There are various reasons why it is important that you tell Universal Credit (UC) that you are have particular personal circumstances which can make you more vulnerable. Unless this is done it is possible that your claimant commitment will be for more steps than you can reasonably manage and you will be at an increased risk of being sanctioned because of this. Your personal circumstances can also make budgeting more of a problem and may also mean that you need alternative payment arrangements to be made or that you need a benefit advance or hardship payments. There is no complete list of what factors can make you vulnerable but the main areas are considered below.
Claimant Commitment Interview
The claimant commitment interview or work search interview is the most important point at which you need to tell DWP about any factors which make you vulnerable. You need to think about this before you attend this interview. In many cases more than one of these factors will apply and all of those that apply should be mentioned. The following factors can all mean that you are vulnerable or should have your claimant commitment varied to take these difficulties into account:
- You have a disability or health condition. This will include any physical disability, mental health problem, learning difficulty, sensory impairment. You should consider mentioning any factors which could lead to limitations in the type of work you can do, the hours you can do it for, your travel arrangements or the need for any adjustments to be made by a future employer. If you are not sure about this talk to someone else in your family who can help you or perhaps you have a support worker or another professional who can help you. If possible you need to tell the DWP job coach who interviews you about the name of your problem or difficulty.
- You look after children. These may be your own children or other children you look after. If you are in a couple then either of you can be the person who looks after the children. If the youngest child is aged under 3 you will be placed in one of the conditionality groups with less than full conditionality. If your child is aged under 1 there will be no work related requirements. If your child is aged 2 you will be expected to attend work focused interviews. If your child is aged over 3 you will be expected to look for work. You will need to identify the times you are not available for work or jobseeking if you have children aged over 3. Make sure that the times you need for taking and collecting children from school and after school activities and other activities is reasonable. If your youngest child is aged 3 to 12 you will be expected to look for work in line with your caring responsibilities, for example during your child’s school hours. If the youngest child is aged over 13 you will normally be expected to look for full-time work. However if there are reasons why this is not possible then you should identify these and let the DWP know. You may need more time if your child has any exceptional needs this might be because of disability (even if there is no award of DLA in place for the child), because of social care involvement or other needs such as a parenting order or exclusion from school or a need to attend counselling or obtain professional support.
- You don’t have good reading and writing skills. You should identify this and explain what problems you have and how this will affect you. This may mean that you will need to be allowed more time to complete job applications, to use the internet or to look for work. You need to be honest about this as the Job Coach may be able to help you. If you are for example only going to be able to look for work at certain times when there is someone available to assist you with this you need to make sure that DWP are aware of this. DWP may be able to suggest a Job club who could help or some other ways that they could help you.
- You don’t have good English. DWP expect that everyone is able to speak English to the level of entry level 2 (equivalent to that of someone aged 7 or 8). You are likely to be referred to classes in English as a Second Language (ESOL) to help with this. You may also be referred to someone to assess how good your English is. If you are already attending English classes, perhaps you could ask your teacher to give you a note explaining your difficulties and the help they feel you will need to attain entry level 2 and the length of time this will take. If there are any additional factors which mean that it is more difficult for you to learn English it is important that these are also mentioned so that more time can be allowed. You should also ask DWP to provide you with an interpreter if you need one. If you do not have anyone who speaks good English who can attend the appointments with you, you may need them to provide an interpreter each time you attend the jobcentre. If you have problems with this you should seek advice.
- Caring responsibilities. If you are caring for someone who gets middle or higher rate DLA care, any rate of Attendance Allowance or PIP daily living component for at least 35 hours per week you will be categorised as a carer for the purposes of the claimant commitment. However you may have other caring responsibilities which do not meet this test, eg if the disabled person is waiting to claim one of the disability benefits or has lower level needs or is currently going through a mandatory reconsideration or an appeal about their award or if you are temporarily assisting another person who normally does the caring but is unable to do this for some reason.
- You have to do Jury Service
- You have been a victim of domestic violence. If you have been a victim of domestic violence in the last 13 weeks you may be placed in the no work related requirements category. If your domestic violence does not meet this test you should still mention it and ask for the Jobcentre staff to use their discretion to take it into account
- You are undergoing treatment for a drug or alcohol problem. You can have reduced conditionality for this.
- You are homeless. DWP should take this into account in deciding what steps you can take to look for work. They are required to take into account the steps that you are taking to find a home so make sure you mention this. This is particularly important if you are street homeless.
Your circumstances will change from time to time so if any of these factors change you need to keep DWP informed about this. You need to be prepared to share this information with DWP at the claimant commitment interview. If you feel it will be difficult for you to talk about this you might prefer to write it down and give the job coach a written record of what you want to say about this. A letter you could use to help you is available here (Draft Vulnerability Letter). If you feel that DWP has not adequately taken your problems into account in deciding what level of claimant commitment to set you should seek advice.
These and other reasons may mean may you also need an advance payment or an alternative payment arrangement and these are described in more details in the articles about Universal Credit Waiting Periods and Universal Credit and Alternative Payment Arrangements