17 March 2011

From 25 April 2011, Jobcentre Plus staff will have the power to order JSA claimants aged 18 or over  to undertake four  weeks of work, or work-related activity, for up to 30 hours a week.   Failure to do as ordered will result in JSA being completely stopped for up to 26 weeks.

The government says the scheme is being aimed at “Jobseeker’s Allowance customers who have little recent experience of employment. This group has little or no understanding of what behaviours are required to obtain and keep work.” 

According to the explanatory memorandum issued with the statutory instrument granting these powers:

“The aim is to help customers discover for themselves the expectations of work; attending on time and every day, following instructions, working in teams, and many other elements of full time work activity. Advisers will be able to require that a customer takes part in the Scheme, encouraging customers to develop the crucial disciplines associated with full time employment, while at the same time making a contribution to their community.”

However, one big fear is that these powers may be used against some long-term sick and disabled claimants who are forced off employment and support allowance or incapacity benefit by the harsh new medical test, but who do not consider themselves in any way capable of work. 

If they have been out of work for many years, or have not worked at all, and a Jobcentre Plus adviser doubts their commitment to finding paid work, sick and disabled claimants may find themselves forced to take part in a work placement.

No details have yet been given of what the work will involve or which voluntary agencies or private sector companies will take on the forced labourers.  Whoever they are, the new regulations give them the power to order claimants to undertake specific tasks, although only Jobcentre Plus staff will have the ability to impose sanctions.

Claimants who fail to take part in the scheme without good cause, or who fail to carry out instructions whilst on the scheme,  will have their JSA stopped for thirteen weeks for a first offence.  A second failure within one year will lead to a 26 week cut in benefits.  Hardship payments may be available throughout the period of the sanction, depending on the individual claimant’s circumstances.

You can read the statutory instrument here.

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