Home Advice for Parents & CarersBenefits for parents Parents of young children: do I have to look for work on benefits? Can I give up work and claim benefits?

Parents of young children: do I have to look for work on benefits? Can I give up work and claim benefits?

Some benefits have ‘work-related’ requirements. These range from participating in Jobcentre interviews, to actually having to look for work. The benefits affected are Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Income Support and Universal Credit. These are the only benefits with requirements related to preparing for or looking for work.

If you are a parent claiming Income Support or Universal Credit you will probably be required to take some action to prepare you for returning to work. How much you will be required to do will depend on your circumstances. Some people (such as single parents with a child under one) will not have to do anything, while other parents will be expected to take all reasonable action to obtain full-time work. If you are in a couple and you claim Universal Credit one of you will have to meet all work related requirements, the other parent may have fewer requirements, but this will depend on the age of the child.

The table below explains what requirements can be placed on you if you are the main carer (‘responsible carer’) for a child:

Income Support
(Single Parent)
Universal Credit
Pregnant with a baby due in less than 11 weeksNo work related requirementsNo work related requirements
Gave birth less than 15 weeks ago (including stillbirth)No work related requirementsNo work related requirements
Responsible carer for a child under the age of 1No work related requirementsNo work related requirements
Responsible carer for a child Aged 1Work focused interview requirement onlyWork focused interview requirement only
Responsible carer for a child Aged 2Work focused interview requirement onlyWork focused interview and work preparation requirement.
Responsible carer for a child Aged 3+ (but see below for some exceptions)Work focused interview and work related activity

All work related requirements:

·         Work availability

·         Work search

·         Work preparation

·         Work focused interviews

 If you are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (without Universal Credit) it is a requirement of the benefit to look for work. However, you can restrict your availability to a pattern which is compatible with your child’s normal school hours if you have children under 13. You can also restrict your availabiltiy for some other reasons, such as disability.

If you are claiming Employment and Support Allowance, you will either have no work-related requirements (because you are in the ‘support group’), or you could be in the work-related activity group where you could be required to participate in interviews, and potentially other activities, but you cannot be required to look for work.

Who is a responsible carer?

If you are part of a couple, only one adult can be named as the responsible carer for all dependent children in your Universal Credit claim. If you’re in a couple and you claim Universal Credit you will be asked to decide which one of you is the responsible carer.

If you have a child but you are not the responsible carer then you will be expected to meet all work related requirements and look for full-time work. If you are the responsible carer, and your child is under three, you should have fewer work related requirements placed on you.

If you are a single parent responsible for a child you are automatically considered a responsible carer.

What is a work focused interview?

A Work focused interview (WFI) is a meeting between you and a work coach, normally taking place at your local Jobcentre Plus. It can be done over the telephone, or at your home in exceptional circumstances. If you are told that you have to attend WFIs this also means that you have to participate in the conversation and help draw up an action plan. However, if your only work related requirement is attending WFIs, you cannot be sanctioned for failing to do the actions agreed in the action plan.

What is work related activity?

Work related activity is action that makes it more likely that you will get a job or remain in work. The required activity is at the discretion of your adviser. It can include looking for work and undertaking training but it can’t include compulsory requirements to apply for or accept work.

What action is included in ‘all work related requirements’?

If you are subject to all work related requirements you must be available for work and you cannot unreasonably refuse any offers of work. In general, you are required to take all reasonable action to obtain paid work, more paid work or better paid work. This means that you will be required to spend a certain number of hours each week searching for and applying for jobs. You may also be required to undertake work preparation activities such as attending a skills assessment, improving personal presentation, participating in training and undertaking work experience.

If you are the responsible carer for a child under 13 you can ask your personal adviser for adjustments to your expected hours of work in order to meet your childcare responsibilities.

What happens if I don’t meet the work related requirements?

Your work coach might apply a sanction if you don’t complete your work related requirements. This means that your Income Support or Universal Credit will stop (or be paid at a reduced rate) for a certain number of days.

It’s possible to avoid or challenge a sanction if you had a good reason for your actions. If you fail to take-part in a work-focused interview it’s best to contact the DWP as soon as possible and explain to them if you had good cause for failing to take part. The DWP will allow five working days for you to provide an explanation before applying a sanction. If you are sanctioned you have a time limit of one month to challenge this decision.

Other reasons you may be exempt from work related requirements:

There are further rules that might mean you are exempt from some or all of the work related requirements, these can apply if:

  • You are a carer for a disabled child or adult
  • You have an illness or disability
  • You are already working a sufficient number of hours
  • You are under the age of 18 and you are responsible for a child
  • You are a parent who has recently adopted
  • You recently agreed to take custody of a friend or relative’s child (kinship carers)
  • Your child has been affected by the recent death of a relative or someone at home
  • Your child has been a victim or witness to domestic violence or abuse

What happens if I leave my job or have a reduction in hours or earnings?

In some parts of the benefits system, if you do not meet your ‘work-related requirements’, you can be sanctioned. A sanction takes away the part of the benefit which is for you, called the standard allowance (or half of it if you are claiming Universal Credit as a couple). You sill get any housing element, child element and other Universal Credit elements you are entitled to in your calculation.

Under Universal Credit you cannot be sanctioned for leaving a job if, at the time of leaving the job, you were the responsible carer for a child aged under 3. Under Income Support you cannot be sanctioned for leaving a job in any circumstances, as long as you are still entitled to the benefit (eg because you are a lone parent with a child under 5). Remember that when you stop meeting the conditions for Income Support, you may have to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit.

If you are the carer of a disabled person (including a child over 3 or 5), you may also be able to leave your job and claim/continue to claim benefits without being sanctioned. This will depend on whether the disabled person claims disability benefits and how many hours you have to spend caring for them.

So overall, though it is possible to be sanctioned if you claim benefits like Jobseeker’s Allowance and/or Universal Credit after leaving a job/losing pay  it will depend on the circumstances (for example whether you are the responsible carer of a child under 3 or the carer of a disabled person) and you should always explain why you left.

You can always challenge sanction decisions, however long ago they were made. You do this by asking for a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ where the DWP look at the decision again, and then appealing to an independent tribunal if you need to.

In some cases, if you are not earning or you are not earning enough, your Universal Credit or Housing Benefit may be benefit capped. This can happen if your overall benefits (including Child Benefit) are more than the cap. There are lots of exceptions and it is worth getting advice if this happens to make sure the cap is correct.

This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.

If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.

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