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Sanctions

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Disability Rights UK Factsheet F70

(1) What are sanctions?

We describe here the sanctions that apply to universal credit, 'new style' employment and support allowance (ESA) and 'new style' jobseeker's allowance (JSA).

Sanctions can be applied if you fail to meet the work-related requirements that apply in your case. These failures are called ‘sanctionable failures’. There are four different types of sanction: lowest, low, medium and higher.

In each case, your benefit can be reduced over varying lengths of time: the ‘sanction period’.

If a sanction is applied, you may be able to apply for a ‘hardship payment’ of universal credit (see 4 below).

The temporary suspension of the claimant commitment and sanctions has now been lifted. The suspension was introduced because of the coronavirus outbreak and the consequent lockdown.

If you are making a new claim for universal credit, you will now need to accept a claimant commitment. If you are already getting universal credit, your claimant commitment will be reviewed and updated to take account of the current situation. If you are shielding or have childcare responsibilities, this must be taken into account. You should not be sanctioned if you do not have an up-to-date claimant commitment. 

You can now make an appointment to see your work coach at a jobcentre if help cannot be given online or over the phone. 

Lowest-level sanctions

For universal credit and 'new style' ESA, you can be given a lowest-level sanction if only the work-focused interview requirement applies to you, and you do not take part in a work-focused interview without good reason. The sanction period will normally last until the day before you arrange a new work-focused interview, as long as you go on to take part in that interview.

Low-level sanctions

You can be given a low-level sanction if all the work-related requirements apply to you, or only the work-focused interview and/or work preparation requirements apply, and you fail to:

  • take part in a work-focused interview (this will not apply if only the work-focused interview requirement applies to you – a lowest-level sanction will apply instead: see above);
  • meet a work preparation requirement;
  • take a particular action to search for work* as directed by your work coach, such as making a job application;
  • provide evidence to confirm that you have done any of the above; or
  • report any change of circumstances relevant to any of the above.

* or more work or better paid work if you are already working part time

The sanction period will consist of an open-ended period, followed by a fixed period.

The open-ended period will normally last until the day before you do meet the requirement in question (eg you take part in a work-focused interview). The length of the fixed period will depend on your age and whether you have had any other low-level sanctions applied within the last year.

If you are aged 18 or over and this is the first sanction, the fixed period will last for one week. If you have already had a one-week sanction applied within the last year (but not within the last two weeks), the fixed period will last for two weeks. Any further low-level sanction within a year of the previous one will also last for two weeks.  

If you are aged under 18, a fixed period sanction of one week will only apply if this is the second (or subsequent) sanctionable failure within the last year (but not within the last two weeks).

Medium-level sanctions

For universal credit and 'new style' JSA, you can be given a medium-level sanction if you fail to search for work or be available for work, as required, without good reason.

The length of the sanction period will depend on your age and whether you have had any other medium-level sanctions applied within the last year.

If you are aged 18 or over and this is the first sanction, the sanction period will last for four weeks. If you have already had a 4-week sanction applied within the last year (but not within the last two weeks), the sanction period will last for 13 weeks. Any further medium-level sanction within a year of the previous one will also last for 13 weeks. 

If you are aged under 18 and this is the first sanction, the sanction period will last for one week. If you have already had a one-week sanction applied within the last year (but not within the last two weeks), the sanction period will last for two weeks. Any further medium-level sanction within a year of the previous one will also last for two weeks. 

Higher-level sanctions

For universal credit and 'new style' JSA, you can be given a higher-level sanction if you:

  • lose your job or pay through misconduct;
  • leave your job voluntarily or lose pay without good reason;
  • fail to apply for a job that is offered to you without good reason; 
  • fail to take up an offer of paid work without good reason; or
  • fail to take part in a work placement without good reason.

The length of the sanction period will depend on your age and whether you have had any other higher-level sanctions applied within the last year.

If you are aged 18 or over and this is the first sanction, the sanction period will last for 13 weeks. If you have already had a 13-week sanction applied within the last year (but not within the last two weeks), the sanction period will last for 26 weeks. Any further higher-level sanction within a year of the previous one will also last for 26 weeks. 

If you are aged under 18 and this is the first sanction, the sanction period will last for two weeks. If you have already had a 2-week sanction applied within the last year (but not within the last two weeks), the sanction period will last for four weeks. Any further higher-level sanction within a year of the previous one will also last for four weeks.   

Where the sanctionable failure took place before you claimed universal credit, the sanction period will be reduced to take account of any time in which you did not claim universal credit.

(2) Avoiding sanctions

There are a number of ways of avoiding or reducing the risk of a benefit sanction.

You can avoid a sanction as long as none of the work-related requirements apply to you. This will be the case if you are found to have a limited capability for work-related activity at a work capability assessment.

If you are found not to have a limited capability for work-related activity, you can ask for the decision to be reconsidered and then appeal if this is unsuccessful.

