Update for benefit sanctions process
- 23 Jul
An independent report has revealed systematic failings in the way in which benefit sanctions are communicated and processed.
The government is planning to overhaul the way it treats benefit recipients threatened by sanctions due to an independent report it commissioned has revealed systematic failings in the process which includes disproportionate burdens placed on people with the most vulnerabilities, reports the Guardian.
The report revealed that the way in which the Department for Work and Pensions communicated with claimants was legalistic, unclear and confusing. People with vulnerabilities were often left confused as to why their benefits were stopped and frequently they were not informed about hardship payments to which they were entitled, the report found.
Serious flaws in how many sanctions were imposed had been revealed with providers of the governments work programme were required to bring in sanctions when they knew the claimants had done nothing wrong, leaving many people "sent from pillar to post".
The report was written by Matthew Oakley for the DWP who is a respected welfare expert and has worked as an economic adviser for the Treasury and for the centre-right thinktank policy exchange. He said the system was not fundamentally broken, however his criticism was more damaging for a government has consistency described the benefit sanctions regime as fair.
The DWP have responded to the report by saying it will alter the way it talks to benefit claimants, set up a specialist team to look at all communications, which includes claimant letters.
In a new commitment, the DWP promised that if vulnerable claimants claimed for hardship on or before their signing day, they would receive a hardship payment at their normal payment date.
Oakley's report said: "No matter what system of social security is in place, if it is communicated poorly, if claimants do not understand the system and their responsibilities, and if they are not empowered to challenge decisions they believe to be incorrect and seek redress, then it will not fulfil its purpose. It will be neither fair nor effective."
The report said: "Actual and sample letters that the review team saw were hard to understand (even for those working in the area), unclear as to why someone was being sanctioned and confusingly laid out. The review found that many people "expressed concerns that the first that claimants knew of adverse decisions was when they tried to get their benefit payment out of a cash point but could not. Many advisers also highlighted the difficulties of communicating with particular groups of claimants. In particular, many advisers identified a 'vulnerable' group who tended to be sanctioned more than the others because they struggled to navigate the system. This concern for the vulnerable claimants was consistent throughout the visits. For these groups, particular difficulties were highlighted around the length of time it could take to ensure some claimants fully understood what was required of them, and in conveying that a 'sanction' could entail the loss of benefit for a prolonged period of time. A more specific concern surrounding the hardship system was that only those claimants that asked about help in Jobcentre Plus were told about the hardship system. Advisers, decision-makers and advocate groups argued that this meant that groups with poorer understanding of the system were less likely to gain access. Since, on the whole, more vulnerable claimants are those with the poorest understanding of the system, this suggests that some of those most in need are also those least able to access hardship. The report also found that providers of mandatory work schemes were unable to make legal decisions about claimants' reasons for missing appointments and so had to impose sanctions. This means that they have to refer all claimants who fail to attend a mandatory interview to a decision-maker even if the claimant has provided them with what would ordinarily count as good reason, in Jobcentre Plus. This situation results in confusion as the claimant does not understand why they are being referred for a sanction. A very high proportion of referrals for sanctions from mandatory back-to-work schemes are subsequently cancelled or judged to be non-adverse."
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