factchecking myths and misconceptions about universal credit

“I must spend 35 hours per week looking for work”

The short answer:

Mmmm, that’s not necessarily the case!

Although in general you are required to look for work for 35 hours per week, this can be adjusted if:

  • you are the responsible carer for a child aged under 13 - you can limit your hours of work search to fit with your child’s normal school hours including travel time, which is generally expected to be about 25 hours a week;
  • you have a physical or mental impairment – you will need to explain any difficulties or limitations you have; or
  • you have caring responsibilities. 

Tip: If any of the above apply to you, think about how it affects your ability to look for work. Talk to your work coach and explain your limitations, or write it in your journal – make sure any reduction is clearly stated on your claimant commitment. If you have a child under 13 or you have a physical or mental impairment, it does not matter if the limitations mean that you do not have reasonable prospects of finding work.

Even if you haven’t spent the number of hours looking for work that it says you should in your claimant commitment, this should be OK if your work coach agrees that you have taken all reasonable action to find work, and that action gives you the best prospects of finding work.

The hours you are expected to look for work can also be reduced or suspended temporarily, if:

  • you are carrying out any paid work, voluntary work, a work preparation requirement or voluntary work preparation; or
  • you are dealing with temporary childcare responsibilities, a domestic emergency, funeral arrangements or other temporary circumstances.

However, you can only do voluntary work for up to 50 per cent of the time that you are expected to be available for work. 


Law and case law:

Regulations 88, 95 and 99 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013 set out what your expected hours for looking for work are, when they can be reduced, and what you are expected to do to find work. 

Upper Tribunal case CUC/1808/2017 finds that sanctions for not completing 35 hours work search can be cancelled if the reasons for you not complying are not properly looked at by the DWP or a First-tier Tribunal.


Official guidance:

Paragraphs J3050 to J3084 of Chapter J3 of Advice for Decision Makers explain what you can be required to do to find work. 

Need more help?

If you need help in finding out more about your rights and the options available to you, do consider contacting a local independent advice organisation. 

Enter a postcode on our advicelocal site to find details of advice organisations in your area. They will usually be able to offer free advice and support, and help to answer any questions you have.

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