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Working Hours - benefits rules

Key information

If you are doing paid work for an employer or are self-employed but on a low income, you may still qualify for certain welfare benefits.

Benefit entitlement can depend on how many hours of paid work you do per week.

This section provides more information about how hours of paid work affect benefit entitlement and how to calculate your hours of work.

Applies to: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

 

Index

You can read through this information sheet, or go directly to the sections you want to read by clicking on these links:

Which benefits are affected by hours worked?

The following means-tested benefits are affected by how many hours of paid work you and your partner do per week:

How are benefits affected by hours worked?

Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance

For Income Support (IS) or Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA), you are classed as working full time (and therefore not eligible for the benefit) if you do 16 hours or more paid work per week. Your partner is allowed to do paid work of up to 24 hours per week.

If you are working less than 16 hours per week, and your partner is working less than 24 hours per week, then you may be eligible to claim these benefits but the amount you are entitled to could be affected by any earnings you have.

Working Tax Credit

If you or your partner work too many hours to be eligible for IS or JSA you may be eligible to claim Working Tax Credit (WTC) instead. To get WTC, you and/or your partner must work at least a certain number of hours per week:

  • if you are single and responsible for a child, qualify for the disability element of WTC, or are over 60 year's old, you must work at least 16 hours per week
  • if you are a couple and responsible for a child you must, in most cases, work at least 24 hours between you (with one of you working at least 16 hours)
  • otherwise, you must be aged 25 or over and work at least 30 hours a week.

If you claim WTC but are refused because you don't work enough hours, a claim for Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance can be backdated to the date you claimed WTC (as long as you claim within 14 days of being refused WTC).

Employment and Support Allowance - Permitted Work

You can still do some work and remain entitled to incapacity-based benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance(ESA)- this is known as 'permitted work'.

If you claim ESA your partner can work up to 24 hours doing any type of paid work but their earnings could affect the amount you are entitled to.

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How to calculate hours of paid work

How your average hours of work are calculated depends on the type of work you do, whether your hours are fixed or variable, and which benefit you are claiming.

It is important to count all the hours you do; if you do more than one job add them together.

Information is provided below about how to calculate your hours of work for Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance or Working Tax Credit for:

If you are still unsure how many hours you work you should contact the relevant benefit office for advice when making your claim.

Employees

Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance

If you are employed, the number of hours you actually work are taken into account, this can include overtime if this is done routinely. If you do more than one job you should add your total hours together.

Working Tax Credit

You count the number of hours you would normally work ie what you regularly, usually or typically do. The number of hours you normally work may not be specified in your contract of employment or may vary from what is specified. It is the hours you actually work that matter. If you routinely do paid overtime you can argue that these are hours you normally work and they should be included.

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Self-employed people

Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance

If you are self-employed, it is the number of hours normally performed for payment or expectation of payment that count.

You should include all the hours needed to run your business ie visiting potential clients; typing up estimates; buying stock; bookkeeping etc.

Tip: keep a diary note of all hours you do for your business in case you need to show proof.

Working Tax Credit

If you are self-employed, it is the number of hours normally performed for payment or expectation of payment.

You should count all the necessary hours needed to run your business, including visiting potential clients, typing up estimates, buying stock, bookkeeping etc.

Tip: Keep a diary to record all the hours you do for your business in case you need to show proof.

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Maternity Leave

Income Support

You are not treated as being in full time paid work if you are on maternity, adoption or paternity leave - even if you are a full time worker when you are not on leave.

For Working Tax Credit you could count as being in paid work so you should get advice on which benefit you would be better off claiming. Use our Find an Adviser tool.

Working Tax Credit

If you are on maternity, paternity or adoption leave or within the first 28 weeks of a period of sickness, you continue to be classed as working the same number of hours you were working immediately before the period of leave. If you don't return to work at the end of your leave you will no longer count as being in paid work.

If you are self-employed and off work for reasons of maternity, paternity or adoption, like an employee you can continue to be classed as working the same number of hours you were working immediately before the leave began. If you don't return to your business at the end of your maternity period you will no longer count as being in paid work.

