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Welfare Reform Act (Northern Ireland) 2007

Section 12: Work-focused interviews

Section 12 provides for work-focused interviews, which are intended to assist claimants in moving closer to the labour market. Regulations under subsection (1) will provide for certain claimants who are entitled to the work-related activity component to be required to participate in work-focused interviews. Subsection (5) sets out that regulations must provide that requirements to participate in work-focused interviews will cease if the claimant becomes a member of the support group.

It is intended that there will also be a work-focused interview during the assessment phase which will be for the first 13 weeks of entitlement to an employment and support allowance. This interview would have the purpose of, where appropriate, explaining the benefit and conditionality regime to the claimant and helping him think about what activities he may want to do to help him to return to work. It is intended that regulations will allow interviews to be deferred for those with serious health conditions who may be in the support group after medical assessment.

Claimants will be provided with the date and time of their work-focused interview. Regulations will provide that if the claimant cannot attend the work-focused interview, in certain circumstances it would be able to be moved and take place at another date or time.

Subsection (2)(f), (g), (h) and (i) enables regulations to deal with situations where a claimant has not attended or not fully participated in a work-focused interview. Anyone failing to take part in a work-focused interview would have an opportunity to show he had good cause for his failure to take part in the interview, in a similar way as provided under the current legislation relating to incapacity benefit and work-focused interviews. A non-exhaustive list of the matters to be taken into account in deciding if a claimant can show good cause will be set out in regulations under subsection (2)(h) and (i).

As well as attending a work-focused interview, claimants will normally be expected to participate fully in the interview. Regulations may require claimants to provide certain relevant information (such as about their existing skills) and to participate in discussions about their employability and the steps that could be taken to help them move into work or closer to the labour market. Additionally, it is intended that where work-related activity becomes mandatory for certain claimants in receipt of the work-related activity component, regulations will require them to discuss the relevant work-related activity that they had undertaken.

If the claimant fails to participate fully in a work-focused interview and cannot show good cause for that failure within the permitted time, the amount of employment and support allowance he is entitled to would be reduced. Regulations under subsection (4) will set out the amounts of the reductions.

Regulations under subsection (6) will provide for waivers and deferrals of work-focused interviews. The circumstances in which a deferral may be granted will be related to a claimant’s health condition or other circumstances, such as transport difficulties. A waiver would mean that the requirement on a claimant to take part in a work-focused interview would be considered as not having applied and therefore a sanction could not be imposed.

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