If all the work-related requirements apply to you, you can reduce the risk of a sanction by ensuring that the DWP is aware of any problems you face in being available for and searching for work. For instance, you can restrict the number of hours you are expected to work (and to look for work) provided the restriction is reasonable given your physical or mental condition. If your condition has a substantial effect on your ability to carry out work of a particular nature or in a particular place, you cannot be expected to search for such work or in such a place.

Keep in touch

If you are not able to attend any interviews or appointments that have been arranged by the DWP or by training or work providers, get in touch (using your online journal - or by phone or e-mail) with whoever has arranged the interview or appointment as soon as possible, giving your reasons. If you use the online journal, take a screenshot of your message and save this. If you phone, confirm your message in writing and keep a copy of your letter.

If you are sent on a training course or employment programme and find that it is not suitable for you, talk to the provider first, to see if they can alter the course or programme so that it is more suitable. If you are not able to continue on the course or programme due to your condition, try to get a letter from your GP or practice nurse, confirming that this is the case.  

Good reason

Before you can be sanctioned, you should receive notification from the DWP that you have committed some sanctionable failure (eg that you have failed to attend a work-focused interview).

A sanction will not be applied if you can show that there was a ‘good reason’ for the way that you acted or failed to act (this will not apply, however, if you lose your job through misconduct). The term is not defined in law. What matters is whether or not it was ‘reasonable’ for you to act in the way that you did.  

(3) Challenging the sanction decision

If a sanction is applied to your benefit, you can challenge the decision, first by asking for a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ and, if this is unsuccessful, by lodging an appeal.

Mandatory reconsiderations

You should be informed in writing of the decision. You will have one calendar month from the date of the decision to ask for a mandatory reconsideration. If you are claiming universal credit, you can ask for a mandatory reconsideration by using your online account; if you do so, take a screenshot of the reconsideration request and confirm the request over the phone or in writing. You can also use a CRMR1 mandatory reconsideration request form, but are not obliged to do so. If you write, include in the letter your National Insurance number, the date of the disputed decision and why you believe the decision is incorrect. Keep a copy of the letter.

When you ask for a mandatory reconsideration, keep your explanation simple. If your universal credit has been sanctioned because you did not turn up for a work-focused interview, state why you did not turn up for the interview and why you were not able to provide a good reason for the failure. For instance:

“I did not turn up for the work-focused interview because I did not receive a notice that I had to turn up for it; I did not provide you with good reason for not attending the interview because the first time I was aware that there was a problem was three weeks later (on the 21st June) when I looked at my bank account and saw that my universal credit had been reduced.”  

If the failure was due to your condition (eg you did not turn up to an interview because you were unwell) try to obtain medical evidence (eg a letter from your GP) to back up your case.

If you have been sanctioned because the DWP did not consider that you were actively seeking work (eg they did not believe that you had applied for enough jobs in any given week) any evidence or argument should focus on this. For instance, you may not have had time to apply for any jobs because you were doing research into self-employment opportunities and possible funding support for them.    

Do not wait until you have obtained the evidence before asking for the mandatory reconsideration. Ask for the reconsideration first, and let the DWP know that you will forward the evidence to them as soon as you have obtained it.

Appeals

Once the decision has been reconsidered, a ‘mandatory reconsideration notice’ will be sent to you, informing you whether or not the sanction has been removed. If the reconsideration does not result in the removal of the sanction, you have a further calendar month from the date of the mandatory reconsideration notice in which to appeal.

Do not be put off by a negative reconsideration decision. Currently few people are taking sanction decisions to appeal. But tribunals are independent of the DWP and there is a good chance that a tribunal will reverse the DWP decision, particularly if you attend the hearing.

To appeal, use form SSCS1. In Northern Ireland, use form NOA1(SS).

For more information about challenging decisions, see Factsheet F36 - appeals and mandatory reconsiderations

(4) Hardship payments

If a sanction is applied to your benefit, and you are having difficulty managing, you may be able to apply for a recoverable ‘hardship payment’ of universal credit. Payment is not automatic; you must make an application and must be able to show that unless the hardship payment is made, you (or your family) will suffer hardship.

What is hardship?

You (and your partner if you are claiming jointly) can only be considered in hardship if you:

  • cannot meet your (or your family’s) immediate and most basic and essential needs of accommodation, heating, food and hygiene only because of the sanction;
  • have made every effort to access alternative sources of support (such as contacting a local support group) to help meet those needs; and
  • have made every effort to stop spending money on anything that does not relate to those needs.

Claiming hardship payments

You should apply for hardship payments as soon as you can, even if you are wanting to challenge the decision to apply a sanction. Call the universal credit helpline

(5) Where can I get more help or information?

This factsheet is a basic overview of benefit sanctions. You can find out more detailed information in our Disability Rights Handbook. This and all our other publications are available from our shop at https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/shop

You can also place orders by contacting Disability Rights UK.

You can get help and information at your local advice centre, such as Citizens Advice. You can get more information about where to get personal advice from our Factsheet F15 - Getting advice. All our factsheets are free to download on our website at disabilityrightsuk.org.

17 July 2020

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