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Sanctions against claimants have reached record levels and it is very clear that they are being imposed for the tiniest deviation from agreements or even for no good reason whatsoever. They are now affecting not just JSA claimants but also ESA claimants – particularly those forced onto the work programme.

Below we’ve given our top tips for avoiding sanctions and some of the most outrageous examples of unfair sanctions that we have come across.

We also explain how to sue the DWP or work programme provider if they make an activity mandatory and it is unreasonable because of your health condition or disability

But we’d very much like to hear from you about your experience of sanctions, or threats of sanctions, and also any advice you can give fellow claimants on how to avoid or challenge unfair sanctions.

What is a sanction?

A sanction is a term used by the DWP. It means that your benefit can be reduced by a fixed amount or to nil.

A sanction lasts for a fixed period depending on which level it is. The level will depend on what it is alleged you have done.

A sanction decision can be disputed, but very often you will be without payment whilst you do so.

For more about sanctions see here if you are in receipt of ESA.


Top tips for avoiding sanctions

Don’t assume that your personal adviser has any knowledge at all about your health conditions or disabilities, if you have any. Instead, give full details in writing of the effect your health has on your everyday activities and your ability to move towards employment.

Ensure that your jobseeker’s agreement or claimant commitment is as realistic as possible and takes into account any specific health or disability-related limitations you have. Be as confident as you can be in negotiating the agreement – take a friend or relative for support if possible. Make an official complaint if your adviser won’t reach an agreement with you.

Try to get to every appointment early. People are unfairly sanctioned just for being a few minutes late.

Always ask for everything in writing, where possible. It’s much harder for the DWP or private sector provider to blame you for their mistakes if you have evidence that, for example, an appointment time was changed.

If something is agreed over the telephone, write or email confirming it. When you write confirming what has been agreed ask for an immediate response if your understanding is not correct.

Keep every bit of paper, text and email you receive. You might need them as evidence.

Record every telephone call if you can. It’s not illegal and you don’t have to inform the DWP or private sector provider that you are doing it.

If you’re given an unreasonable instruction, use the jobcentre plus complaints procedure immediately. Most people don’t complain, possibly because they think it will make things worse. But all the evidence is that Jobcentre Plus staff have targets to meet and they are looking for easy victims, not people who will cause them problems.

If you’re unfairly threatened with a sanction, or actually sanctioned, immediately complain in writing to your MP’s office. Send a copy to jobcentre plus and the private sector provider so that they know that your MP’s office is now involved. Complaints where an MP is known to be involved are taken much more seriously.

If you are unfairly sanctioned then challenge the decision via the mandatory reconsideration and appeal process. There is a very high success rate for appeals against sanctions, around 50% are successful and it’s likely that many more are resolved in the claimant’s favour before they ever get to a tribunal hearing.

If you don’t do something in your agreement which was mandatory, always explain in writing if you had good cause for not doing it. The decision maker has to take your explanation into account when deciding whether to impose a sanction. However, personal advisers are instructed that they should never ask if you have good cause, but only take details if you volunteer the information without being prompted. Good cause for not carrying out a mandatory activity could include, for example: a medical appointment; caring responsibilities; transport problems; unreasonably high travelling or childcare costs if you did as required.

How to sue the DWP or private sector provider

If an activity is made mandatory even though you will struggle with it because of sickness or disability, or if a reasonable adjustment is refused, get advice about suing immediately – don’t delay. There is still legal aid available for discrimination cases. Examples of discrimination could include:

• being forced to travel long distances by public transport to attend group activities with strangers, even though you have a mental health condition that makes travelling alone and interacting with strangers extremely distressing for you;

• being forced to attend appointments in the late afternoon even though you suffer from severe fatigue and your condition is at its worst at that time of time of day;

• being kept waiting for long periods of time, even though your condition makes this difficult or painful for you;

• being obliged to provide information over the telephone even though you have great difficulty in concentrating because of your health condition and would rather be able to give information in writing;

• being expected to discuss your health condition in an open-plan office where you can be overheard by other people, no matter how distressing you find this.

It’s vital that you get advice as early as possible, because it takes time to work through the legal aid system. So don’t wait until you’ve been sanctioned. As soon as you are told that something is mandatory and you think that this amounts to discrimination seek advice – the act of threatening you with a sanction can be discrimination, whether the sanction is applied or not. According to insiders in the legal profession, actions like this are virtually always settled by the DWP and the only ones that don’t succeed are those that are out of time because advice is sought too late.

