Benefits and help when looking for work
If you're unemployed and available for work you may qualify for Jobseeker's Allowance and other benefits, depending on your circumstances. You may also get help and support with your search for a job through the Steps to Work scheme.
Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) is a benefit for unemployed people who are looking for work. You can claim JSA if all of these apply to you:
- you're able to work
- you're available for work
- you're actively looking for work
You must also be:
- under the State Pension age which can be calculated by using the State Pension calculator
- not working, or working less than 16 hours a week on average
- living in the Northern Ireland
- Calculate the date of your retirement (pensions and retirement planning section)
There are two types of JSA: contribution-based and income-based. Which one you get depends on whether you've paid enough National Insurance contributions (NICs) in the past.
Contribution-based Jobseeker's Allowance
You build up your entitlement to contribution-based JSA by paying NICs when you're employed.
- National Insurance
- Check current NIC rates on HMRC website
Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
If you're on a low income, you may still get JSA even if you haven't paid any NICs. How much you get is affected by things like your partner's income, any savings you have and if you're looking after children.
Being available for work
You must usually be available to start work immediately, but there are some cases when you can have more time. For example, if you:
- have caring responsibilities, you must be available to startwork within 48 hours
- are providing a service, you must be available to start work within 24 hours, or
- are involved in voluntary work, you must be available to start work within one week, and to go to an interview within 48 hours
You may be able to restrict the number of hours you are available for work if you have caring responsibilities, or if you have a physical or mental condition that affects the work you can do.
Jobseeker's Allowance if you're 16 or 17
If you're unemployed and 16 or 17 years old, you can't usually get JSA unless:
- you're forced to live away from your parents
- you'll suffer severe hardship if you don't get JSA
- you and your partner are responsible for a child
If any of these applies, you may be able to get income-based JSA.
Find out more about Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)
You can find out more about JSA by following the link below. If you want to speak to someone, contact your local Social Security / Jobs and Benefits office.
Help looking for work
New jobseeker interview
When you claim Jobseeker's Allowance, you'll need to attend an interview at the Jobs and Benefits / Social Security office. This is called a 'new jobseeker interview'.
An adviser will talk to you about the extra help that may be available to you, such as:
- access to specialist help for things like writing a CV, preparation for interviews, confidence building and work skills
- help to look for work if you haven’t had experience of looking for a job for some time
- help if you're looking for professional or executive jobs
- help with reading, maths or with your English
- information about improving your skills to suit the type of jobs available locally
- help with one-off expenses that might help you get back to work quickly, such as the cost of buying formal clothes for an interview
This support depends on your circumstances, and what's available in your area.
To keep getting benefit you'll have to attend regular jobsearch reviews, usually every fortnight. There's a longer review if you've been getting benefit for 13 weeks.
Your reviews cover:
- what you have been doing to find work (you should keep a record)
- changes you might need to make to improve your chances of success
- any additional help you think you need
Work schemes and programmes
For further information read more in the Work schemes and programmes in the people with disabilities section.
Other benefits you may be able to claim
You may be able to claim other benefits while you look for work if you're:
- a parent
- caring for someone
- paying rent
- on a low income
- a person with disabilities
You can get advice about benefits from your local Social Security / Jobs and benefits Office.
- Social Security / Jobs and Benefits Offices (contacts section)
- Looking for work (employment section)