Government agrees changes to make benefit sanctions fairer, following MPs’ campaign

October 23, 2015

Emma Lewell-Buck 19smallEmma is one of a group of MPs who have won an important victory for people who have faced unfair sanctions from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee has convinced the Government to introduce a new ‘warning system’ for sanctions, that gives people who are unfairly sanctioned a chance to explain their circumstances and have the decision overturned.

The Committee had heard evidence of cases where people had been wrongly sanctioned for missing appointments, despite having notified the Job Centre of a doctor’s appointment or other exceptional circumstance. In its report in March the Committee recommended the creation of a ‘yellow card’ system that allowed a warning to be imposed before full sanctions were put in place.

Now the Government has said it will trial a system where claimants have 14 days to explain the reasons for non-attendance before a sanction is imposed. If this system is effective it could prevent a large number of cases where sanctions are unfairly imposed. Some figures have shown that as many as 50 per cent of sanctions decisions are successfully appealed.

The yellow card proposal was first introduced in the report of the All-Party Inquiry on Hunger and Food Poverty, published in December 2014. Emma was a core member of the inquiry, and strongly supported the recommendation.

The Government also announced a welcome extension of the number of ‘at risk’ groups who can apply for hardship funding if they are sanctioned, meaning that homeless people and individuals with mental health conditions will be less likely to come to serious harm.

Despite the announcement, there remains a long way to go before the system is truly fair. Emma was disappointed that the Government did not accept the Committee’s call for a wider review into the fairness of the sanctions regime, or for more work to be done to look into cases where individuals have died shortly after being sanctioned.

Emma said:

“This is a really welcome development, and a victory for everyone who had ever been unfairly sanctioned. I know far too many people who have lost their only means of support because they missed an appointment due to circumstances beyond their control – that’s not how our safety net should work, and I’m glad that the Government has finally recognised that.

“The Committee and the Food Poverty Inquiry have both been calling for this sort of change for a long time, so I want to congratulate all of my colleagues and all the excellent campaigners we’ve worked with on this important victory.

“Unfortunately the Government still hasn’t accepted a number of important recommendations. We still need more data on what is happening to people when they get sanctioned, and Job Centre staff should be given more discretion over when sanctions are applied. The system is still failing too many people, but this announcement is at least a step in the right direction.”

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