Use the Civil Legal Advice gateway to find out if you are eligible for legal aid and to get help with bringing a claim.

Examples of unfair sanctions

Just in case you think we are being over cautious, below are some examples of sanctions being utterly unfairly applied. Many thanks to Birmingham Against the Cuts for compiling most of them.

You’ve been unemployed for seven months and are forced onto a workfare scheme but can’t afford to travel to the shop. You offer to work in a different branch you can walk to but are refused and get sanctioned for not attending your workfare placement. (Source: Caroline Lucas MP)

You attend a family funeral and miss your jobcentre appointment so you get sanctioned. (Source: Derek Twigg MP)

You retire on the grounds of ill health and claim ESA. You go to your assessment and during the assessment you have a heart attack, so the nurse says they have to stop the assessment. You get sanctioned for withdrawing from your assessment. (Source: Debbie Abrahams MP)

You have a training appointment at the same time as your jobcentre appointment, you tell the jobcentre you won’t be coming but they say you have to, and to get a letter from your new training organisation. Your training organisation says they don’t provide letters. (Source: Russell Brown MP)

It’s Christmas Day. You don’t do any jobsearch, because it’s Christmas Day. So you get sanctioned. For not looking to see if anyone has advertised a new job on Christmas Day. (Source: Poverty Alliance)

You’ve got no money to travel to look for work so you get sanctioned . (Source: CAB)

You apply for more jobs than required by your jobseeker’s agreement, but forgot to put down that you checked the local paper (which you’ve been specifically instructed to do via a jobseeker’s direction) so you get sanctioned. (Source: Steve Rose on twitter)

You’re on a workfare placement, and your jobcentre appointment comes round. The jobcentre tells you to sign on then go to your placement which you do. The workfare placement reports you for being late and you get sanctioned for 3 months. (Source: DefiniteMaybe post on Mumsnet forums)

You get given the wrong forms, get sanctioned for not doing the right forms. (Source: Adventures in Workfare blog )

You’re sick and miss an appointment, but you’ve already missed one so you get sanctioned. (Source: @thinktyler on twitter)

You’re five minutes late for your appointment, you show the advisor your watch which is running late, but you still get sanctioned for a month. (Source: Clydebank Post)

You get an interview but it’s on the day of your nan’s funeral. You have 3 interviews the day before, and you try to rearrange the interview, but the company reports you to the jobcentre and you get sanctioned for failing to accept a job. (Source: @TSAAPG on twitter – part 1 . part 2)

Tell us your experience of being sanctioned or avoiding a sanction.



