youth unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since 2005.
From April 2017 the Youth Obligation will provide intensive support for 18 to 21-year-olds who make a new claim to Universal Credit and are subject to all work conditionality requirements. This will help ensure that they have every opportunity to succeed. We want to ensure that young people are given the support, skills and experience to motivate them to move into work, fulfil their potential and make a contribution to their community.
This means youngsters will have an intensive support programme from day one of their claim and will be encouraged to take up an apprenticeship or go on work-related skills training, such as work experience placements or a Sector Based Work Academy. If they are still claiming UC six months later, they will be asked to apply for an apprenticeship, gain work-based skills employers value, or go on a work placement.
As announced in the Summer Budget 2015, removal of automatic housing support for 18- to 21-year-olds claiming Universal Credit, will also be introduced in April 2017.
We are working with a range of groups and stakeholders on the finer details. The next steps will be announced in due course.
8. Can you explain what “easement” is in relation to JSA for homeless people? Who decides if I qualify for easement, how long does the easement period last and can it be extended?
Under changes introduced in 2014, work coaches have had the flexibility to ease work-related requirements temporarily while some JSA claimants who have recently been made homeless find somewhere to live.
This built on the existing provision for claimants who are suffering a domestic emergency as a result of recently becoming homeless and whose homelessness is the main barrier to finding a job.
Although the easement is likely to be most suitable for rough sleepers and those staying in direct access hostels, it may also be applied to other homeless claimants, such as those leaving care or a hostel.
9. Do you have any other special allowances or projects to specifically support homeless people?
JCP support is always tailored toward an individual’s personal circumstances and work coaches will consider additional help that a claimant may need to take account of their housing situation.
The Flexible Support Fund can be used to cover expenses associated with taking up work or training where all other avenues of financial support have been fully explored and are not available. Homeless people may be able to access cash from this fund to help them to move closer to or into work.
10. According to Crisis, benefit sanctions are forcing people to become homeless or to sleep rough. Does the DWP plan to change current rules to exclude vulnerable homeless people from being sanctioned?
Homelessness is a highly complex issue and our priority is to ensure that those individuals affected get the right support. That is why the Government has made over £1bn available to prevent and tackle homelessness, and support vulnerable households since 2010.
We know that the most important thing for homeless people is to get a roof over their head, so we have put extra support in place for them.
Benefit sanctions are a long-standing part of the welfare system and encourage people to engage with the support offered, with the majority of jobseekers doing everything expected of them.
They are only ever used as a last resort and claimants are given every opportunity to explain why they failed to meet their agreed commitments. We have seen the number of JSA sanctions halve over the last year.
Claimants can appeal a decision and we have a hardship payment system in place for those who need it.
We know that the best way to support people is to help them into work – and we now have record employment, a growing economy and unemployment is back to pre-recession levels.
• If you are experiencing housing difficulty please call your work coach who will be able to signpost you to any local support available.