CHALLENGING BENEFIT SANCTIONS

Sanctions to your Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) mean that your benefits are stopped or reduced as a punishment. Jobcentre staff are brutally stopping benefits for trivial reasons, saying that claimants have not kept to what they must do, whether they are jobseekers or sick and disabled people on ESA. Sanctions are a major reason for destitution, see the report Feeding Britain.

Work conditions for ESA only apply to the Work-Related Activity Group. Our Sickness & Disability Benefits section explains how to apply for exemption from work conditions.

In the first three months of 2014, there were 15,955 sanctions on ESA claimants, compared with 3,574 in the same period in 2013. www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28776102

But jobseekers have won protections which the Jobcentre should respect. Mums and other carers, disabled jobseekers, can put restrictions on the hours and type of work they can manage. Regulations say:

"The requirements placed on claimants will be reasonable, taking into account his/her capability and circumstances, for example health conditions, disability and caring responsibilities. For example a lone parent or lead carer with a child under the age of 13 will be able to restrict his/her availability for work to jobs that can fit around school hours. An adviser should only require a claimant to apply for or accept a job if it is in line with the type of work the claimant must be available for (including any restrictions that are appropriate)." www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/jsa-draft-regs-2012-memorandum.pdf

That is, the adviser can only make you do something if it fits in with what you can manage and is reasonable for you to do.

Full-time carers and single parents on Income Support with children under three do not have to do work-related activity, and you may have "good cause" to postpone work-focused interviews. www.gingerbread.org.uk/news/251/income-support-sanctions-risk

If you are a carer, you can get JSA as long as you are available for work 16 or more hours per week.

Jobcentre staff must take into account lots of different situations affecting claimants, including bereavement, having to go abroad for family reasons or having to go to court: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/288093/admr4.pdf

Women fleeing domestic violence can be exempted from jobseeking for up to three months. We want this extended.

If you are a disabled carer claiming ESA and you are in the WRAG, get advice on how you might postpone interviews and work-related activity because of your caring responsibilities. Contact Carers UK’s Adviceline for more information: 0808 808 7777.

If you are sanctioned

Ask your MP or an organisation ready to help to complain in writing to the Jobcentre manager. This can speed up getting your benefit restored. MPs usually write to a senior official, which can help win your case and improve how other claimants are dealt with, by setting a precedent which can apply widely.

Or you can challenge it yourself. It's best to write so you have a record, but if you can't and have to call instead, try to have someone with you as a witness, or record the call on your mobile (if you have one). Or go to an advice centre and call together with someone there.

Southwark Benefit Justice has produced an excellent info sheet ‘Challenging the Sanctions’ available at http://antibedroomtax.org.uk/2013-05-25-18-53-12/factsheets

Boycott Workfare have "Know Your Rights" leaflets on what work activity is not compulsory.

You can ask the Jobcentre to look again at the decision to sanction you, if you think:

  • They were wrong to sanction you.

  • They are deducting too much.

  • They have been deducting for too long.

There are two stages to challenge a sanction.

When you receive the notification from the Jobcentre (or find out without notification!), write to them at the address on that letter within one month and ask them to reconsider their decision. You need to give reasons why it is unreasonable / unfair. Include information and evidence to support this, such as you missed an appointment because you were not given the correct address. Keep a copy of all letters. Press the Jobcentre to look again at its decision. Press your MP to support you by writing to the Jobcentre too. Jobcentres officially have to answer an MP's letter.

Then, the Jobcentre should send you another notification. If they still sanction you, appeal within one month using the SSCS1 form – get it from your local CAB, Jobcentre or download the form. At this second stage, your reasons can be the same as before. Consider going to your local press to shine a spotlight on the terrible treatment you have received! The press has often been keen to expose horror stories which embarrass Jobcentre and government.

If your JSA is stopped, ask for hardship payments. These are less than JSA. The amount can vary as you get more if you are vulnerable, such as pregnant or ill.

Be sure to keep your Council Tax Support and Housing Benefit. If your main benefits are suddenly cut off or you lose your other income, you can ask your Council for a "nil income" form to continue getting HB & CTS. Or you can download it – type "nil income form" in the search box on your local council’s website. Example: www.leicester.gov.uk/your-council-services/advice-and-benefits/housing-benefit-and-council-tax-reduction-scheme/nil-income-form/