#27 meninx 2017-06-17 08:52
To everyone here having problems with sanctions and the appalling behaviour of the job centre etc
Please do not give up, this is what they want and yes I know the hell and unbelievable things they put you through
I was sanctioned 3 times and I fought and got all the sanctions overturned and yes it took over 3 years but it happened
There is always hope and if they declare war on you Please fight back
The Internet is a great source of information and you will be able to see just how many people are going through this with you
Did you know that if you can prove and have evidence that you did everything on your Jobseeker's agreement then you can fight the sanction with that information alone
So always keep all information paperwork etc I keep all evidence of jobs I applied for
Write to your MP without them I would of never got my first sanction overturned
Complain in writing to the DWP and the job centre and keep complaining
The DWP have guidelines etc how their staff should behave which of course they fail to follow Use this against them
You can find these on search engines
Try and get legal help
Use whatever you can find but fight
If all of the victims of this evil system speak out together maybe in this troubled times we can help get things changed
Never forget as a human you have rights Use them
#26 Paul 2017-06-16 11:52
I am on JSA and was Placed (Mandatory Attendance) on the Peopleplus Work Program in Aug 2015 attending the then North Shields Office which was closed at the end of 2016 and was then transferred to the Newcastle upon Tyne Office.
I have just recently been sanctioned on the advice/referral of my then Job Coach at Peopleplus because of a few comments I made while on an Employability Course as to what that course could offer me and or what I could expect to gain from the course (which was nothing as I had already covered all the criteria of the course on previous courses I have done) and as to what I thought of the daily progress. The sanction is based on that my then Job Coach insists that I failed to Participate in the course, despite me being there and having completed all the paperwork.
#25 Emma 2016-12-06 19:46
Don't know if anyone could help with my situation at the moment. I am currently claiming JSA and have been doing so that I am now on Work Programme. I had to turn down a job as I found out that it was in a warehouse environment that I am unable to work in because of my hearing. I am now expected to Jobsearch at People Plus 4 days a week because of my refusal, however if I do that I will miss out on two days college, which has been agreed on and been put within my claimant agreement. People Plus are also threatening me that if I go to college I will get sanctioned even though we had a agreement that I would Jobsearch 2 days a week and attend college the other 2.
I don't know what to do anymore about it and I'm supposed to be at college tomorrow.
#24 Chris M 2016-02-24 08:58
Everyone who's struggling, try to get access to a food bank, & write to yr MP - https://www.writetothem.com/ - & local papers.
#23 NAW 2016-02-23 17:14
Hello I need help and I can see I'm not the only one, I was put on work activity programme ( 2 years ago) at charity shop 2 hours each way from my house and was sanctioned because I wasn't doing enough to look for work on top of the 40 hours at the work placement plus 20 hours traveling I was suppose to show 40:more hours of looking for work. That 100 hours a week! How do they expect we can do this? This made my condition a lot worse I was really poorly over the Christmas period with no money. I eventually was put back onto ESA now 2 years later I've failed my assessment now waiting for mandatory reconsideration to take place forced to claim JSA again with unrealistic commitments I feel its going to be like it was 2 years ago.. Can I still sue them for making my condition worse? How can I get some help?
#22 Gerry 2015-12-06 17:49
I attended my weekly work programme and was told to go for work mandatory as l have been on their programme since august 2014 and haven't made any progress. He has asked me to attend voluntary at his relative's media company. when l said to him you have never considered the voluntary l have done at a charity organisation his answer was because there hasn't been any progress. so l have to do 4 weeks despite my arthritis, shoulder pain, carpal tunnel, PTSD, anxiety, chronic fatigue.
-1 #21 Nicky B 2015-11-30 22:22
Hi guys, this is my first time on this site. I have a mental health condition and was sanctioned over two years ago for non attendance of work programme while claiming JSA because I was too ill to attend. of which I appealed to the independent tribunal in Birmingham. I have persistently called them and keep being told the DWP are in court this month on the sanctions appeal but I cant find any news for this supreme court or high court appeal decision. does anyone know where I can search on-line for this news?
#20 agnes geddes 2015-11-20 10:39
I am on ESA and the tribunal put me in the wrag but I had a chest infection and a sick note she phoned me on Monday I explained all of this to her and she said they would send me a cab to attend the interview when I can hardly breathe because they had to get me there before the twentieth of November so they fast tracked a payment into my account the day before I usually get my ESA the payment they made said jsa and when I queried it with the women on the phone she tried to say it was my ESA payment which isn't true because they had to get me before the twentieth of November I already asked for a mandatory reconsideration and she said I couldn't do one I have already sent it
-1 #19 mik 2015-11-19 05:10
I have a jobseekers agreement to do 30 hours of jobsearch a week . which i record on uk jobsearch website. no problem there,
i'm also at Ingeus in Norwich. new adviser has now told me to send out 10 letters a day and make 6 phone calls a day. send her copies ALL my job applications by e mail and write them all down. I find that totally ridiculous. she even told me to send Christmas cards out to employers with cv!! a bit unreasonable I thought.
do they have the right to do that? or do I just go by my jobseekers agreement.? some help from someone would be grateful . thank you.
#18 Theresa 2015-11-16 10:30
Hi I have been sanctioned for 3 months because I went on he jobcenter to see my adviser as I just finished my 6 months cwp and my advise had a course that I might be interested in but he had to check the times as I have a child to pick up from school ... At the time there was a agency in and my adviser asked if I wanted to go and have a chat with them to see if they could help me out .. I went over a filled in a for hand edit to the lady .. She looked at it and then asked me why my adviser sent me over ?..As she can't help me ... That's when I got the letter saying I did not make myself available for work .. I was shocked and phoned them up .They told me to put it in writing and am just waiting on the outcome ... BTW i have never missed an appointment or turned any help down .
+1 #17 Bob Thompson 2015-11-09 12:06
Is there a web site with tribunal decisions. It would be good to have access to these if I'm making an appeal.
#16 Bob Thompson 2015-11-09 10:37
I have been told to get voluntary work or attend Mandatory work. I have an interview on Thursday for Voluntary work which will be for 3 hours a week, Will this be enough to stop the sanction and will I have to do mandatory work until I start the work? My next interview at the job centre is on Friday.
+1 #15 Kookai 2015-10-26 15:01
Quoting joanne doherty:
I had been attending a work programme,but I had 21 sanctions from 2011.Job centre told me after 2 years that I was attending the wrong place,I went from july 2011 to january 2012 with nothing,not even hardship,I appealed and many of them I heard nothing,just one and was awarded 2months of backpay,it made me ill,my son was caught shop lifting biscuits,because he was hungry and my daughter took an overdose,I found myself a part time job 4 weeks ago and its 13 hours a week,so I still have to go and see my advisor and sign on,wasn't aware although I have a job I still have to seek employment,I have now had another sanction for 4 weeks and I havent had any wages yet,how am I supposed to live?? Phoned D.W.P and decision maker is still making a decision,

