Matthew Oakley has carried out a structured report on the working of JSA
sanctions. Many of you have been explaining how your clients are often left
without money for weeks or months because of sanctions.
The report found problems with complex and difficult to understand letters, claimants having a poor understanding of their responsibilities under the Work
Programme and clients first finding out they had been sanctioned when their money was stopped not when the sanction was actually applied.
The government has accepted the recommendations by-
● setting up a specialist team to audit all communications including claimant letters, texts and emails and transform how claimants on all benefits are provided with information about their responsibilities and the support on offer – this team will take on board the latest academic research and innovations in private sector communications, clients being passed from pillar to post when they try to find out details,
● streamlining the robust checks and balances that are already in place that
give claimants the opportunity to provide evidence of why they haven’t
complied with the rules
● clarifying guidance and updating the process in which claimants can access hardship payments once they have been sanctioned
● working more closely with local authorities to coordinate their approach to deliver Housing Benefit for claimants who have been sanctioned for not
doing the right thing
● ensuring the contract that claimants sign up to in exchange for their
benefits – the Claimant Commitment – in which they agree what they will
do to get a job, can be shared with their provider throughout their time on a back to work scheme
● working with providers, stakeholders and advocates for groups to
continuously explore alternative formats for all types of communications
Critics of the report have said it should have been wider in remit as it only
covered around a third of those jobseekers who are sanctioned or at risk of
being sanctioned. Even for those groups considered, the remit was tightly
focused only on the important issues of communication and understanding.
Some key issues that were not looked into were ‘… the effectiveness of the
sanctioning system in improving movements into work, the proportionality of the current sanctions levels and the pace of change over the last ten years.’ The government say ‘Only 13% of sanction decisions are changed after review or appeal largely due to new evidence from the claimant.’ However, feedback from our training suggests that many of your clients do have good cases. With good advice and support clients will have a much better chance of getting the sanction lifted. The law relating to sanctions and how to challenge them is covered in our course- Benefit Updater 2014-including Sanctions and Habitual Residence
Remember that clients can often challenge sanctions by mandatory revision and then appeal. At the same time they should apply for hardship payments normally paid at 60% of the personal allowance, sometimes immediately or after a two week waiting period.