Starting or going back to work

If you are thinking about starting work for the first time, or returning to work after a period of unemployment, help is at hand! Work can have many advantages, including intellectual stimulation, enjoyment, a sense of accomplishment, company and friendship – and a regular financial income.

For most people, having HIV won’t make any difference to the way you plan a career or look for work. 

But if you would like some advice or support, you may be eligible for one or more of the schemes or financial support available for people preparing for work – including some schemes for people with a disability. See Preparing for work and Financial support below.

Choosing a job

There are many positives to working – but working in a job that you’re passionate about is even better. Thinking about what interests you is a good place to start. If you are returning to work after a time out of the workplace, you may decide to return to a role you have worked in previously or you may want to start afresh.

Skills and eligibility

Some jobs require you to have very specific skills or qualifications; others are looking for more general abilities and experience. Before you start looking for jobs, list down all of your qualifications, training and work experience. Don’t forget to include voluntary work, or skills and experience you may have gained in other settings. Once you begin researching the jobs you are interested in, it will be easy to spot the jobs you can apply for straightaway. See Searching for and applying for jobs below.

It is possible you will find jobs you would like to do, but need further qualifications or training to feel able to apply for them. This can be frustrating; especially if it’s a job you used to be qualified for, but it may be worth improving or updating your skills. See Training and studyingbelow.

Preparing for work

A number of work-preparation schemes exist to assist people who are re-entering the workplace or beginning work for the first time. Some of these are designed specifically for people with long-term health conditions in mind. As HIV is considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (or the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland), people with HIV are eligible for certain schemes.

Jobcentre Plus runs back-to-work schemes, which include sector-based training and work experience, apprenticeships and careers guidance.

Work Choiceoffers training and support to help people find, start and stay in work.

THT’s Back to Work programme offers a wide range of training, support and work experience opportunities to help people living with HIV go back to work; people who are long-term unemployed and receiving work- or health-related benefits or Income Support are eligible to apply.

Financial support

Knowing what support is available to you can make you feel better about studying or working with HIV. A range of financial support exists to help you to undergo studying or training, and during the time that you are searching, applying and starting jobs.

The impact that working or studying can have on your benefits can be a real worry. Some people with HIV have reported being in a 'benefits trap'. If you currently qualify for the maximum rate of benefits, you may in some situations be financially worse off if you return to work. 

There is some financial help available for people making the transition from benefits to work. Working Tax Credit tops up earnings if you are in low-paid work, with extra allowances if you receive Disability Living Allowance, if you are coming off long-term sickness benefits and if you over 50 years old. You may be able to claim in-work Housing Benefit and council tax reduction if you are in low-paid work; there are extra allowances for people receiving DLA.

Otherwise, you may be able to get Housing Benefit for four weeks after you start work (or if you are in work and start to earn more money) in some situations.  

Changes being made to the benefits system, starting in April 2013, may affect how much you can receive in benefits (whether and when it will affect you will depend on where you live). To discuss any concerns you have, or for more information about which types of benefits are being replaced by Universal Credit, contact THT Direct or your local Jobcentre Plus office. You can also find out more on the Citizens Advice Bureau ’s Adviceguide.

Financial support is available to help towards the cost of studying. See A Guide to Student Finance and Bursaries, scholarships and awards on GOV.UK, or How to apply for Student Loans, grants and bursaries - new students on NI Direct to find out if you’re eligible for funding.

People with HIV in England are also eligible to receive Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA); this will pay for any extra costs that arise from studying with a long-term health condition.

Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) provides you with financial support whilst you search and apply for jobs. Unless your ability to work is limited by HIV, you should apply for JSA.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) provides financial support and advice to people whose ability to work is affected by an illness or disability. If you are assessed as able to work (in a limited capacity), you can continue to receive financial support as long as you fulfill certain requirements.

If you are returning to work after a period of 13 weeks or more due to illness or disability you may also be able to receive financial support (see Return to Work Credits in the UK or Return to Work Credits for Northern Ireland).

People who experience practical difficulties at work, because of HIV, may be eligible for Access to Work, a form of financial support that is tax-free and does not impact on any existing benefits (see Access to Work for information on Northern Ireland).

Financial support is also available for single parents who are moving from being long-term unemployed into work. See In-Work Credit.

Volunteering and internships

You can gain a lot towards your personal development by working as a volunteer or intern. This gives you the chance to improve your skills and build up your experience. It is also a very sociable activity, making it a great opportunity to meet new people.

