Social Policy

Campaign on Sanctions

12th August 2014

Campaign on Sanctions                      

Introduction  

 Sanctions

From 22 October 2012 a new sanctions regime was introduced for Jobseekers Allowance claimants. The new JSA sanctions include;

  • replacing the existing variable sanctions with a series of 'High Level' fixed sanctions of 13 weeks for the first failure
  • 26 weeks for the second and
  • 156 weeks (three years) for the third.

There will also be a series of intermediate level sanctions and low level sanctions for less serious failures to comply with JSA conditionality. There has been a sharp rise in people being sanctioned without good cause. Many of those affected have been those with learning difficulties or language difficulties  There are disabled claimants who have had to claim JSA having  been incorrectly assessed as able to work.  Sanctions lead to a greater demand on local food banks and can have the effect of families with children not having enough money to live on.

Knock-on effects

When a client's benefit is sanctioned, other benefits are immediately affected - housing benefit and CTB. The sanction paperwork does not, as far as is known, alert the claimant to the need to contact the local authority to keep HB/CTB in payment - these benefits  are dependent on levels of income, not other benefits.

A sanctioned claimant seems to receive little or no notice of the sanction, and often has few resources to bring into play.  The sudden drop or severe reduction in income leads to essential payments (rent, utilities, etc) being missed, with the obvious risk of losing the home, disconnection from heating, lighting and power.  Purchase of food is often the first casualty, with consequent deterioration in the health of the client and family.

Lack of transparency/consistency

Frequently it's not clear why the client has been sanctioned.  There also seems to be lack of consistency of approach, as if the guidance on what is considered "good cause" is unclear. 

Lack of flexibility

There seems to be no consideration of individual circumstances or mitigation - the regime is needlessly punitive.

 Challenging a sanction

With the introduction of mandatory reconsideration 0n 28 October 2013 as a prerequisite to an appeal an extra barrier has been raised to challenging a decision and accessing the right of appeal.  Appeals have been reduced by 35,000 since March 2013.

Mandatory reconsideration is the requirement that before appeal rights arise a request for the decision to be revised must be made, and that the decision maker then accepts that request so as to consider a revision. If the revision is considered, the claimant is sent a decision on the result of that in a 'mandatory reconsideration notice'. If the claimant is still unhappy, s/he may then appeal.  The usual time limit for appeal applies, from the date the decision in the mandatory reconsideration notice was sent. Note that a revision is required: a supersession will not do. The overall effect is to end the right of direct appeal against an initial benefit decision.

The DWP is clear that if the request for revision is late and is not accepted by the decision maker, there is no revision, and there will be no right of appeal. In effect, therefore, the mandatory reconsideration notice is the official recognition of a right of appeal.  There is no intention to introduce any time limit for carrying out a mandatory reconsideration.

Claimants will be without the benefit claimed pending the outcome of their request for a mandatory reconsideration. In ESA cases (currently the majority of appeals), it remains that ESA pending appeal is only payable when an appeal has been made - ie, not while a mandatory reconsideration is pending. The very real concern is that many claimants will abandon their dispute because of the simple need to sustain themselves and their families.

The regulations governing mandatory reconsideration mean that to challenge a sanction, the claimant must face the prospect of being without an income for an indefinite length of time.

Practical impact on claimants

  • Recourse to food banks and other charitable hand-outs
  • ESA claimants who have been sanctioned applying for JSA to secure an income - and then finding that they cannot meet the JSA requirements
  • Inability to pay rent and other essential payments

Levels of benefit payments are so low that it would be impossible for a sanctioned claimant to have much if any in the way of savings to tide them over the sanctioned period. Under this regime of low incomes benefit claimants will be unable to make any positive difference to their situations to help themselves rise up out of poverty - they will always be bumping along the bottom.

CPAG 2014/15 Foreword page v

"The cap on annually managed [social security] expenditure......is a device which will punish poor families, disabled people and sick people.  One simple response is to point out that social security has been relatively stable in real terms (as a percentage of GDP) for many years.  The part of this spending that is rising is pensioner - not working age - related...... We have to face up to the root causes - poverty pay, unaffordable rents and prohibitive childcare costs."

"The Institute of Fiscal Studies has published child poverty projections, warning that relative child poverty could rise by 900,000 children to 3.2 million, and absolute child poverty by 1.4 million by 2020."

The Campaign

CAN carried out a successful campaign against the deficiencies of the Care and Urgent Needs System after gathering information about the effects the new system of localised welfare support across the CAN agencies, putting the results into a report which generated a good result from the relevant authorities.  We aim to follow a similar pattern to try and challenge the sanctions regime.

Information Gathering

Please use the questionnaire with your clients to gather as much information as possible, especially about any vulnerabilities.  We would like to gather the information over the period 14 July to 26 September. Please return the completed questionnaires to the Lancaster office of North Lancashire CAB, 87 King Street Lancaster, LA1 1RH, marked FAO Sue/Social Policy.

For a copy of the questionnaire, click on this link.   



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