Lone parents: the move from IS to JSA

Issue 208 (February 2009)

The Social Security (Lone Parents and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008 were laid on 23 November 2008. Its provisions are implemented at varying dates from 24 November 2008 through to 2011, in most cases. Beth Lakhani describes the main changes.Introduction

The regulations remove entitlement to income support (IS) for most lone parents, amend the jobseeker's allowance (JSA) regulations to create some flexibility to reflect the responsibilities of lone parents, and deal with requirements to attend work-focused interviews (WFIs) prior to the move to JSA. The age of the youngest child and whether the parent is on IS or making a new claim affects the date of the move to JSA.

Background

These changes are introduced as part of the Government's programme of 'welfare to work', a policy of increasing conditionality and its stated objective of ending child poverty. The Government has pressed ahead with these changes despite the request by the Social Security Advisory Committee and the Work and Pensions Select Committee not to proceed - there was concern about the capacity of Jobcentre Plus to provide the necessary support and that childcare provision was inadequate particularly for older children.

Timetable of changes

For lone parents making a new or repeat claim for IS

There is no entitlement on the basis of lone parent status if on:

  • 24 November 2008, the youngest child is 12 or over;
  • 26 October 2009, the youngest child is 10 or over;
  • 25 October 2010, the youngest child is 7 or over.
For a lone parent on IS

For most lone parents on IS with a youngest child aged between 11 and 15 on 24 November 2008, the changes are phased in as follows with the lone parent staying on IS until:

  • if the child is 15 but is 16 on or before 1 March 2009, when the child is 16;
  • if the child is 16 after 1 March 2009, the earlier of either the day on which s/he is 16 or the first day of the benefit week when required to take part in a WFI;
  • if the child is 14 or becomes 14 on or before 1 March 2009, the first day of the benefit week when required to take part in a WFI;
  • if a child is 13 but becomes 14 after 1 March 2009, the day when s/he is 14;
  • if a child is 12 or 11 but becomes 12 on or before 5 July 2009, the first day of the benefit week in which required to take part in a WFI;
  • if a child is 11 and becomes 12 after 5 July 2009, the day when the child is 12.

A further group of lone parents whose youngest child is aged 9-11 inclusive on 26 October 2009 will be phased off IS over the following year, and finally all lone parents with a youngest child between 7-9 inclusive on 25 October 2010 will lose access to IS over the next year according to the age of their child.

Moving onto JSA

Lone parents will have to claim JSA instead of IS, depending on the age of the youngest child (see timetable above). Quarterly WFIs will take place every three months in the year before the lone parent's IS ceases. Parents are told about the changes and their responsibilities under JSA.

Those in receipt of IS that includes child amounts may also have to claim child tax credit (CTC). New powers 1 have been taken to ensure that the CTC is in payment before the claimant loses entitlement to her/his IS. Lone parents should not make a claim for CTC direct via the DWP which will fast track the claim. If the lone parent makes the claim for CTC independently there is no guarantee that the award will be made before s/he moves to JSA. If lone parents fail to respond to requests by the DWP to contact them about claiming CTC, the Revenue has the power to treat the claim as made by the parent even where s/he has not signed the claim form. The claim is treated as made on the date it is recorded on the computer system by the Revenue.

Lone parent transition loan

As there are different payment arrangements for JSA (it is paid two weeks in arrears whereas IS is paid one week in arrears) lone parents will receive a 100 per cent 'lone parent transition loan' (paid from the social fund) to cover the week gap. This is not automatic but will depend on the needs of the claimant. From 26 October 2009, all IS and JSA payments will be paid two weeks in arrears and thus the need for these loans will end.

Lone parents exempt from claiming JSA

Lone parents who are carers, whether looking after disabled children or adults, are exempt. This means that those who receive the lowest rate of disability living allowance for their child will still have to transfer to JSA as they do not count as carers.

Changes to the JSA regulations

Note the regulation number references below are to the JSA regulations as amended.

The JSA regulations are amended to provide for a degree of flexibility and exemptions for those required to claim JSA as 'a person who has caring responsibilities in relation to a child'. This currently covers only lone parents but will later extend to partners of claimants where there are children and who are presently only required to attend WFIs. The new Welfare Reform Bill contains powers to make regulations to change the rights of partners so this change is consequent on this aspect of the Bill becoming law.

In an attempt to achieve more flexibility (but only to a limited degree), the JSA regulations are made more complex and place a lot of the onus on the parent - e.g., to access the greater flexibility often depends on the parent demonstrating the need for special treatment and/or the absence of suitable childcare.

Availability issues

Regulation 5: requirement to be available for employment immediately - exceptions

Most lone parents will be treated in the same way as carers - they must be willing and able to take up employment with a week's notice and attend an interview within 48 hours. Where a lone parent can show that s/he needs a longer period then s/he will be allowed four weeks before having to take up a job and a week before attending an interview. However, the onus is on the lone parent to argue her/his case for a longer period.

