Universal Credit claimants who are the ‘lead carer’ of a child aged one or two are now required to attend more meetings with their Work Coach – more Work Focused Interviews (WFI).
These are mandatory, meaning failure to attend without good reason leads to a sanction.
Importantly, 97% of sanctions are for failure to attend or participate in a mandatory interview.
The rules changed from 24th July. Claimants in the Work Focused Interviews or the Work Focused Interviews and Work Preparation conditionality groups will find that they are required to attend more frequent Work Focused Interviews.
Claimants with a one-year-old (ie from their first birthday up to the day before their second birthday) are in the Work Focused Interviews only conditionality group^. They should now have Work Focused Interviews with their Work Coach every three months instead of every six months.
Those with a two-year-old are in the Work Focused Interviews and Work Preparation group and they will be expected to meet with their Work Coach once a month instead of every three months as was required previously.
The government has said:
The appointments include exploring steps to improve their skills, identifying support needs, learning about childcare provision, and boosting their confidence.
The meetings increase the opportunity to engage and encourage claimants to think about a job in the future, consider the steps they can take and secure jobs when their child is older.
When their youngest child turns three, they will be moved into the All Work Requirements conditionality group^ and will be required to look for work.
^Unless there is another reason for them to be in the ‘No Work Requirements’ conditionality group.
This doesn’t just affect lone parents
Both members of a couple claiming UC are required to have a claimant commitment. Where they are responsible for children (or a qualifying young person) then one of them is designated as the ‘lead carer’.
Example: Steve and Sue receive UC. They have two children and six and two. Steve can’t work due to an injury. He has been found to have a limited capability for work and work related activity (LCWRA). Sue is the children’s lead carer. She in the WFI and Work Preparation Group. She now needs to meet with her work coach on a monthly basis or risk being sanctioned.
Risk of a sanction!
Failure to attend a Work Focused Interview without good reason leads to a sanction, meaning claimants lose some of their UC award.
So, it is very important that all claimants regularly check their journal / email or text messages in case an appointment is made, and if they are ‘invited’ to attend a WFI that they attend on time and participate in the interview.
Checking they are in the correct conditionality group
It is worth checking whether or not the 'lead carer' should be in the ‘No Work Requirements’ conditionality group. This could be because they care for a severely disabled person for 35 hours or more a week, if they have a health issue and would they be found to have a limited capability for work related activities^^ or they are pregnant and it is less than eleven weeks until the baby is due.
^^If their partner has been found to have a limited capability for work related activity they may not think it worth them also having a work capability assessment as a LCWRA decision would not increase their UC award - which is true. But having a LCWRA decision means they would then be put in the No Work Related Requirements conditionality group.
Help with childcare – barrier to finding work?
At the moment, only those whose child is aged three or over are required to look for work (ie apply for jobs and start work if offered a suitable job).
Currently, 30 hours per week of free childcare is available for working families with a three- or four- year old. (Or 15 hours per week if they are not working.)
If a claimant with a younger child chooses to start work, and they pay for registered childcare to enable them to work, then they can claim a Childcare Costs Element through Universal Credit. The Childcare Costs Element in UC works like a refund of 85% of their childcare costs, up to a limit. The maximum amount for the Childcare Costs Element has recently been increased to £950.92 per month for one child and £1630.15 for two or more children.
Those who need to pay up front for their new/extra childcare when they start work/ increase their hours of work can get help from the Flexible Support Fund. Their Work Coach should be able to arrange for a payment to their childcare provider, to enable them to start work/increase their hours.
The UC Regulations have been changed so that a claimant can get a Childcare Costs Element for that initial childcare, even though it has been paid for out of the Flexible Support Fund. The intention is that this then helps with monthly budgeting and paying for childcare.
Extending free childcare
The government has said that, in England, free childcare provision will be increased in the future:
From April 2024, working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of free childcare.
From September 2024, 15 hours of free childcare will be extended down to the age of nine months for working parents.
From September 2025, working parents of children aged nine months and upwards will be entitled to 30 hours free childcare per week right up to their child starting school.
It is not yet known whether the conditionality requirements for UC claimants will be increased further when more free childcare is available.