Being unemployed is often horribly stressful, especially if you’re not sure how you’ll make ends meet whilst you’re out of work.
However, there are unemployment benefits available to help you cover your household bills until you’re able to find work.
If you find yourself without a job, then the main benefit you may be able to claim is new style Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).
Previously there were two other types of Jobseekers Allowance available, contribution-based JSA and income-based JSA, however these have largely been replaced by new style JSA. While some people still receive older types of JSA, you can only apply for income-based JSA if you’re currently receiving contribution-based and you can no longer make a new claim for Contribution-based JSA.
Whether you’re able to claim new style JSA depends on the National Insurance Contributions (NICs) you’ve made.
On top of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), you may also be able to claim Universal Credit to help you cover costs like housing. Universal Credit now replaces a number of other benefits you may have normally claimed such as Housing Benefit and Tax Credits.
New-style Jobseeker’s Allowance
To be eligible to receive new-style Jobseeker’s Allowance you’ll need to have worked as an employee and paid enough Class 1 National Insurance Contributions (NICs) in the last two to three tax years. If you haven’t made enough contributions then you might be able to claim Universal Credit instead.
To make a claim you’ll need to be over 18 but under State Pension age, be available to work, not currently working (or working less than 16 hours a week), not have an illness that stops you from working, and be living in England, Scotland or Wales.
If you’re self-employed and you paid Class 2 NICs, you won’t be eligible to make a claim.
If you’re eligible, you’ll be able to claim it for up to six months while you look for a job. In the 2023/24 tax year you can claim the following:
|Age||JSA weekly amount|
|Up to 24||Up to £67.20|
|25 or over||Up to £84.80|
It will be paid into your bank account, building society or credit union on a fortnightly basis. New-style Jobseeker’s Allowance is not means-tested, whilst Universal Credit is.
Older types of JSA
Contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
You can no longer apply for contribution-based JSA, but it was previously available if you (or your partner) were above the Pension Credit age and made significant Class 1 National Insurance Contributions (NICs).
If you’re eligible to claim this benefit you will not need to claim Universal Credit, and you will also be able to claim other benefits like Tax Credits or Housing Benefit.
Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) is gradually being replaced by Universal Credit, so the majority of people will now have to make a claim for Universal Credit instead.
This is a means-tested benefit so whether you can claim it or not will depend on your household income.
Although income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) is being phased out, you may still be able to make a new claim if:
- You’re already getting contribution-based JSA
- You’re single, or your partner works less that 24 hours a week
- You have less £16,000 or less in savings between yourself and your partner (if relevant).
The amount you receive with income-based JSA depends on your age and circumstances. In the 2023/24 tax year, you can get up to:
|Age||JSA weekly amount|
|18 to 24||£67.20|
|25 or over||£84.80|
|Claiming as a couple||£133.30|
The amount you get will depend on other factors, such as if you’re working part-time, in which case you’ll get less than the amounts shown above.
Find out more about Jobseeker’s Allowance and how to claim here.
If you aren’t eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance, then you might be able to claim Universal Credit to support you while you look for work. Unlike JSA, with Universal Credit you don’t need to have paid a certain amount of National Insurance contributions, although it is means-tested so if you have over a certain amount in savings you might not be able to claim.
To be eligible you’ll need to:
- Live in the UK
- Be aged 18 or over
- Be under State Pension age (if you’re over this age then you might be able to claim Pension Credit instead)
- Have £16,000 or less in money, savings and investments
The amount of money you’ll receive through Universal Credit is made up of two main parts, the Standard Allowance and any extra amounts you’re eligible for. These extra amounts are for if you have children, need help with childcare costs, have a disability or health condition or if you need help with housing costs.
The Standard Allowance varies depending on your age, and personal circumstances:
|Age and circumstances||Monthly standard allowance|
|Under 25 and single and under 25||£292.11|
|25 and over and single||£368.74|
|If you live with your partner and you’re both under 25||£458.51 (for you both)|
|If you live with your partner and either of you are 25 or over||£578.82 (for you both)|
The ins and outs of Universal Credit can be complicated, but you can read more about it in our guides Everything you need to know about Universal Credit and Claiming joint Universal Credit as a couple.
