Universal Credit sanctions resume as jobcentres reopen – here's how it works

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Universal Credit sanctions resume as jobcentres reopen - here's how it works

The DWP says it will be reintroducing financial penalties for Universal Credit claimants who break the rules.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey says these sanctions will return when jobcentres open in July.

Sanctions are punishments for breaking the conditions of a claim, imposed on a person for such things as failing to prove they are looking for work, or not turning up at an appointment.

In such cases, Universal Credit can be docked or even stopped altogether.

The Department for Work and Pensions halted sanctions during lockdown when the jobs market came to a standstill and appointments at jobcentres were scrapped.

But they are now being reinstated.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Johnathon Reynolds had called for an extension to the pause on sanctions.

In response, Ms Coffey told the Commons: “Well, actually, it is important that, as the jobcentres fully reopen this week, we do reinstate the need for having the claimant commitment and it is an essential part of the contract to help people start to reconsider what vacancies there may be.

“But I know that I can trust the work coaches, my job centre managers who are empowered to act proactively with people.

“There will be some people right now, Mr Speaker, who’ve never had to look for a job the last 20 to 30 years and they will need careful support tailored in order to make sure that they can start to look for jobs that are available and I hope will become very soon available.”

Following the announcement, in a statement, Mr Reynolds attacked the move.

He said: “It is incomprehensible that the Government is bringing back conditionality and sanctions.

“At a time when unemployment has risen sharply, vacancies have dropped, people are still shielding and the schools aren’t back, threatening to reduce people’s financial support is untenable.

“What’s more, Jobcentre Plus is still lacking guidance on how premises might even open safely.

“With the unemployment crisis looming, it is alarming that there is no thought being given on how to offer proper support to those seeking work at this time.

“We need a proper plan from the Government to get Britain back to work – sanctions aren’t the answer.”

Some also fear there will be a surge in Universal Credit claims when the Government’s furlough programme comes to an end.

Labour’s Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston Upon Hull North) said: “When the job retention scheme is wound down, we will see, I’m sure, a second wave of Universal Credit applications on top of the 70% increase we’ve already seen in Hull.

“So, with unemployment forecast in Hull to get to about 16%, isn’t it time now to prepare to remove the five-week wait for Universal Credit and to make the £20 increase in Universal Credit a permanent feature?”

Mr Quince replied: “What I would say to (Dame Diana) is the department has processed an unprecedented number of claims from this period, we’ve put over £6.5 billion into our welfare system to support those who need it quickly.

“In terms of what she defines as the five-week wait, nobody has to wait five weeks for a payment.

“An advance is available, usually within a couple of days, for those who need it.”

What are sanctions?

In order to claim Universal Credit, a claimant is told by a work coach what is required of them.

The terms and conditions of getting the benefit are detailed in what is called a Claimant Commitment.

Anyone failing to meet these responsibilities without good reason may be subject to a sanction, where their Universal Credit standard allowance is reduced for a set period.

The length of the sanction depends on the level category that the reason for the sanction falls into, along with the number of previous failures within the year.

There are four levels of sanctions. At the most extreme end of the scale, sanctions could previously be imposed for a lengthy period of three years but in 2019 this maximum was reduced to six months.

The amount deducted depends on the type of claimant. In the worst case scenario, all of a person’s Universal Credit can be cut, leaving them with no benefit payment at all.

Current rules for the top level of sanctions are that you’ll be penalised for 91 days (13 weeks) for your first ‘offence’ and 182 days (26 weeks) for your second and each subsequent breach in any 364 day period if you:

  • have to meet the work search requirement and you fail to apply for a particular job when told to do so
  • have to meet the work availability requirement and you refuse a job offer
  • leave work or reduce your hours of work, whether voluntarily or due to misconduct (while claiming Universal Credit or just before your claim)

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