Volunteers and interns make up a key part of many organisations and often play an essential role in their day-to-day running. This can give you the opportunity to experience a daily working routine; a great first step if you are thinking about beginning work for the first time or after a long period of leave. 

If you want to know more about how an organisation works or what a certain job involves, volunteering will give you a valuable insight. It can also help you to find out what further qualifications or training you may need before applying for certain jobs. Most employers will give you a reference for your volunteer or intern work; add all work experience to your CV as this can make you stand out to recruiters.

Volunteering England is a good starting point to find out more about being a volunteer and how to find and apply for volunteer roles. You can also contact your local volunteer centre or Jobcentre. Internship vacancies are also advertised on recruitment websites or in the careers section of an organisation's website. Find out more about the rights of volunteers and advice about finding a placement.

Training and studying

Whether you have a job in mind that requires a specific qualification, or want to learn more about an area of interest, training or further study goes a long way towards helping you secure a job. It not only makes you more qualified, training and studying can help you decide on a career path, gives a great sense of achievement and builds your confidence.

If you have a job in mind speak to a careers adviser, they can help you work out what qualifications you need to pursue your chosen career. Creating a career and training plan can help track how you are progressing. 

Training and studying can take time and money, but don’t panic. Colleges and universities around the country have full or part-time study opportunities, as well as offering open access courses; this makes it much easier to fit studying around other responsibilities. Apprenticeships give you the opportunity to learn new skills whilst working and getting paid.

UCAS provides a list of full and part-time courses in the UK. See UCAS: Six steps to applying.  

Learndirect provides a wide range of flexible, online training courses that you can do at a Learndirect centre or at home, including some that are free depending on your circumstances.

The National Careers Service provides information about different job roles; detailing the skills and qualifications you need to qualify for them. 

See Financial support (above) for information about the financial support available.

Searching for and applying for jobs

Having an up-to-date CV is essential when applying for jobs. The National Careers Service has online advice about how to put together a CV. THT provides advice about putting together a CV for people with HIV who have gaps in their employment. If you have done any voluntary work, training or studying include these on your CV.

There are a number of ways to search for jobs. You can search online, looking on recruitment, organisation or newspaper websites; or offline, in newspapers, magazines, or by visiting or calling your local Jobcentre Plus. Telling friends and other people you know that you are looking for work can be useful, as can talking to contacts you’ve made through other activities. 

The National Careers Service provides detailed advice about how to search and apply for jobs.

You may be concerned about how working in a particular role will affect your health. If this is the case, speak to your HIV clinician or call THT Direct (see More information and advice on work).

Although people with HIV are protected from discrimination during the recruitment process, many employers also display the ‘Positive about disabled people’ symbol (the ’two ticks’). This means the employer is committed to ensuring equality for employees with disabilities. 

When applying for jobs, applicants are often asked to supply references. Previous employers should not disclose your HIV status when giving a reference, nor can prospective employers request information from your referees regarding your health.  

Employers should not ask you questions about health or disability during the job application process. However, you may be asked to complete an equal opportunities monitoring form. For more information about disclosing during the job application process, health questionnaires and examinations, and when the employer can and cannot ask you about your HIV status (see Disclosure: Do I have to tell my employer I’m HIV positive?)

Different work options

You may decide that being employed by another organisation is not the best option for you, or that you don’t want to work full time. If this is the case, there are other work options. You may consider starting up your own business or looking for part-time work (or more than one part-time job). These work options can offer a more flexible working pattern, as well as the opportunity to take the first step towards a along a particular career path.

Starting up your own business

You may decide you want to start your own business. There is a lot of support for people wanting to do this, including for people moving from receiving benefits to self-employment. If you are receiving Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) or certain other forms of financial support, you may be eligible to receive a New Enterprise Allowance. This includes a business mentor as well as potential financial support. You can find useful information to help you think through and plan for starting up and running a business in the UK on GOV.UK.

Part-time work

Part-time work can be a good stepping stone into the workplace. You will work fewer hours and your days are more likely to be flexible. If you are currently in full-time employment and are finding it difficult to cope, you may find part-time employment a good alternative. Employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments to enable you to continue work, if you have disclosed your HIV status, or the existence of a long-term condition. Changing your hours in your existing job to part-time may be an option for you (see Reasonable adjustments at work). 

Financial support is also available for people whose ability to work is affected by illness or disability, but who would like to continue working on a part-time basis.

THT’s website MyHIV has useful information on benefits available to part-time workers.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.