If you’re over State Pension age you won’t be able to claim Universal Credit or JSA, but you might be able to claim Pension Credit.
Pension Credit is a means-tested benefit that will top up your weekly income if you’re unemployed and/or your income is less than the below figures. The amount you’ll get will depend on your income, living situation, and the amount of savings you have, but if you’re eligible it could top up your income to:
- £201.05 if you’re single
- £306.85 if you have a partner (this will be for your joint income).
You can have savings up to a certain amount and still claim Pension Credit. Savings of up to £10,000 will not affect your Pension Credit, but for every £500 of savings over this amount counts as £1 of income a week. So if you had £15,000 in savings this would be considered a weekly income of £10.
Claiming Pension Credit can also give you access to other benefits that might help such as support with housing costs, council tax, NHS dental care or heating bills.
You can read more about this and whether you might be able to make a claim in our article Pension Credit explained.
Other help you might be able to claim
Universal Credit is replacing Working Tax Credits (WTC) and Child Tax Credits (CTC) so most people will no longer be able to make a claim for either of these.
If you’re already receiving tax credits and you lose your job, you may need to apply for Universal Credit as a result of your change in circumstances.
It’s important that you tell the Tax Credit Office about a change in circumstances within 30 days. To do this, you can call the Tax Credits Helpline on 0345 300 3900.
If either you or your partner are of Pension Credit age then, you might still be able to make a claim – it’s best to call the Tax Credit Office to find out whether you’re eligible
Benefits to help with Housing Costs
If you’re struggling to pay your rent after losing your job then – depending on your income and savings – you may be able to apply for Housing Benefit or the housing costs element of Universal Credit.
Help with Council Tax
If you’ve lost your job and you’re now unemployed, you may be able to apply for a reduction to your Council Tax bills.
Help with mortgage and interest payments
Are you a homeowner? If yes, you might be able to get help with your mortgage interest payments.
Will I be able to apply for benefits if I’ve been sacked?
If you left your job without good reason or were dismissed as a result of misconduct then there might be a delay before you can start receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit.
This delay is often a result of your Jobcentre Plus work coach stopping your benefit for a number of weeks after you left your job – in other words they may apply a sanction to your benefit. The amount of time your benefit is stopped for will be entirely up to your work coach.
Going back to work
If you go back to work or your circumstances change, then you must remember to tell Jobcentre Plus or the Jobs and Benefits Office.
If you are receiving Tax Credits, then you must notify the Tax Credits Office that you have returned to work, otherwise you could be fined up to £300.
Returning to work on a low income
If you return to work but your income is still low, you may be entitled to some help. For example, although your payments of Jobseeker’s Allowance will stop, you may still be able to claim Housing Benefit and Working Tax Credits – or Universal Credit.
A note on redundancy
If you’re unemployed because you have been made redundant, then the benefits above may still apply, depending on how much statutory redundancy pay you receive from your employer.
If your redundancy payment is £16,000 or more, then it is unlikely that you will qualify for any means-tested benefits. If you are living with a partner, their income will also be taken into account when deciding whether you are eligible to make a claim.
Understanding the ins and outs of any benefits you might be entitled to when you’re unemployed can be really tricky, so if you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There are a number of organisations and charities that can help you, including:
- Turn2us can help assess your eligibility for benefits. Find them online here or by phone on 0808 802 2000
- Entitled To has a free benefits calculator which you can use to see what you qualify for. Find them online here
- Citizens Advice can help you understand your entitlements and have a huge amount of information on benefits. You can search for your local Citizens Advice here or you can telephone their customer service helpline on 0344 411 1444.
You can also find out more about these organisations and other sources of help in our guide Five free sources of help if you’re making a benefits claim.
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