The government is not messing about when it comes to ensuring Universal Credit claimants do their best to earn more and claim less. They ask us to commit to actions and charge penalties if we don’t see it through
When we claim Universal Credit (UC), we sign a two-way contract. The government is only willing to offer benefits if we pledge to find a job, more hours or better paid work. It will withhold welfare payments through ‘sanctions’ if we don’t try our best and do what we’ve agreed to.
At the first interview we are asked to sign a Claimant Commitment. This spells out how much we will do to progress towards earning more and claiming less. Not sticking to these promises can trigger a sanction, so we have to be upfront about everything we’re struggling with. If we have kids to collect from school or caring duties, it’s no good saying we can search for work seven hours a day. The same applies if we’re not great at reading, writing or speaking English. Or if we have a disability or additional needs of some kind. It’s hugely personal but if we’ve been homeless, a victim of abuse or dealing with a drug or alcohol issue, we have to speak up now.
We should also keep a diary each week of everything we’re doing to stick to our Claimant Commitment. This makes it easier to answer any questions if we’re challenged in future. It’s a good idea to be able to prove things like illness, for example with a doctor’s letter.
Not following up on something that appears on our To Do list on our online Journal can also lead to a sanction. So can not appearing for a meeting, whatever the reason. We should use our journal and take screenshots just in case any of the details go missing.
If we can’t make it to an appointment, no matter how valid the reason, we have to let the Jobcentre know ASAP. We should call them and ask to rearrange. And keep a note of the date and time of the call (and the name and job title of the person we spoke to) just so we’re certain we did everything right.
If we’re struggling to get to an appointment because of costs, we should let the Jobcentre know. We can also ask if there’s any support available.
Sanctions can be shocking and severe. They range from withholding payments until you attend an agreed meeting to three years without money. Once one has been issued, the next will be worse.
To cut the chances of it happening again, we can speak to our work coach and explain what went wrong last time. If it’s our Claimant Commitment that’s the problem, we may be able to amend it so that it better reflects what we can realistically do.
People who are sanctioned may be able to claim a Hardship Payment. They need to prove they are struggling to pay rent or cover food, heating or basic hygiene at home. But it has to be repaid out of UC payments once they are restored after the sanction.
A large number of sanctions are reversed on appeal, however. It is always worth speaking to an advice agency, like Citizens Advice, when payments have been cut this way. They might be able to argue your case and request what is called a ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’. The biggest reason for doing this is because any future sanction will be much higher than the last. Do this right away and have a good explanation for why you couldn’t do what was expected.
But if we’re in any doubt about a sanction, we should appeal against it.
Official details of how UC sanctions work here.
We can call the UC helpline free on 0800 328 5644 (0800 328 1744 for Welsh language). The textphone number is 0800 328 1344.
This page was updated on 5 May 2023