Sanctions against benefits claimants climb

  • Last year the number of claims subject to sanctions was 500,000, this year it is 860,000.

    The number of benefit claims subject to sanction is at the highest it has ever been since statistics began to be published, the Department of Work and Pensions figures show.

    The figures have been delayed for months and show that since the new benefit regime was introduced last October. Many unemployed people have had their benefit payments suspended due to either a failure to look for work, turning down a job offer or missing jobcentre appointments. The figures also suggest that the regime will mean almost 450,000 more unemployed people are being subject to sanctions or abandoning their claim.

    The work minister, Ester McVey, claims that people getting their benefits docked for missing jobcentre appointments were deliberately avoiding finding a job. She says that: "Sanctions are used as a deterrent. The vast, vast majority of people don't get sanctions. When you get jobseeker's allowance - there's a clue there in the name, jobseeker's allowance - you are paid that to make sure you are doing all you can do to get a job. The people who get sanctions are wilfully rejecting support for no good reason and if there were a reason ... there is something known as 'good cause', so if that seemed true and genuine you'd have good cause there to not have a sanction, plus there is a process in place just to ensure we are getting it right."

    These statistics show that for the first time the impact of a harsher benefit regime alongside a DWP drive to refer more claimants for sanctions, reports the Guardian.

    Under the new regime, first infringement sanctions, such as failing to attend a job adviser interview, have risen to a fixed mandatory four weeks' loss of Job Seekers Allowance. A second sanction for the same offense leads to a benefit loss for 13 weeks and a third offence leads to three years benefit loss. Jobcentre managers have also been accused of urging staff to sanction more claimants.

    Since the new sanctions regime was introduced the number of sanction referrals has risen by 20% and the number of applied sanctions has risen by 13%.

    Dr David Webster, senior research fellow at Glasgow University said: "There has been a massive rise in the number of reserved or cancelled decisions, especially in the latter. Decisions are cancelled when the claimant is no longer claiming JSA at the time of the referral. Decisions are reserved when the claimant has stopped claiming between the time of referral and the time of decision. Reserved and cancelled decisions were at 72,000 per year in 2006, but were 532,000 in the year to June 2013. It appears that people are being driven off JSA by the sanctions regime."

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