RULES protecting jobseekers from having to accept zero- hours contracts do not apply to those on controversial Universal Credit, a senior minister has confirmed.

In a written answer to a parliamentary question, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Minister Damian Hinds says people on the new benefit may have to take on such work or face sanctions.

Until now, recipients of Jobseekers’ Allowance have not been obliged to apply for, accept or stay in such a post. But with Universal Credit now replacing that benefit, SNP social justice spokesperson Neil Gray says vulnerable people will now face a choice between “exploitative” contracts or extreme hardship.

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While zero-hours contracts guarantee workers a job with an employer, they do not set out regular hours, leaving staff with the possibility that they may not earn anything over the course of a week. Airdrie and Shotts MP Gray said: “By giving people no choice over zero-hours contracts, the Tory Government is pushing them into the arms of unscrupulous employers and leaving families with little or no income to rely on.

“With fluctuating hours and income it creates a unacceptable situation where families cannot effectively budget or plan their lives, for instance having to find and pay for childcare without knowing what hours they’ll be given or whether they can afford it.

“This is yet another failure in the shambolic roll-out of Universal Credit, which has been beset by damaging delays and errors in payments.”

In a written answer to Gray, Hinds said: “Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants are not required to apply for zero-hours contract jobs. They cannot be sanctioned for refusing an offer of a zero-hours contract job or for leaving such employment voluntarily.

“Universal Credit payments adjust automatically depending on the amount a claimant earns, so that a claimant whose hours may change are financially supported and do not need to switch their benefit claim.

“Therefore, a Universal Credit claimant can be expected to apply for a zero-hours contract job if it is considered suitable for their individual circumstances.

“If there is no good reason that a Universal Credit claimant cannot take a zero-hours contract job they may be sanctioned for not doing so.

“A Universal Credit claimant may also be sanctioned if they do not have good reason for leaving a zero-hours contract job voluntarily.

The DWP says it is “committed to helping people improve their lives and raise their incomes” and that the new system is helping more people into employment and cutting the amount of time spent without a job.