How to Claim Unemployment Benefits

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Illustration of a group of people queuing towards a giant clipboard with 'Unemployment benefits' written on it

The global economy is in a rough place right now, with nations reporting sluggish growth in the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite spending trillions to cushion the economic blow. As a result, millions are out of work, businesses are shutting down and public funds are drying up. It can seem like a miracle if you’re still employed with a roof over your head and food on the table.

Unfortunately, if you’ve fallen victim to today’s dire economic situation and have received a pink slip from your employer, you may need to claim unemployment benefits as soon as possible. The process can seem like a bureaucratic headache, and the length of time it takes to receive financial assistance can feel like an eternity when you’re already living paycheque to paycheque.

So, what Ts need to be crossed and what Is need to be dotted? We’ve compiled a complete guide on how to submit a claim for unemployment benefits during the best of times and worst of times.

1. Determine if you qualify

A lot of nations and states or provinces have expanded eligibility so more people can apply for unemployment benefits during these trying times. Still, it’s important to determine if you qualify, especially since agencies have implemented different programmes, from self-employed professionals to tip-based workers to full-time staff.

In the US, there are typically three standards to qualify:

  • You’re unemployed through no fault of your own
  • You meet work and wage requirements
  • You meet other state/provincial requirements

In the UK, meanwhile, the government maintains the Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). The system changed in the weeks following the virus outbreak as there are now three distinct categories:

  • New style: You need to have worked as an employee, paid Class 1 National Insurance contributions in the last three years, and be jobless and available for work
  • Contribution-based: You need to have worked as an employee and paid Class 1 National Insurance contributions in the last three years; you won’t be eligible if you were self-employed and only paid Class 2 National Insurance contributions
  • Income-based: Your employment status in the last three years does not impact your eligibility

These pay upward of £116.80 every two weeks in your bank account.

2. Gather personal information

Now that you’re aware of your eligibility and what benefits programme you may or may not apply for, the next step is to gather all your personal information. This is a standard procedure for any government-run benefits scheme to prevent fraud and ensure you are who you claim to be. Here’s what you need:

  • Name, address and phone number
  • Proof of identification
  • Proof of residency
  • Social Security Number (or National Insurance Number)

3. Compile paperwork from previous employment

In addition to your personal information, you’ll also need to compile paperwork from your previous employment, whether it’s a single employer or multiple ones. Bureaucratic agencies require information regarding your employment from your ex-boss to correctly calculate your benefits and to, once again, prevent fraud and waste.

Here’s what you’ll be asked to provide:

  • The name and address of your employer(s) and the dates of your employment from the last two years.
  • Termination documents
  • Earnings history, such as tax returns, pay stubs or formal document outlining your earnings
  • Self-employment forms

Since applying for benefits can be hard enough, you can make the process a bit easier with any supporting documents relevant to your filing.

4. Submit claims online

Because agencies are experiencing an influx of applications, governments are recommending that all filers submit their claims online. You’ll need to visit the applicable state or provincial department to make a claim for unemployment benefits. The process is a bit long, so it’s imperative that you have all the necessary documents, paperwork and information to speed up the application.

Every website will have a checklist of what you need, so read it first before you begin.

5. File during off-peak hours

States and provinces are being inundated with applications, overwhelming their servers and adding to the pile of claims. As a result, officials are urging everyone to file their unemployment benefits application during odd hours (early morning or late evening) or on your assigned day (if applicable). You will notice the difference in the speed of each loading page throughout off-peak hours.

6. Monitor your application

Now that you’ve submitted your application, it would be a prudent move to monitor your application. You might not receive instant approval since it would need to be verified by a clerk and given the rubber stamp of approval. Therefore, it would be best to keep an eye on the status of your application until you receive a letter notifying that your application has been accepted and your benefits are on the way.


7. Contact the unemployment office

Do you have any questions or concerns? Has your application still not been reviewed over the last couple of weeks? Is your online application not going through? Whatever the case is, it would be a good idea to contact the unemployment office, either by phone or in person. This way, you can make sure that your application is not delayed longer than it needs to be since time and money are precious.

8. Be truthful

From the moment you start the process to the time you stop receiving benefits, it’s imperative that you remain truthful at all times. As the saying goes: honesty is the best policy. By being accurate and not telling fibs, you can be confident that you will not get into trouble or your application will be rejected.

Remember: the government has an unlimited budget and resources at its disposal. It can always find out, one way or another, about your dishonesty.

9. Proofread your application

Let’s be honest: mistakes happen. That’s why they put erasers on the back of pencils.

You might have misunderstood a question. You could have checked off the wrong box. You may have misspelled a name. No matter what it is, be sure to proofread your application from start to finish to spot any mistakes, omissions or typos that could easily be corrected and prevent you from being denied for much-needed unemployment benefits.

10. Check out pandemic-related programmes

Who knows how long the COVID-19 pandemic will stick around? What’s more, who knows how much longer cash-strapped governments and ultra-aggressive central banks will extend their stimulus and relief campaigns? Until these institutions turn off the well, you can access the diverse array of pandemic-related unemployment programmes to either complement your initial benefits or to supplement your diminished income.

In the US, for example, the federal government has the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Act. This programme includes:

  • Expanded unemployment for workers who have not been eligible for unemployment insurance
  • Additional weeks of unemployment for those who have stopped receiving state jobless benefits
  • Supplemental payments of $600 per week for recipients of unemployment insurance and the PUA (self-employed, independent contractors, people who can’t work because of the coronavirus, and individuals with a limited work history)

The US Department of Labor has also become more flexible to expand eligibility for benefits, such as an individual who left the job because of risk to exposure, or the person has been placed into quarantine with the expectation that they will return to work once the quarantine period is over.

11. File an appeal

Unfortunately, there will be instances of claims for unemployment compensation being rejected. But why would your application be denied? You may have voluntarily quit your job, you could have been fired for misconduct, or you were dishonest in your application.

If this happens to you, you can file an appeal and state why the agency’s conclusion was wrong. What should you do? Here are some tips to consider:

  • Review your state or province’s process for filing an appeal
  • Look at the calendar and ensure you’re submitting an appeal within 10 days (the usual deadline)
  • Collect your supporting documentation and make multiple copies
  • Obtain witnesses relevant to your situation
  • Think about professional representation for your appeal
  • Attend every unemployment board hearing

It’s important to remember that you should keep filing for unemployment benefits during the appeals process.

Nobody would ever wish joblessness on their worst enemy. It’s awful to be out of work: the uncertainty, the lack of cash and the depression that settles in after perpetual unemployment. In the aftermath of the coronavirus public health crisis, governments stepped in and supported workers. While the bills need to be paid, many out-of-work people can be confident that they can access a safety net that can help see them get to the next day.

In the meantime, keep searching for work, try to find some way of making money and maintain a positive outlook on your future. Everyone is going to get through these tough times.

Have you ever had to file for unemployment benefits or are currently facing unemployment? Join the conversation below and share your experiences with us.