Studying and availability for work
If you are getting JSA, you may have agreed which hours of the day and which days of the week you are available for work. This ‘pattern of availability’ is set out in your ‘claimant commitment’. You are allowed to do this provided the hours you choose still give you a reasonable chance of getting work and do not considerably reduce your prospects of getting work.
If the hours you study are completely different to the hours you have agreed to be available for work, you should have no problem. If, however, there is some overlap, or if you have agreed to be available for work at any time of day and on any day of the week, the DWP must be satisfied that you are available for work despite your course. It expects you to:
•rearrange the hours of your course to fit round a job or be prepared to give up the course if a job comes up; and
•be ready to take time off the course to attend a job interview; and
•be ready to start work immediately.
Guidance tells DWP decision makers to look at various factors when deciding whether you are genuinely available for work, such as:1Vol 4, para 21242 DMG
•what you are doing to look for work;
•whether your course will help you get work. Bear in mind that if you say the course is necessary to get the kind of job you want, the DWP may assume you are not prepared to give it up to do another kind of job and, therefore, decide you are not available for work;
•whether you can be contacted about a possible job if you are studying away from home;
•whether you gave up work or training to do the course;
•your hours of attendance on the course;
•whether it is possible to change the hours if necessary;
•whether you could still complete the course if you missed some classes;
•how much you paid for the course and whether any fees could be refunded if you gave up the course. The DWP is likely to assume that you are not prepared to give up the course to take a job if you have paid a significant amount in course fees;
•whether any grant would need to be repaid if you gave up your course.
However, the DWP does not need to know about any of the above factors if you got JSA, incapacity benefit, IS on incapacity for work grounds or ESA, or were on an Employability Fund course or similar training:
•during the last three months before the start of the course; or
•for three out of the last six months before the course if you were working the rest of the time.
If this applies to you and your course hours overlap with your pattern of availability but you are willing and able to rearrange them in order to take up employment, no other questions about your course are relevant to your availability for work.2Reg 11 JSA Regs You need only complete Part 1 of the student questionnaire and sign Part 3.
Once you have qualified for JSA, you must continue to be available for work and actively look for work. When you ‘sign on’, you must show what steps you have taken to look for work – eg, checked job adverts or applied for jobs. If you do not look for work each week, or you turn down a job or interview, you could be given a sanction and lose some or all of your JSA, which could be for up to three years. If this happens, you can appeal. You might be able to reduce the amount of the sanction or have it overturned. Get advice about this and ask for a hardship payment in the meantime.
Open University students can attend a residential course for up to a week and keep their JSA. You are not expected to be available for, or to look for, work during that week.3Regs 14(1)(f) and 19(1)(f) JSA Regs