MPs say many benefit claimants wrongly lose benefits due to ‘haphazard' approach to assessment

  • A critical report published by a committee of MPs says that jobcentre staff should no longer be given incentives that look at how many benefit claimants they get off the dole, but instead should look at rewarding staff by how many they get back into employment. Business Graphics

    The work and pensions select committee have said that claimants were in many cases wrongly losing their benefits due to a "haphazard" approach of assessing claimants meaning that individual needs or problems were often misunderstood. Their report claims that jobcentre staff refer many claimants for a benefit sanction inappropriately or "in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied", reports the Guardian.

    The committee also said that the DWP need to take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship that is caused by claimants losing their benefits. The report also added that a current government review into sanctions was too limited.

    Academic research in the report found that 19% of all jobseeker's allowance claimants in the period from April 2008 to March 2012 were sanctioned - this totals 1.4 million people.

    The committee challenged claims by DWP ministers that staff were not disciplined for failing to meet targets to get claimants off the dole whilst asking if it is sensible for jobcentre staff to be regarded as having succeeded if jobseeker's allowance claimants simply no longer received benefits.

    The committee chairwoman, Dame Ann Begg, said the current DWP incentive system took no account of whether the claimant was "leaving benefit to start a job or for less positive reasons, including being sanctioned or simply transferring to another benefit. We believe this risks JCP [Jobcentre Plus] hitting its targets but missing the point. JCP must be very clearly incentivised to get people into work, not just off benefits." She said: "The processes by which JCP currently establishes claimants' needs are haphazard and prone to missing crucial information about a person's barriers to working, including homelessness and drug dependency. A more thorough and systematic approach to assessing claimants' needs is required."

    The MPs on the committee said they "strongly believe that a further review is necessary and welcome the minister's commitment to launch a second and separate review into the broader operation of the sanctioning process".

    Begg said: "An unprecedented number of claimants were sanctioned in the year to June 2013. Whilst conditionality is a necessary part of the benefit system, jobseekers need to have confidence that the sanctioning regime is being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately and the government needs to assure itself that sanctioning is achieving its intended objective of incentivising people to seek work."

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