This is completely and utterly acceptable..it makes me ashamed to be British ..is this what our country is now all about??
. I thought our biggest threat was isis and their ruthlessness... it seems your actions are far worse than 3 even theres.
Well done goverment you have been successful in suprising me once again wth your low life actions.
I would rather go without than work as one of your advisers who seem as heartless as you are. Why is this happening and how the hell is this even happening this lady as no where to turn.. her children are suffering
Yet if we imposed these starvation and physiological effects on our kids we would have them taken into care.
Frustrating and heartbreaking this as got to stop.
YOU can try going to your local councillor and asking them to help you but it doesn't help your here and now situation.
What an horrible situation I wish I could help you I really do. It's awful absolutely disgusting that humans are wing treat like this. Why should we suffer for everything g they get wrong arghhhhhhh!!
#14 Danthemann73 2015-10-26 11:01
I told my local job centre and the training provider I have to see about a funeral I had to attend in England, (I sign and live in Wales) I was told this was fine and to fill out a holiday form and return the day after I got back. A letter was issued for me to attend a meeting at a charity shop regarding volunteering there, the letter was issued by the training provider even though they knew I wouldn't be in Wales and now sanction has been started against me. The training provider is blaming the job centre and the job centre is blaming the training provider.
#13 meninx 2015-08-19 17:04
Are suspensions the new sanctions ?
Be aware that people are now being suspended from benefit instead of sanctioned
This works well for DWP because it keeps down sanction numbers while giving the illusion that people are coming off benefit
The job centre will claim that they sent letters but these will not be received and you will have no notice of the suspension
You can not appeal against suspension as you can a sanction so you are in the hands of the decision makers
Once more dirty tricks and bullying to get people off benefit and manipulate the unemployment figures
If you have been sanction FIGHT more than half of sanctions are over turned. I had three sanctions and yes it's taken years but two have been overturned and so will the third
Don't give up that's what they want
Writing to your MP can help
#12 Gerry 2015-08-16 18:14
i was on remploy programmme and was moved to work programme and now new disability adviser said her hands are tied up she can't do anything
#11 Gerry 2015-08-16 18:12
hi last thursday went for my work programme appointment and was told this coming tuesday 18/8/15 have to to 2 hours voluntary in admin though l am applying for receptionist jobs. l surfer from lower back pain, neck pain, headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, PTSD, Anxiety chronic fatigue please help l cant do it
#10 Ian 2015-07-30 19:27
I have palmar plantar pustilosis (recorded on the DWPs LMS - I have a copy) and was sent to LearnDirect, who knew nothing about it (I have a copy of their PRaP and it has no mention). Was sent on two placement interviews, one with the Fire Service and another with Families Fighting for Justice - both refused on health grounds. Was sent to a third interview with the Credit Union(!?! I could NOT believe they knew I was on CWP, but they did!) and was then sanctioned. Just started the revise-the-sanc tion ordeal.

Good Luck to everyone!
#9 Chris M 2015-04-06 17:00
Someone who says they're a DWP employee claims that call recordings aren't legally admissible unless the person recording warns the other that it's being recorded.
#8 lil 2015-01-30 19:42
on a work programme with eos, because I couldn't take a job that fininished at 3am, I have been sanctioned...

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