Longer online version; see re-sub-edited PDF

Does Universal Credit want you out of journalism?

Universal Credit application page

The Universal Credit application page

THE FREELANCE wants to hear from NUJ members who have been impacted by the new requirement that Universal Credit claimants must search more widely for available jobs from the fourth week of their claim.

The effect of a new policy seems to be to drive people out of creative work - such as journalism - before they have even received any money. If you have been affected, please email uc@londonfreelance.org now.

What’s happened?

On 27 January 2022 the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) announced that, as part of a drive to get half a million people into work by the end of June 2022 (which the government calls the "Way to Work" Campaign), claimants who have agreed to work search commitments in order to receive Universal Credit (UC) will be required to search more widely for available jobs from the fourth week of their claim (rather than after the current three months) - or risk being sanctioned if they don"t.

Benefit sanctions can see UC claimants have their payments reduced or stopped for a period of time. This can cause real financial difficulties for many UC claimants and their families, who may rely on UC temporarily between contracts or commissions.

On 7 February 2022, the DWP made regulations formally reducing the time period in which Claimants could limit their search and availability for work from three months to four weeks. The changes came into force on 8 February 2022.

We think this rule change may impact some of our members and others in the creative industries, who rely on UC in between commissions or freelance contracts. Questions about the impact that this rule change will have on performing arts practitioners have already been raised in Parliament, but the DWP's position has been that individuals in the creative industries who are temporarily out of work should have to find any suitable job that pays the national minimum wage, and that they can use this income to support themselves “while they pursue any longer-term career options”.

We are concerned that this change will force our members to accept inappropriate work or risk being sanctioned, at the expense of them having time to find work that is more appropriate to their skillset and aligned to their chosen career.

We are concerned that the regulations have been implemented without consulting the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC). The SSAC is an advisory body that usually the DWP is usually obliged to consult on welfare benefit changes. In this case, however, the DWP has said it does not need to consult the SSAC because the change is too urgent for consultation, but it has not explained why it is so urgent, beyond saying there is an aim to get more people into work by the end of June.

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the SSAC have questioned whether this change is really urgent, and we think DWP may not have followed proper procedures by failing to consult the SSAC.

If you are someone who is currently being asked by DWP to find work in any field within 4 weeks of making a UC claim, have previously benefited from the ability to limit your job search for 3 months while claiming UC, and think the new 4 week rule would cause you problems if you had to rely on UC again in the future, or have any other concerns about the rule change, please get in touch at uc@londonfreelance.org now.

This is an initiative by several creators' organisations: see www.creatorsrightsalliance.org/news - CRA member organisations want to know how many of their members might be impacted by the new rule now or in the future.