Meet the conditions to avoid cuts

Receiving some benefits is conditional on carrying out certain activities, and not doing this can result in benefits being cut. Charlie Callanan explains ‘conditionality’ and what is involved

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A critical feature of certain benefits for people of working age is ‘conditionality’. This concerns mandatory activities that some claimants must do to receive benefit. Failure to meet conditions can lead to sanctions, meaning that some of their benefit is cut.

Universal credit (UC) and employment and support allowance (ESA) are the two benefits that people with a learning disability are most likely to claim. They are used to top up their earnings, to replace earnings where they are not in work and to help with their rent. The conditionality regimes that apply in UC and ESA are described below.

Note that if a claimant gets new-style ESA (which has replaced contributory ESA for new claimants), they come under the UC system. Therefore, they will be subject to the UC conditionality that is most appropriate to their circumstances. If a claimant has ‘limited capability for work-related activity’, they have no work-related requirements, so they do not have to meet any responsibilities while claiming UC or ESA.

In claims for UC, there are various other circumstances in which a claimant will not have to meet any conditionality. These include where a claimant receives the carer’s element or is providing care for a severely disabled person for at least 35 hours a week, or if they are being paid a wage above their earnings threshold. This threshold is based on what the claimant would earn if they worked for 35 hours a week at the national minimum wage (currently £287.35 per week if the claimant is aged 25 years or over).

Interviews about future work

People who claim UC and have limited capability for work (ie they are deemed not fit for work for now but should look towards working in the future) must take part in work-focused interviews and work preparation. Work-focused interviews (WFIs) are periodic interviews between the claimant and their work coach to discuss plans and opportunities for returning to work, now or in the future. This may include identifying job opportunities, training, rehabilitation or other activities that could help the claimant to become readier to take up employment.

Health ‘conversations’

There is an additional WFI called the work and health conversation, aimed at people with long-term health conditions and disabilities. The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) describes this is as ‘a discussion between the claimant and their work coach to identify voluntary actions the claimant can take to build their confidence and motivation’. It includes a discussion about the claimant’s skills, abilities and goals, as well as the support available to help them move closer to work. This should take place at around week four of a claim. Although a claimantÕs benefit may be sanctioned if they fail to attend, any actions agreed during the interview are voluntary.

There is also the ‘work preparation requirement’, which involves the claimant preparing to move into work, taking on additional work or finding better-paid work. Action to get ready for work could include attending courses, preparing a CV or taking part in the DWP’s Work and Health Programme (

Work-related activity

Many people with learning disabilities who are not in work are claiming old-style ESA under the pre-UC system. If they have limited capability for work, they will have to carry out work-related activity, along with attending WFIs (see above). This is similar to the work preparation requirement, and involves activities to improve the claimant’s employment prospects, such as attending training courses, skills assessments and work placements. It is important to note that the conditionality detailed above does not require claimants to apply for jobs or take up work as a condition of their claim. However, claimants can be sanctioned and have their benefit reduced for failing to take part in any mandatory activity.

UC claimants who do not fall into a category of people with a restricted ability to take up employment, such as those with limited capability for work or caring responsibilities, are likely to have to meet all of the work-related requirements. They will have to look for and be available for work, usually full-time employment of 35 hours a week. The rules are similar to those for receiving jobseeker’s allowance.

<<The conditions for claiming benefits have become tougher, and the penalties for not meeting them can be harsh>>

However, some claimants do not have to meet the threshold of finding 35 hours of work a week in certain circumstances, including if they have physical or mental health problems or caring responsibilities. Even if a UC claimant is in paid employment, they may still be subject to in-work conditionality. If their pay is below their earnings threshold, they may have certain requirements imposed on them, such as to try to increase their work hours, find additional work or find a job with higher earnings.

For many claimants, the conditions for claiming benefits have become tougher, and the penalties imposed for failing to meet such conditions can be harsh. Clients should try to ensure that any conditionality imposed on them is appropriate to their circumstances, and that if they are sanctioned for failing to meet any requirements, they should seek advice urgently.

Charlie Callanan is an adviser and writer on welfare rights




<<The conditions for claiming benefits have become tougher, and the penalties for not meeting them can be harsh>>