CHAPTER 2Eligibility and recruitment
This chapter examines the rules which determine who is eligible for the New Deal for 18–24 year olds and who must attend. The basic rule is that you are required to attend the New Deal if you are aged 18–24 and have been claiming JSA for 6 months (although there are certain exemptions). In addition some groups are eligible for "early entry". The process of being referred to your initial New Deal interview is also covered in this chapter.
Essential eligibility conditions
To enter the New Deal for 18–24 year olds you must meet the following two conditions. If you do not meet both conditions you are not eligible for the New Deal.
Partners of unemployed claimants
In February 1999, the Government launched three pilot programmes aimed at the partners of unemployed JSA claimants who have been out of work for 6 months or more. After testing in Tayside, Cardiff and Leeds, the New Deal for Partners of the Unemployed went operational in all areas from April 1999.
Partners are eligible to join the New Deal if they are aged 18–24 and without children (NDPG (18-24), Ch 14, para 31). You are defined as being "without children" if neither you nor your partner is in receipt of Child Benefit. This aspect of the New Deal was launched on a voluntary basis, but will become compulsory from March 2001.
You can have immediate entry if you meet the early entry criteria for New Deal (see page *).
Eligibility and Gateway interviews: current arrangements
Partners are firstly identified via the JSA claimant’s record. There is then an informal interview after which an eligibility interview is booked by a New Deal personal adviser issuing an invitation letter. The ES guidance states that "the jobseeker’s claim to JSA will not be affected if the partner chooses not to enter New Deal 18-24" (NDPG (18-24) Ch 14, para 184).
If interested in participating, the partner is expected to sign a statement confirming his/her involvement and a Gateway interview is arranged. Partners are entitled to spend up to 4 months in the Gateway although their needs could be different from JSA recipients (NDPG (18-24), Ch 14, para 62). They may have been out of the labour market for a long time and could have very little experience of looking for work.
Although most of the Gateway services offered are the same as for mainstream New Dealers, as a voluntary participant you will not (until March 2001) be not subject to mandatory referral at the end of the Gateway period. So you will be treated slightly differently in the Gateway or whilst on an option.
Currently you can be required to attend the New Deal only if you have been unemployed and claiming JSA or National Insurance credits continuously for 6 months. From March 2001 attendance will become compulsory for some partners of JSA claimants – see box above.
If you are referred to the New Deal because you have had "6 months continuous unemployment" since the start of your claim then you must attend the New Deal or your benefit will be cut. This is the only situation in which your benefit can be cut for refusing to enter the programme, although if you enter voluntarily and later pull out, you can have your benefit cut.
Unemployment qualifying period
The definition of "6 months continuous unemployment" is very important. This means signing on for 6 months without a break, even of one day. If you have one or more breaks in your claim in the last 6 months (for example, because you did a week’s part-time work, or because you missed your signing-on day and had to make a new claim) then you will not be compulsorily referred until 6 months from the most recent break in your claim. If you want to enter the New Deal, however, you may still be able to (see below).
Time spent in receipt of a training allowance (e.g. while attending Work Based Training for Adults/Training for Work) and time spent on other benefits (e.g. Incapacity Benefit) will not count towards the unemployment qualifying period for the New Deal (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 17).
A small proportion of claimants will be exempted from participation. Those people whose behaviour represents a "significant risk to those around them" can be exempted only after "all other avenues of help have been considered and rejected". The rules governing these exemptions are the same as for people aged over 24. For details see page *.
Voluntary participation (early entry)
Certain groups of people are allowed to volunteer to enter the New Deal at any time ("early entry"). If you fall into one of these categories you can ask to enter the New Deal or an ES adviser may suggest the programme to you. Remember, however, that you must be aged 18–24 and must establish a claim for JSA or National Insurance credits (or in some cases be a partner of someone in this position – see above) to enter the New Deal (see page *). You are also strongly advised to read "Benefit sanctions and voluntary participation" below.
You can volunteer to enter the New Deal straight away if one of the following applies (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 4):
The ES will use the definition of disability laid out in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. This definition is fairly broad: for further details see Chapter 13. If you are on a disability benefit such as Incapacity Benefit or Income Support with the disability premium you will have to stop claiming and sign on for JSA instead in order to enter the New Deal. A new linking rule came into effect in 1998, but be warned that it will be extremely difficult to take advantage of it if you enter the New Deal. The rule provides "a period of 52 weeks following a return to work in which periods of entitlement to benefits on the grounds of incapacity can be linked" (Hansard WA, col 481, 30/07/98). This means that as long as you have been "incapable of work" for at least 28 weeks, if you start a job then leave it within 52 weeks, you can return to the same level of benefit. However, the rule will apply to you only if you sign on for JSA and then take up an employed-status New Deal option within a week. The rules for claiming incapacity and disability benefits are very complicated. Before making any decision about joining the New Deal voluntarily, it is crucial that you get independent expert advice on how your benefit might be affected.
Even if you do not fit into any of these groups you may still be able to enter the New Deal early if you "are severely disadvantaged in the labour market" e.g. because you are homeless or drug dependent, but early entry will be entirely at the discretion of ES New Deal advisers (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 11).
Benefit sanctions and voluntary participation
If you are eligible for early entry to the New Deal then you must make a choice as to whether or not you want to enter the programme. If you choose to start on the New Deal you will be required to complete the programme. In other words, although choosing to enter the New Deal early is voluntary, once you have chosen to enter you will be covered by the same system of benefit penalties as everyone else on the programme (see Chapter 9). ES guidance states that you "cannot ‘opt out’ at a later stage" and that "sanctions will apply if, during your time on New Deal, [you refuse] reasonable offers of help" (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 6).
