Benefit sanctions and 'Claimant Commitment'
Due to Welfare Reform there have been new sanction regimes and changes for claimants of JSA and ESA since the end of 2012. Recently, these Sanctions are being applied more and more and affecting the most vulnerable. Sanctions can have a damaging effect on households already struggling with financial difficulties, as well as disability and ill health.
We’re here to help if your benefit is sanctioned. Many claimants accept sanctions without questioning if they are unreasonable, unfair or harsh.
Over half of the claimants who dispute these sanctions are successful in their appeal.
We’re worried that not enough claimants are challenging decisions, and if you’re threatened with a sanction get in touch with the Financial Inclusion Team so we can help.
How is the amount and length of a sanction decided?
How much you’re sanctioned and how long it lasts depends on:
- your age
- whether you are single or a couple
- which benefit it is
- how serious your non-compliance is
- whether it is the first time sanction or a repeat.
When might you be sanctioned?
Your Jobseeker’s Allowance may be sanctioned if:
- you are not available for work
- you are not actively seeking work
- if you refuse a suitable job offer.
If you’re told you might be sanctioned, you might be able to stop it if you can show 'good reason' for your actions. Even if a sanction has already happened it is always possible to dispute sanctions, and you should always do this. The Financial Inclusion Team can help.
A jobseeker’s agreement has to be agreed and signed by you and your Jobcentre Plus adviser. If you are claiming JSA while awaiting the outcome of a mandatory reconsideration for ESA then you should speak to a disability adviser at Jobcentre Plus to have your Claimant Commitment changed to take account of your sickness/disabilities.
Employment and Support Allowance
Sanctions can be imposed for:
- failing to attend or take part in a work-focused interview
- failing to take part in compulsory work-related activity.
Only claimants in the work-related activity group (WRAG) can be sanctioned if they don’t stick to certain conditions without 'good cause'. Sanctions do not apply to claimants in the Support Group of ESA.
The Claimant Commitment
In October 2013 the national roll out of ‘Claimant Commitment’ within JSA started. This will be introduced gradually to 100 Jobcentres across the country each month. New JSA claimants and those who have completed the Work Programme will all have to agree to the commitment as a condition of their benefit entitlement.
What is the “Claimant Commitment”?
The claimant commitment is a record of your responsibilities and requirements while you are receiving your benefit. If you fail to agree to or comply with a claimant commitment your benefit could be sanctioned. An Employment Officer can change your claimant commitment at any time but you must be notified first of any proposed changes. If you disagree with or want to change anything in your claimant commitment you can ask to do this by writing to Jobcentre Plus.
New procedure for disputing benefit decisions
Under the new rules you cannot put an appeal in straight away after getting a decision notice. Instead, you first have to ask the benefit authority to reconsider its decision. The DWP calls this a “mandatory reconsideration.”
Mandatory reconsideration – what is it?
If you don’t agree with a decision made about Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) made the decision on or after 28th October 2013, you’ll go through a process called ‘mandatory reconsideration’ before you can appeal to a tribunal.
You’ll also need to go through mandatory reconsideration for decisions about Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
What happens next?
Once you receive the DWP’s initial decision, you have one month to tell them you don’t agree and ask for a mandatory reconsideration. If you feel you need assistance at this point, contact our Financial Inclusion Team immediately. Once the mandatory reconsideration has been submitted, a person from the DWP who has not looked at your claim will review the decision and call you to talk you through it. Your request can be by telephone or in writing, but it is always better to do it in writing if you can.
You can explain why you don’t agree, and give more information and evidence, which can also be supplied by any professional who cares for you.
You do not have a right to appeal until you get a letter telling you the outcome of a mandatory reconsideration, called a “mandatory reconsideration notice”. Your appeal has to be lodged within one month of the date that the mandatory reconsideration notice was sent to you.
In what situations do the new rules apply?
The new rules apply to the following
- Any decision on PIP
- Any benefit decision issued by the DWP (this includes Job Centre Plus, the Pensions Service, the Disability and Carer’s Service or the Carer’s Allowance Unit) on or after 28th October 2013.
During the process
If you have claimed for ESA, and the DWP found you ‘fit for work’, you will not receive any payments of ESA while going through mandatory reconsideration. The process could last several weeks if you need to send in more evidence, and there is no limit to how long it could last.
During this period you may choose to claim Job-Seeker’s Allowance until such time as the mandatory reconsideration decision is received, and you can formally lodge an appeal direct to the tribunal. Our Financial Inclusion Team can help you with this. You have one month to lodge an appeal from the date of the reconsideration decision.
You will have to sign a claimant commitment to claim JSA which can be tailored towards your health problems. Failure to meet the claimant commitment will result in sanctions on your benefit.
You should continue to obtain medical certificates from your doctor during the period of reconsideration. Once the appeal is lodged, you will receive ESA at the assessment rate until the tribunal is heard.
Mandatory reconsiderations for ESA are currently taking about seven weeks.
Further information about the new rules and the old rules, including links to leaflets and appeal form, can be found on the UK government website at: www.gov.uk/appeal-benefit/overview