Navigating the benefits system and the bureaucracy within it can be demanding for those who rely on it. It is not simply a case of ‘signing on’ and receiving a payment; there are significant strings attached.

The conditions claimants must meet are supposed to be tailored to the circumstances of the individual. In making decisions, work coaches and other decision-makers are required to exercise discretion: working within the guidance, but ultimately applying their own judgement about what is an appropriate course of action given the circumstances of the person in front of them.

This paper examines the role of discretion as exercised by work coaches at Jobcentre Pluses in the experience of people claiming universal credit who are out of work. It forms part of IPPR’s research programme exploring the future of the UK welfare state.