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Working in the UK

Unemployment Benefits in the UK

If you are planning to relocate to the UK, it will affect your personal finances. Don’t just think about short-term costs! It’s never too early to consider financial cushions or retirement planning. Our in-depth guide explains how social security, pensions, and other government benefits work in the UK.

Let’s assume that you have made it to the UK and have been working there for a while. What will happen, though, if you lose your job for some reason? Obviously, let’s hope that this question will never arise. Nonetheless, it helps to know your rights and responsibilities in such a “worst case” scenario.

Who’s Eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance?

If you have acquired either British citizenship or the indefinite leave to remain in the UK, you may be able to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance while you keep applying for a job in the UK. To get this financial benefit, you need to fulfill the following conditions:

  • You must be 18 but below retirement age, attend an interview, and regularly sign on at the local Job Centre.
  • You must live in England, Scotland, or Wales — there are different rules for Northern Ireland.
  • You must be considered able and available for work.
  • You must have been laid off by your employer. If you give notice yourself, you have no right to Jobseeker’s Allowance.
  • If you have paid NI contributions, you will get the so-called contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance for up to six months. After that, you can only claim unemployment benefits if you have few savings and little income from other sources — the so-called income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.

At the time of writing in 2016, a single unemployed person aged 25 or older got up to 73.10 GBP per week. They may be eligible to apply for Universal Credit as well, in order to help pay the monthly rent.

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EU vs. Non-EU Nationals

EU nationals who lose their job in the UK may be entitled to Jobseeker’s Allowance, too. They normally meet the criteria for the so-called Habitual Residence Test (HRT), but they must have been working in the country for a certain minimum period.

For non-EEA nationals, the HRT is one of the biggest obstacles to receiving unemployment benefits. In some cases, applying for Jobseeker’s Allowance may even hurt their immigration status.

This happens, for example, if

  • you are waiting for a visa application to be assessed or a permit to be renewed;
  • you are in the UK on the promise to use no public funds (this applies also to NHS healthcare, except in medical emergencies);
  • you have a financial visa sponsor or a legal guarantor who has agreed to support you.

Even if you aren’t officially “subject to immigration control”, you must pass the Habitual Residence Test. You not only need to have the legal right to live in the UK, but should also regard it as your habitual residence and actual home.

In any case, please get independent advice before contacting a Job Centre or any other government office. The Citizens Advice Bureau can counsel you on legal questions regarding immigration status and Jobseeker’s Allowance, as well as other benefits.

A Penny Saved…

Even if you do get Jobseeker’s Allowance, the sum will never permit you to uphold your previous standard of living. In areas like Greater London, it probably won’t even come close to covering the regular cost of living.

So, if you are planning to move to the UK, do a financial review of your assets first. If you should become unemployed, you’ll need a “Plan B” — a spouse or relative who can support you temporarily, or a nice little “nest egg” to fall back on in hard times, while you are searching for a new position.

Updated on: December 06, 2018

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