Systematic problems in the way the government administers and imposes benefit sanctions, including disproportionate burdens on the most vulnerable, are revealed in a report commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions.
The report found the way in which the DWP communicated with claimants was legalistic, unclear and confusing. The most vulnerable claimants were often left at a loss as to why benefits were stopped and frequently not informed by the DWP about hardship payments to which they were entitled, it said.
It also revealed serious flaws in how sanctions were imposed, with Work Programme providers required to send participants for sanctions when they knew they had done nothing wrong, leaving "claimants … sent from pillar to post".
The independent report was written for the DWP by Matthew Oakley, a respected welfare expert who is widely acknowledged as one of the leading thinkers on welfare on the centre right and as a result his criticisms, couched in careful language, are all the more damaging for a government that has consistently said the sanction regime is fair.
His main recommendations, which have been accepted by ministers, are:
All correspondence with claimants, including its style and content, should be reviewed
Claimants must be given personalised information about why they have been referred
Clear information must be given about the appeals process and access to hardship payments
A guide to benefit sanctions must be easily accessible in hard copy and online
Claimants who need particular help in understanding letters must be identified and spoken to
People should get information through their "preferred channel"
Procedures should be reviewed to ensure people have a clear understanding of their responsibilities
The DWP responded to the report by saying it would be updating the way it talked to benefit claimants, setting up a specialist team to look at all communications, including claimant letters, and working more closely with local authorities and advice centres to simplify the system.
Read Matthew Oakley’s full report on the government website here