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Benefit sanctions can lead to a spiral of decline and potentially destitution, often getting in the way of people getting back to work, according to the Scottish Parliament's Welfare Reform Committee.

In its report Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck?, the committee refers to a climate of fear around jobcentres rather than one that encourages people to engage with them and find their way back to work.

Evidence presented showed that the loss of income that sanctions can lead to is now twice the maximum that can be imposed in fines by the courts.

The report identifies a number of weaknesses in the current system -

  • a consistent failure to notify people that they are being sanctioned and why;

  • a lack of flexibility and misapplication of sanctions reducing the likelihood of people finding work;

  • a failure to appreciate that many people on benefits do not have the necessary IT skills at day one to utilise the DWP’s Universal Jobmatch facility or other IT technology;

  • a failure to make those sanctioned aware of the availability of hardship payments;

  • the consistent triggering of a stop in housing benefit as a result of a sanction, which should not happen and can lead to significant debt being incurred even for a minor sanction;

  • the lack of a deadline for decision-making on DWP reconsiderations leading to delays in redressing wrong decisions; and

  • the shunting of the costs of dealing with sanctioned claimants onto other agencies: local authorities, health board, third sector agencies etc.

Noting that four in ten decisions to apply a sanction are overturned, the report calls for a review of the current regime and makes several recommendations for change.

Commenting on the report, Committee Convener Michael McMahon said:

“The system is so broken that many people do not know why they have been sanctioned, which totally undermines the DWP assertion that sanctions ‘teach’ people a lesson.

“How many of us could manage if we did not get paid one week, without any notice or often explanation?

“This demonstrates once again the enormous gulf between reality and DWP thinking.

Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck? is available from scottish.parliament.uk

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