Regulations 7-10 and 13: reasonable prospects and availability

There is a general principle, that where an unemployed claimant places restrictions on her/his job availability, relating to: hours; nature of work; terms and conditions of work; location; and religious and conscientious considerations, s/he must nevertheless show s/he has a reasonable chance of obtaining employment. This rule applies equally to lone parents. There are two main exceptions:

  • where under regulation 13 (4) (6) and (7) the decision-maker decides that due to the type and number of employment vacancies within daily travelling distance of the person's home s/he would not satisfy the reasonable prospects test, it is disapplied; and
  • where under regulation 13(3A) the parent is subject to a parenting order or contract made under the Crime and Disorder Act 1999 or the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 it does not apply. However, this in turn is subject to whether or not the decision-maker agrees that the restriction is reasonable given the nature of the order or contract. Thus it is possible that where a parent has additional responsibilities because of such an order or contract, s/he could still be required to be available for work if the decision-maker believes it would be reasonable for her/him to make other arrangements for supervision of the child or fit in supervision sessions as a parent with time looking for work. It does not deal with situations where parents may not be under a legal duty but are nevertheless requested to attend classes or otherwise spend additional time with the child.
Regulation 14: circumstances in which a person is to be treated as available

In addition to existing rules, a lone parent will be treated as available (and thus entitled to JSA):

  • during school holidays and other similar vacations (undefined), but only if it would be unreasonable for her/him to make other caring arrangements. Being treated as available thus depends on whether or not the decision-maker accepts the parent's argument that there is no suitable childcare available. Suitable might include being easily accessible or available at reasonable cost, as well as reflecting the needs of the child;
  • for a period of eight weeks where there has been a death or serious illness in the family or a domestic emergency but subject to a maximum of four such periods in a year regardless of the circumstances.

However there is no provision for a person to be treated as available where a child is unable to attend school because it is closed (e.g., due to severe weather, industrial action by staff or health reasons if there is fear of the spread of an infection) or because the child her/himself is ill and unable to attend school.

Regulations 11 and 12: part-time students and volunteers

When deciding availability for work in any particular week, the decision-maker must ignore the pattern of part-time study as long as the student is willing and able to reorganise his/her hours of study so as to be able to start work within a seven-day or four-week timescale. The regulation only applies if the person has restricted her/his hours of availability - e.g., because s/he has caring responsibilities or a parenting order. It is hard to see how lone parents would be able to comply with the conditions in this regulation given the requirement to study, look for work, provide actual care for children for some hours of the day, arrange childcare and be able to change both study hours and childcare to fit in with a formal offer of a job.

Regulation 12 states that a lone parent who does voluntary work would be required to take up work within seven days and be available for interview within 48 hours. This is at odds with the wording of regulation 5 which implies there will be circumstances when lone parents may need more time to make arrangements in order to take up work.

Regulation 15: circumstances in which a person is not to be regarded as available

This has been amended so that a lone parent who is a full-time student can be regarded as available for employment during the summer vacation. This brings the provisions into line with those for couples who are students when one is responsible for a child during the summer vacation.2

Actively seeking work

Regulation 18: steps to be taken by persons actively seeking employment

This has not been changed. CPAG believes it should be amended to take account of the needs of childcare that arise during a week reasonably limiting the scope for actively seeking work.

Regulation 19: circumstances in which a person is to be treated as actively seeking employment

There is a mismatch between the additional flexibility relating to availability for work and the provisions relating to actively seeking work. Regulation 19 appears to take no account of the additional provisions in regulation 14 which treat lone parents as available for work (see above).

Sanctions, good cause, just cause, misconduct and hardship payments

Amendments have been made to regulation 72 (good cause) and regulation 140 (hardship payments). New regulations have been made relating to just cause - regulation 73A. But there is no regulation on misconduct which will continue to be interpreted in line with case law.

Regulation 72: good cause for failing to take up a job or carry out a jobseeker's direction

This now requires account to be taken of the availability of childcare and if available whether it is unsuitable given the particular needs of that child. How far the parent will be able to influence this decision may depend on whether the claimant is articulate or represented.

Although in guidance the Jobcentre Plus has accepted that for the first 13 weeks it would be unreasonable for a parent to travel for one and a half hours each way, after this period would be reasonable. The Jobcentre Plus has said that the time taken to deliver the child to childcare/school as well as get to work will be included in this period. But it is not included in the regulation, weakening the rights of the claimant.

Regulation 73A: just cause for giving up a job voluntarily

This is a new regulation. Until now this has been decided on the basis of case law, but this clearly did not take into account the needs of those with responsibilities for children. The new regulation follows regulation 72 building in a requirement to take account of lack of suitable and available childcare provision as well as its cost.

Omission in relation to misconduct

Case law points to a number of situations which count as misconduct, which could apply to some to some lone parents finding it hard to juggle responsibilities to a child and duties to an employer. These claimants might then be subject to a sanction of up to 26 weeks.

Regulation 140: hardship payments of JSA

A lone parent is counted as being in a vulnerable group and therefore hardship payments can be made as soon as s/he applies for a payment and can be backdated to cover a period before s/he makes the hardship application. A vulnerable person is more likely to qualify for a payment including in a situation where they fail the labour market conditions for JSA.

Lone parents will receive only 60 per cent of their normal personal allowance; additionally problematic if they are not receiving the full amount of child tax credit. Because an application for the hardship payment must be made first there may be a delay between the date of the sanction or suspension of JSA and the payment of the hardship payment.

 


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  • 1. Tax Credits Act 2002 (Transitional Provisions) Order 2008 SI 2008 No 3151. This allows the DWP to make the CTC claim on behalf of the claimant.
  • 2. Amended by Social Security (Students Responsible for Children or Young Persons) Amendment Regulations 2008