Zero-hours contracts ‘need action’

PUBLISHED: 14:00 07 March 2015

(c) Adam Gault

WORKERS on zero-hours contracts unwilling to bow to employer pressure are being left out of pocket, it has been claimed.

A caseworker manager at North Somerset Citizens’ Advice Bureau told the Times the contracts are being used as a ‘weapon’ against those in need of work.

Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claimants rose in North Somerset during January but levels still sit below the national average and, according to the Office for National Statistics, have more than halved in less than two years.

Zero-hours contracts can be offered by job centres to those looking for a way into work, and claimants’ benefits can be sanctioned if they are not taken up – but the employers have no obligation to offer set or consistent hours.

Caseworker manager Sara Leeroth said people placed on zero-hours contracts are facing ‘very difficult’ circumstances.

She said: “We’ve seen zero-hours contracts being used as a weapon. Just because someone has a contract doesn’t mean they aren’t unemployed.

“It’s making people’s lives really difficult, and more action needs to be taken.

“People can start off working something like 20 hours a week, tell their employer they can’t do a shift and end up with nothing.

“We often have claimants come in who have been sent to a job and promised 12 hours a week, but have ended up working eight hours in about six weeks.

“The impact on benefits can cause overpayment for things like housing benefits – it’s very difficult for people to budget, so you don’t know whether it’s safe to top up your electricity or pay off a bill on a week-to-week basis.

“I’d like to see the proportion of those in the statistics who are working on zero hours, because many of our big employers locally are using the contracts. I’m not sure the job situation locally has picked up.”

The introduction of Universal Credit will bring some relief after its rollout across North Somerset and will see new claimants’ benefits calculated through more flexible methods, although those with existing claims will still use the current system.

Tim Cowley, partnership manager from the Department of Work and Pensions, said: “It means people aren’t faced with a situation where if they work 16 hours a week their benefit stops. With Universal Credit, it’s not determined by the hours, but the amount of money you earn.”

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