If you are on maternity leave, all Maternity Allowance and the first £100 of Statutory Maternity, Paternity or Adoption Pay is ignored as income.

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Sick Leave

Income Support or Employment and Support Allowance

You are not treated as being in full time paid work - even if you are a full time worker under your employment contract - if you are absent from work because you are sick.

For Working Tax Credit you could count as being in paid work so you should get advice on which benefit you would be better off claiming. Use our Find an Adviser tool.

Working Tax Credit

If you are within the first 28 weeks of a period of sick leave from work, and are receiving a sickness benefit such as Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), you continue to be classed as working the same number of hours you were working immediately before the period of sick leave began.

If you are self-employed and off work due to sickness, like an employee you can continue to be classed as working the same number of hours you were working immediately before the leave began.

If you don't return to work at the end of your sick leave you will no longer count as being in paid work.

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People who have fluctuating hours of work

Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance

If your hours of work fluctuate, then your hours are averaged over the ‘cycle of work’. For example, if you always work three weeks on and one week off, then an average of hours over a four-week period would be used.

If there is no pattern to your work then your average working hours over the 5 weeks immediately before you make the benefit claim will be used (or a period that would give a fair average if the previous five weeks were out of the norm).

If there is no pattern of work established yet, for example if you have only just started a new job, then the average number of hours you are expected to work each week is used.

Working Tax Credit

Like with Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance, if a recognised ‘pattern’ of work can be shown over a period, then it is possible to average hours of work over that period, otherwise hours can be averaged over a full year.

If there is no pattern of work established yet, for example if you have only just started a new business, then the average number of hours you are expecting to work is used.

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Seasonal workers

Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance

If you are a seasonal worker, you are usually regarded as having a ‘cycle of work’ for that part of the year when you are working and you should not be treated as being in full-time work for the other part of the year.

If you have no recognisable ‘cycle of work’, then the average of hours over the five weeks prior to your claim for benefit is used.

Working Tax Credit

If you are a seasonal worker, your 'cycle of work' might be considered to only cover the period during which you are working, be that Summer or Winter for example.

You may count as unemployed for the periods in the year when you are not working, unlike term time workers (see below).

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Term-time workers

If you have a recognisable cycle of work of one year, which includes periods when you do not work - whether they be school holidays or something similar - then you could count as a ‘term-time worker’.

Income Support or Working Tax Credit

The periods of school holidays (or periods when no work is done) are ignored when assessing hours of work so the number of hours you work during term time applies to you throughout the whole year.

For example, Maria is a single parent who works 20 hours per week during term time, i.e. for 38 weeks of the year, and does not work or get paid for the other 14 weeks of the year. The weeks she does not work are ignored so her average hours for the whole year are 20 per week.

Maria is not eligible for Income Support as she is classed as being in full-time work, even though she does not work during the school holidays. However, she is eligible for WTC as she is classed as working over 16 hours per week, even during the school holidays when she is not actually working.

Jobseeker's Allowance

For Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) the periods of school holidays (or periods when no work is done) are included when assessing your hours of work.

For example, Maria’s hours of work are averaged over the whole 52 week period as school holidays are included.

Her total hours of work for the year (38 weeks x 20 hours = 760 hours per year) are divided by 52 and she is classed as working for 14.61 hours per week for the whole year.

Maria could therefore claim Jobseeker's Allowance for the whole year as she is not classed as being in full time work. She would still need to show she is available for, and looking for, at least 16 hours' work per week to meet the Jobseeker's Allowance conditions though.

Which benefit should a term time worker claim?

In the example used, it is possible that Maria could claim both Jobseeker's Allowance and Working Tax Credit for the whole year but in practice her income may put her over the limit to receive both benefits together, especially during term-time when she has earnings from work.

These rules are complicated, so if you are a term-time worker we recommend that you seek advice from a benefits adviser. You can use our Find an Adviser tool to locate one who can advise you further on your particular circumstances.

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