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Universal Credit set to affect freelance WoBs

UNIVERSAL Credit (UC) - which is planned to replace most existing benefits - has already started for claimants using the Job Centre at Ashton-Under-Lyme in Greater Manchester, with "elements" of UC being "trialed" in three other job centres locally, in Wigan, Oldham and Warrington.

The Greater Manchester UC trial currently only applies Job Seekers' Allowance (JSA) claimants, but the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is seeking ideas on how to extend "conditionality" to working claimants. (For more on what conditionality is, see here.)

Currently, the process for low-income working journalists applying for and getting Working Tax Credit (WTC) is relatively simple compared with JSA. You fill in an initial, fairly straightforward form, and then you send in information regarding your income and any changes of circumstances twice a year. There are no interviews, unless you are nabbed for an inspection, and inspections usually take the form of requests for documentation, with telephone interviews of those WTC claimants under inspection being quite rare.

All this may be about to change, with the prospect of those freelance journalists on low incomes who currently get WTC being moved to a much more onerous regime that would involve regular, time-consuming contact with the Job Centre, and a lot of reporting requirements.

Parliamentary Undersecretary for Work and Pensions Lord Freud stated in April, "We are currently able to impose requirements on existing JSA claimants... Obviously, we are interested in doing more and extending conditionality to claimants who are in relatively substantive levels of work but who are nevertheless capable of working more."

Lord Freud said "The fact that those in work will come under the ambit of the JobCentre Plus for the first time as a result of universal credit gives the government radical new opportunities." The government want to extend "workfare" and conditionality to working claimants or WoBs ("workers on benefits") when Universal Credit kicks in. Those previously known as the "working poor" will be added to ranks of scroungerdom. This will include working freelances on a low income who currently receive Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Family Credit, etc. An ominously named consultation document, Extending labour market interventions to in-work claimants - call for ideas was doing the rounds in March. This anticipated that the estimated five million WoBs would eventually come under the Universal Credit regime.

Such plans doesn't appear plausible, given that the current duties in the job descriptions of HMRC employees who deal with the self-employed do not include enforcing job-search conditions.

If the implementation of UC encounters serious difficulties - which is likely given its complexity - then Work and Pension Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Lord Freud and Co. may instead turn to messing with Tax Credits. There has already been sweeps on monitoring the 30-hour rule on Tax Credits.

The DWP document goes on to push the Universal Jobmatch website. It's already "mandatory" for JSA claimants to sign up to this website The website's publicity says "Automatic job matching means the system works 24/7 to find jobs that fit with people's skills set or supplement their existing employment so their CV is working for them even whilst they sleep... " "Universal Jobmatch also provides information on individuals' job search activity, including their CV and application history." and here

The fact that the DWP is bigging up Universal Jobmatch suggests that there are plans afoot to eventually make it "mandatory" for all Universal Credit claimants. This would mean journalists who will be in receipt of UC being compelled to put their "Public CV" online as part of Universal Jobmatch. Their Public CVs will appear along numerous spoof job adverts, barely-disguised scam adverts, spam, including adverts for sex work and drug smuggling roles, as revealed by Channel 4 News.

Those who claim Council Tax Benefit should also be aware that changes to Council Tax Benefit are now in effect. How you will be affected - probably negatively - by these depends on which council or borough you are resident in. See the website of your local council for details.

  • LFB Committee is studying the TUC's Will Universal Credit work - which does mention the "self-employed" and highlights problems around UC's presumptions of a "reasonable income" that a self-employed person may be deemed to earn, rather than what they actually earn.
Last modified: 08 May 2013 - © 2013 contributors
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