This means that, as well as providing access to new opportunities, early entry may involve significant risks. You may not be offered any options which you want, but you will be required to take one of them or lose benefit. The only groups for whom this should not be a real risk are partners of claimants (until March 2001) and lone parents. Lone parents can fall back on to Income Support at any time, even if they have been sanctioned for refusing a New Deal option (see Chapter 10). Partners of claimants can return to their former status. For everyone else, the choice is an extremely difficult one.
At some point in your application for early entry to the New Deal you are likely to be asked to sign a form (ES589) confirming that you wish to join the New Deal early. This will be taken as proof that you have committed yourself to the New Deal and have accepted your responsibility to complete the programme, so do not sign it until you are sure you want to join.
Before you are asked to decide, an ES adviser should "make sure [you are] aware not only of the opportunities within New Deal, but the responsibilities that also apply" (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 6).
If you want more time to decide, take the form away and discuss it with family or friends, or get advice from an independent welfare rights organisation. Remember, you cannot be forced to take up early access to the New Deal. A Government minister has made it clear that the ES should "bear in mind that [New Deal] early access provides the chance to volunteer for a mandatory programme and [that] some young people will not wish to take up that opportunity" (Letter, 6/10/97).
Referral to the initial New Deal interview
Once the ES has identified you as being eligible for the New Deal (and, if you are entering the New Deal voluntarily, you have agreed to join), the ES will arrange an initial New Deal interview with a New Deal personal adviser or, if you are disabled, with the disability employment adviser (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 79). The ES will usually arrange this with you in person and should "make sure [you have] no other arrangements planned around the appointment" (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 79d). The date will usually be your "next normal day of attendance and not less than 2 weeks from the date of identification" (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 79c). If the interview is on a day you would not usually attend the Jobcentre, or at a different Jobcentre to your usual one, you are able to claim travel costs (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 113).
You should be given or sent a New Deal leaflet and a letter inviting you to the initial New Deal interview. You may also be introduced to the New Deal personal adviser who is to conduct the interview. In some cases, the invitation will be to attend a presentation on the New Deal followed by an interview.
Once this invitation letter has been issued you have entered the New Deal and must complete the programme (unless you leave in specific circumstances such as due to illness or to take a job – see Chapter 8). Even if you leave JSA between receiving the letter and the date of the interview, if you sign on again within 13 weeks you will be re-referred to the New Deal (see Chapter 8).
Failure to attend the initial interview
The initial invitation letter does not make any reference to the fact that the New Deal is a compulsory programme. This is so that the New Deal is presented in a "fresh, positive and professional way" (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 82).
If you fail to turn up for your initial interview you will not be penalised. According to the guidance, you "are allowed to miss two appointments for [your] initial interview without fear of losing [your] JSA entitlement – normal ‘failed to attend’ action will not apply" (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 86). Rather, a second letter will be issued with a new date for the interview, within a matter of days. If you again fail to attend, then you will receive a third letter which will be different from the previous two. It will be a "formal letter" and will explain the consequences of not attending the third appointment (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 95). If you fail to attend an interview confirmed by this letter, "normal JSA failure to attend rules apply and [you] will have 5 days to show good cause" (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 100). If you cannot show that you had a good reason ("good cause") for not attending, then your claim to JSA is liable to be stopped. For details of this procedure and what counts as a good reason for not attending the interview, see Chapter 9.
Even if you have a job offer and expect to take it up before your interview you will receive an invitation letter to join the New Deal. This means you have entered the New Deal and if you return to JSA within 13 weeks you will be taken into the New Deal immediately (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 80).
Some unemployed people who live a long way from their nearest Jobcentre are only required to attend the Jobcentre every 13 weeks. In the intervals between attendances, they sign written declarations that they are available for and actively seeking work and send them to the Jobcentre. If you are a postal claimant then you still have to take part in the New Deal. When you become eligible, you should be sent the invitation letter.
ES guidance states that "if possible", the initial New Deal interview should be arranged for "your next JSA period ending day", i.e. the next day you have to go into the Jobcentre in person (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 118a). In addition, the appointment should not be on a day when "there are known public transport difficulties", and you are entitled to a reimbursement of your travel costs (NDPG (18-24), Ch 2, para 118d & e).
Unemployment protection insurance
Unemployment protection insurance can be taken out by employees in order to ensure they have access to some form of income if they become unemployed. Since 1995 the ES has had an informal arrangement with the Association of British Insurers to certify the fact that benefit claimants who want to claim against unemployment protection insurance are looking for work. If a claimant raises concerns about possible loss of insurance cover by taking up a New Deal option they will be informed that it is not an acceptable reason for failing to take up an option (NDPG (18-24), Ch 3, paras 225-230).
If you join the Environment task force (ETF) or Voluntary sector option (VS) within the New Deal you are temporarily excused from actively seeking work. It is expected that insurers will continue to make payments up to the maximum period of your claim in this case, whether you are paid a wage or an allowance. However, you should contact your insurer to confirm eligibility for payments before starting the option (NDPG (18-24), Ch 3, paras 228).
If you join the Full-time education & training option you are temporarily excused by the ES from actively seeking work. However, the insurer may insist that you continue to actively seek work in order to continue to receive insurance payments. If you do not seek work, the insurer may suspend your claim. In such cases the ES should advise you to contact the insurance company to clarify what action you need to take to continue to receive payments (NDPG (18-24), Ch 3, paras 229).