Contractors' Questions: Can I claim JSA while contracting?

Contractor's Question: I have recently been made redundant at a web development company and am struggling to find a job. It makes it more difficult that I have an 11-month-old little boy. I'm currently receiving job seekers allowance and don't want to do anything to jeopardise any benefits, not that there is a lot.

Is it possible to work as a freelance contractor, or at least plan to, while still receiving job seekers allowance? Also is it possible to receive JSA with a baby on my hands, or does that not impact my eligibility to claim JSA?

Expert's Answer: The eligibility rules for Job Seeker's Allowance are notoriously complex, so much so that we at the PCG have produced an extensive guide for members outlining some of the less well known rules dictating eligibility.

In your circumstances, you will be unable to work more than 16hours a week without it seriously affecting your JSA. You will also be unable to engage in more than 16 hours of "guided learning" a week, unless you fully explain what this entails to your local Jobcentre Plus. There are also
limits on how much you can earn in any work of less than 16 hours.

This may seem restrictive. However there is nothing stopping you investigating how to set yourself up as a freelancer, and indeed setting up as one and looking for contracts, whilst claiming JSA. If anything, this
would count as part of your "job-seeking" activity and would be encouraged.

Indeed, the government themselves have campaigned to encourage JSA claimants to "go it alone" and try working for themselves. That said, keeping Jobcentre Plus fully informed of your intentions would be a wise move. Freelancing isn't for everyone, and there are downfalls, so seek advice as far and as wide as possible, but many people have come to freelancing and have never looked back.

On your second point - if you are currently receiving JSA then a baby on your hands should not affect your benefit negatively. If you are receiving "income based" Jobseeker's Allowance then I would very strongly encourage you to seek what other benefits you are eligible for, including support for mortgage interest, perhaps by visiting a citizens advice bureau.

The fact you have been made redundant suggests to me you have been an employee in the past, which makes claiming for these benefits much simpler. Many freelancers have to suffer more complex tests of eligibility. If you decide to "go it alone" as a freelancer, as well as support from Jobcentre Plus, you can also expect support from Business Link.

The expert was George Anastasi, policy official at PCG, the trade group for freelancers.