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. The Central England Law Centre says there may be three times as many sanctions issued to UC claimants compared to Jobseekers Allowance.
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. More from Benefits Aware here.
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.
In 2018, the BBC reported one Universal Credit claimant had had his benefits slashed by two thirds after missing a Job Centre interview. Garreth Forrest, a former DWP employee from Preston, had failed to make the meeting as he was attending a funeral. “You’re too worried to sleep at night. You’re scared to ask for help,” he said. Full story here.
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.
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.
Official details of how UC sanctions work here.