Welfare Reform Act 2009 – a quick guide

01 April 2010
Issue 215 (April 2010)

Simon Osborne outlines the main provisions of the Act and indicates likely implementation dates, where known.


The Welfare Reform Act 2009 was given Royal Assent on 12 November 2009. Most of the pro- visions are still awaiting commencement orders and/or regulations to bring them into force, and some will be introduced in the form of pilot schemes. This article summarises the main provisions and when they are due to take effect.

Main provisions

  • Compulsory ‘work for your benefit’ (work or work-related activity) schemes for long-term jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) claimants. These are to be piloted from November 2010. The Act allows regulations to provide that claimants are required to undertake ‘work, or work-related activity, during any prescribed period with a view to improving their prospects of obtaining employment.’ Those who fail to comply without good cause may have their benefit stopped for between one and 26 weeks. For more detail, see below.
  • Compulsory ‘work-related activity’ schemes (to be called ‘Progression to Work’) for claimants of income support (IS) (except lone parents with a youngest child aged under three), income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), income-based JSA and their partners. Initial ‘pathfinder’ pilots, from October 2010, will apply to lone parents on IS and partners of ESA/JSA claimants, with a youngest child aged between three and six. For more detail, see below.
  • New powers to require claimants of IS, income-based JSA and income-related ESA and their partners to draw up ‘action plans’, in particular where they are required to undertake ‘work-related activity’ (see above), in which case the plans will specify the required activity.
  • Powers to permit ‘directions’ relating to work-related activity, including those which specify which activities will count as ‘work-related’. But any such direction must be ‘reasonable’. A similar power relates to ESA claimants, for who work-related activity powers already exist in section 15 of the Welfare Reform Act 2007.
  • Most couples will not be entitled to income-related ESA if one of them is fit for work. Exceptions may be specified in regulations (full details awaited at time of writing). IS may arise instead, although the claimant will still have to come within an IS eligible category.
  • Sanctions for JSA and ESA claimants who are dependent on drugs and who decline an interview, provision of a sample or rehabilitation without good cause. (To be piloted from October 2010, regarding heroin or cocaine dependency or misuse – details under consultation at time of writing.1)
  • Eventual abolition of IS (but probably not for a few years yet).
  • High rate mobility component DLA for blind people (from April 2011).
  • Revised contribution conditions for JSA and in particular ESA.
  • Abolition of adult dependant additions for new claims in maternity allowance and carer’s allowance (from 6 April 2010).
  • Introduction of ‘one-strike’ penalty for conviction, penalty or caution for benefit offences (from 1 April 2010).
  • Out-sourcing of delivery of social fund loans to external providers.

‘Work for your benefit’ pilots

Under regulations that were in draft form at time of writing,2 these pilot schemes are due to be introduced on 22 November 2010, in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, Greater Manchester Central, Greater Manchester East and West, and Norfolk.

Claimants may be selected on a ‘sampling basis’ for participation in the pilots for 26 weeks if they are aged at least 18 and have been in the Flexible New Deal for at least 12 months. Others may be selected for early entry into the scheme where they are aged at least 18, are not lone parents and have been on JSA for between six and 12 months. Loss of benefit sanctions will apply (for periods of two, four or 26 weeks) for failure to comply without good cause.

Work-related activity – Progression to Work Pathfinders

The Government has announced that the first pilot areas to operate the Pathfinder to Work scheme, under which some claimants will have to undertake ‘work-related activity’ as well as attend work-focused interviews, will be located in South London, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and Tees Valley.3 They will be introduced on 25 October 2010 for new claimants and April 2011 for existing claimants, and apply to lone parents on IS and partners of IS and ESA claimants with a youngest child aged between three and six.

Details were under consultation at time of writing, but the official intention is that ‘work- related activity’ will not be exhaustively defined, and will encompass a range of possible activity. Claimants will be able to satisfy the requirement if they carry out at least one work-related activity every 13 weeks. They will not be expected to carry our work-related activity when no suitable childcare is available. Foster parents, those with children for whom any rate of the disability living allowance care component is payable and those claiming carer’s allowance or the carer’s premium will not be required to carry out work-related activity. Sanctions will apply on a third failure to comply without good cause, and will initially be10 per cent of the personal allowance relating to claimants aged 25 or over for up to weeks, rising to 20 per cent for a further two weeks following a fourth failure, and then to 20 per cent for an indefinite period following a fifth failure. Benefit will be reinstated on compliance, and appeal rights will apply.

Please be aware that welfare rights law and guidance change frequently. Therefore older Bulletin articles may be out of date. Use keywords or the search function to find more recent material on this topic.

  • 1. Draft The Social Security (Welfare Reform Drugs Recovery Pilot Scheme) Regulations 2010, and accompanying material (under the name ‘The Social Security (Claimants Dependent on Drugs) (Pilot Scheme) Regulations 2010’) sent by DWP to the Social Security Advisory Committee
  • 2. Draft The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Work for Your Benefit Pilot Scheme) Regulations 2010
  • 3. ‘Extra support and cash for parents moving off benefits and into jobs – Cooper’, DWP press release, 11 February 2010; Draft The Income Support and Employment and Support Allowance (Work-focused Interviews, Work-Related Activity, etc.) (Lone Parents and Partners) Regulations 2010, and accompanying material sent by DWP to the Social Security Advisory Committee