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Jobseekers allowance

Jobseekers allowance is the main 'out of work' benefit for people not entitled to something different, such as Employment and support allowance for some disabled people (not generally people who stammer), or income support for eg. single parents of young children.

Outline

Jobseekers allowance (JSA) generally applies where you are available for work and actively seeking work. If you have paid enough national insurance contributions, a flat-rate JSA is payable for up to six months. Otherwise, or after that, a means-tested 'income-based JSA' may be payable. Income-based JSA, if higher, can top up contributory JSA.

JSA is normally not appropriate if you are entitled to Employment and Support Allowance, but that is not likely to apply for stammering.

Jobseekers agreement

You will need to agree and sign a 'jobseekers agremment'. This will set out the type of work you are looking for, hours you are available, action you are expected to take, etc.

Generally, your right to restrict such things as type of job is subject to you being able to show you have 'reasonable prospects of securing employment'. An exception to this rule allows you to place restrictions on your availability for work which are reasonable given your disability - you can place such restrictions without having to show you still have reasonable employment prospects unless you impose non-disability related restrictions as well.

Help with finding work

There are schemes designed to help people get work - Jobcentre Plus programmes and services (link to direct.gov.uk) and Disabled people: Work schemes and programmes (link to direct.gov.uk). The main scheme is now the Work Programme. This is aimed at people generally, but also most disabled people will go through the Work Programme. An alternative scheme aimed specifically at disabled people is Work Choice. The Sayce report (link to dwp.gov.uk) on Specialist disability employment programmes was published in June 2011; there is a Government response and a consultation extending till 17th October.

If your stammer causes additional problems in getting a job you may be able to get referred to a Disability Employment Adviser (DEA). However, some people who stammer have reported an unwillingness on the part of Jobcentre Plus to refer them - eg. being told "It's not a disability"! Disability Alliance's Disability Rights Handbook 2011/12, p.91, says; "The personal advisor and DEA roles are complementary. If you wish to be referred to a DEA, who may have more specialist experience, make this clear; your request should not be refused. Advice and support from a DEA is not dependent on receipt of benefits." A DEA can be accessed through your local Jobcentre Plus. See Disabled people: Help with finding work (link to direct.gov.uk). An article on the BSA website gives a personal experience of being helped by a Disability Adviser.

Remploy helps disabled people into mainsteam employment. I have been told they very much see people who stammer as within their remit: www.remploy.co.uk. (This is distinct from the factories they run, for which they are better known).

One type of help available is an Access to Work grant, which may help to fund a fluency device.

Does my claim have to be by phone?

The usual way to claim is by phone, but there are alternative routes you can use. Alternatives to claiming by phone...

Disability premium?

You may possibly be entitled to an increased amount of Jobseekers allowance through the disability premium, if you meet the 'incapacity for work' test (for example, if 'Speech cannot be understood by strangers').

Further issues with stammering

Generally

Sometimes a stammer can get in the way of looking for work in the way normally expected in order to claim JSA, quite apart from whether there is discrimination by potential employers. In particular, stammering often has a sizeable psychological element, for example shame and embarrassment at letting the stammer show. An effect of a stammer may be avoidance of 'difficult' speaking situations.

By way of example, one situation which has arisen is a person who stammers being unable to face a job interview because of the stammer. It may be possible to argue there is 'good cause' for not doing something. Even then, one needs to be 'available for work' and 'actively seeking work'.

If problems arise a letter from a speech and language therapist explaining the situation to Jobcentre Plus can be helpful. Jobcentre Plus officials may well not be familiar with the effects a stammer can have. It might also help to ask to be referred to a Disability Employment Adviser (see above Help with finding work).

The following are just a few individual points from the rather detailed rules on Jobseekers Allowance:

Actively seeking work

In determining whether, in relation to any steps taken by a person, the requirement to actively seek work is satisfied, regard is had to all the circumstances, including the person's "physical or mental limitations". So both speech and mental aspects of a stammer should be relevant. The Decision Makers' Guide (link to dwp.gov.uk) Volume 4, Chapter 21, para 21639 specifically mentions 'communication difficulties' in this context.

Reference: regulation 18, Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations, SI 1996/207. In the Blue Volumes (link to dwp.gov.uk).

'Good cause'

JSA can be stopped for a period in certain circumstances. There is normally an exception if the person had 'good cause' for whatever he is being penalised for. For some of the situations where benefit may potentially be stopped (see list below), regulations specifically say that in deciding whether the person had 'good cause', one of the matters to be taken into account is any condition or personal circumstance of the person which indicates that a particular employment, or carrying out the jobseeker's direction, would be likely to (or did) either cause significant harm to his health, or subject him to excessive physical or mental stress. Clearly a stammer would be a circumstance or condition which could have this effect in some cases. The situations to which the provision applies are, broadly:

Reference: regulation 72, Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations, SI 1996/207. In the Blue Volumes (link to dwp.gov.uk).

Hardship payments and 'vulnerable' people

Hardship payments can be made in some circumstances if JSA is not being paid (eg if JSA is stopped for a period). There are more favourable rules for hardship payments as regards tpeople who are considered 'vulnerable'. Examples of a vulnerable person include:

As regards the 'chronic medical condition' category above, stammering seems to be a physical impairment. The Decision Makers' Guide (link to dwp.gov.uk) Volume 6, Chapter 35, para 35071 sees a person as physically impaired "if they have any loss or abnormality in the function or anatomical structure of limbs, organs, tissues or any other structures of the body excluding the systems of mental function." With stammering the function of organs involved in speech is impaired. Also in the context of the DDA a speech impediment was seen as a 'physical impairment' in Blacker v Servisair (UK) Ltd.

It may be argued that the test on decline of health is fulfilled if the stammer would, within 2 weeks, decline further than the health of a 'normally healthy adult. This will depend on the facts. E.g. extra stress from not receiving JSA may make the stammer more severe, as may inability to get to speech and therapy appointments (or perhaps to other social situations which help keeping the person speaking). Again a letter from a speech and language therapist may be helpful. Stress, and also medical appointments, are mentioned in the Decision Makers' Guide (link to dwp.gov.uk) Volume 6, Chapter 35, Appendix 6.

Reference: regulation 140, Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations, SI 1996/207. In the Blue Volumes (link to dwp.gov.uk).

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Last updated 10th August, 2011