Christmas crackers

At this festive time, it’s always worth thinking of those less fortunate than us. After seven years writing this column, I’ve rarely been as touched by queries from readers as I have been by these problems from people desperately needing help.

  • I’m 57 with a severe visual impairment. I’ve just lost my job (again) as I had to resign because of mistakes I’d made. Will I be able to claim any benefits? I do have some shares in the company that I did a two-week holiday job for last summer. DB (Sheffield)

    Normally, if you lose your job because of misconduct, you are barred from jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) for up to six months, even if you have a full National Insurance record. But if you were sacked or forced to resign because of inadequate work, you are guilty of misconduct only if your actions are blameworthy – although serious carelessness or negligence may be enough to be classed as misconduct. Maybe your ex-boss could make a statement to the effect that you are leaving your job without a stain on your character?

    If your JSA is suspended, you could possibly get a hardship payment, especially if you are seen as vulnerable. But all your capital would be seen as a potential resource first. For example, don’t try to hide the money by putting the shares into trusts for your children – the Department for Work and Pensions is considering introducing lie detector tests for claimants, and you wouldn’t want to face one of those would you?

    Of course, you could get round all of the above by being declared incapable of work.
  • I intend to resign from my job sometime next year. My neighbour is willing to take it over. As my wife earns a good wage, would I be entitled to anything from the benefit system? TB (Westminster)

    No – see above.
  • I’m a 39-year-old ex-Etonian who hopes to get a major job in the public sector. Could you please tell me what this thing called “social security” is? Is it anything to do with unemployment lines? I did lines at school (and again when I was at Cambridge) – is it the same thing? DC (Notting Hill)

    It may be a little too late to give you a crash course in the real world, but if you want to learn about social security, try reading the Child Poverty Action Group welfare benefits and tax credits handbook.
  • For the past four months I’ve been having therapy for drug abuse. This has meant giving up my normal job and living in a residential unit. Can I claim housing benefit for my flat while I’ve been away? KM (London)

    Yes – you can get housing benefit during periods of temporary absence, so long as you have not sub-let and you intend to return home. Absences of up to 13 weeks are definitely all right and that could be extended to 52 weeks if you are away from home in hospital, in a care home temporarily, getting medical treatment or convalescence, or medically approved care.

    However, if you are going abroad to look for work in another EEA member country, JSA can be paid for up to three months.
  • As the Special One, I believe there is only one claim I can make: I am the greatest manager in the history of football. I just thought you’d like to know. JM (Chelsea)

    Thanks and Merry Christmas.

    Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a question to be answered please write to him c/o Community Care

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