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The number of sanctions being imposed on claimants has soared. People are having their benefits stopped totally unfairly. This article gives practical ideas for fighting sanctions. First some main points, then more detail…..
- If they make a sanction referral against you, act immediately
- Submit a written statement about why you should not be sanctioned
- Insist on a meeting with the manager of the Jobcentre (or the workfare provider) to argue the sanction referral be withdrawn
- If the sanction referral is clearly unjustified, make an official complaint
- Claim Hardship Payments from the Jobcentre
- Inform Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit so these benefits continue
- If your sanction is confirmed ask for a written statement of reasons
- Write to ask for a mandatory reconsideration of the decision by the DWP
- If this fails, appeal against the decision to an independent tribunal
- Seek solidarity from us and others – consider a demo at the Jobcentre or workfare provider if they are not listening to you
LET’S ACT TOGETHER AND MAKE SANCTIONS UNWORKABLE!
- When signing on always give the Jobcentre as much info as possible about your jobsearch.
- If you have health issues ask to be seen regularly by a Disability Employment Adviser. Your health should be taken into account when decisions are being made about what your jobsearch will be.
- Ask for everything in writing, where possible. If the Jobcentre or the Workfare Provider say something is mandatory, ask them to write which law/regulation states this.
- If something is agreed by phone, or verbally, write or email to ask them to confirm it.
- Ensure your Job Seekers Agreement is realistic. If the Jobcentre proposes changes you do not agree to, then you can ask for the issue to be referred to a decision maker, and meanwhile the original agreement stands. If your current agreement is unreasonable, you can ask for it to be reviewed (does not apply to Universal Credit)
- Be accompanied to any tricky appointments by a friend or advisor. This is your right.
SANCTIONS – WHAT HAPPENS
The process for imposing sanctions is
1) The Jobcentre or a workfare provider makes a SANCTION REFERRAL.
2) Then a DWP decision maker, generally in a different decision-makers section in a different location, makes the decision about whether or not a sanction is to be imposed.
Sometimes, especially if the sanction referral is made by the Jobcentre for allegedly not doing enough to actively seek work, your benefit is suspended immediately.
The decision maker should write to you to give you the chance to put your case before he/she makes their decision. When they do make their decision, they should send you a decision letter. It seems that often they do not do this. If they don’t send both these letters, this is something you can use in your appeal and in an official complaint.
SANCTIONED/ BENEFIT SUSPENDED/ SANCTION REFERRAL?
WHAT YOU CAN DO
It’s vital to contest the sanction – over half of appeals succeed.
WRITE TO ARGUE AGAINST A SANCTION
- You should submit full information, in writing, as soon as possible to the decision maker, to argue against a sanction. Act right away. Whether it is a sanction referral, or an actual sanction, whether your benefit is suspended or not, put forward your case in writing as soon as you can.
- If the sanction referral is for allegedly not doing enough to look for work then write to the Decision maker with as much info as possible about your jobsearch, including ALL the steps you have taken. This can include phone calls and emails to employers, looking in newspapers, at websites, asking friends and family etc, as well as actual job applications. Where possible provide evidence.
- Do not rely on the Jobcentre forwarding all the information they hold about your jobseeking to the decisionmaker. We have supported claimants in cases where the Jobcentre has withheld information about jobseeking activity from the Decision maker and from the Tribunal, thus making it appear the Jobseeker had done much less job search activity than they actually had.
- If your sanction is for missing or being late for an appointment you need to show you had “good cause” or “good reason” for this. A domestic emergency, illness, a funeral and other reasons could constitute good cause. More info on this below.
INSIST ON A MEETING WITH A MANAGER
As soon as you know a sanction referral has been made, then insist on a meeting with a Jobcentre manager to explain why the sanction referral should be withdrawn (if the referral is done by a workfare provider then seek an appointment with a manager at the provider). We have succeeded in stopping several sanctions this way.
The Jobcentre in particular is likely to resist a meeting but this is your right. If you and a rep go to the Jobcentre, insist on a date for an appointment with a manager, and don’t leave until you get a time and date for a meeting, then it won’t be easy for them to refuse. If many claimants insist on a meeting with a manager when sanctioned, it will help make the mass imposition of sanctions unworkable. If refused an appointment, make an official complaint, copying it to your MP and seeking their support.
MAKE AN OFFICIAL COMPLAINT
If the sanction referral is clearly unjustified, make an official complaint to the Jobcentre manager. Copy the complaint to your MP and insist he/she supports you. If you do not get the proper response, you can escalate the complaint to the DWP District Office and then to the DWP Chief Executive’s Office in London.
ADVISER PROBLEMS? GET A NEW ONE
If your adviser has treated you badly, then as well as making a complaint, you can request a different adviser. This is your right, whether at the Jobcentre or at a Workfare provider. We have supported many claimants to successfully do this.
As soon your benefits have been stopped/ suspended, or as soon as your sanction is confirmed, claim Hardship Payments from the Jobcentre. Do not delay as it will be difficult to get them backdated.
KEEP YOUR HOUSING BENEFIT AND COUNCIL TAX BENEFIT
Tell Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (CTB) to make sure that both these benefits continue as normal while you are sanctioned (In Edinburgh, contact City of Edinburgh Council Revenues and Benefits). While sanctioned you are entitled to the same Housing Benefit and CTB as before, but you MUST tell the Council of your changed circumstances or these benefits will automatically stop.
WRITTEN STATEMENT OF REASONS
If the sanction is confirmed, write to ask for a written statement of reasons for the decision. This will help in focusing your arguments against the sanction when you request a Mandatory Reconsideration.
The government has changed the rules about appeals, to make things worse for claimants. Now you cannot just make an appeal, you have first to apply to the DWP for Mandatory Reconsideration of the decision. You should send a letter with a detailed written argument why the sanction is not justified. As before, if the issue is allegedly not doing enough to seek work, write with details of EVERY SINGLE STEP you took in the relevant period to look for work. Best to get advice, we can help.
There is no set time for the DWP to take for this, but if you have not heard after three weeks then chase them up. They may phone you up about the Mandatory Reconsideration, but it is important to put your full case in writing.
Here is the link to the official government site which explains the process of Mandatory Reconsideration for benefits such as Job Seekers Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (the rules are different for some other benefits).
AUTHORITIES STILL NOT LISTENING? CONSIDER A SOLIDARITY DEMO
If the Jobcentre or provider are still not listening to you about the sanction, then you could consider a protest at the Jobcentre or provider’s premises. ECAP have a solidarity network of people like yourself we can call on to give backing to people who need support against the authorities. If you would like to consider this, we can discuss it with you, and it will be up to you to decide the form of the protest, so it is something you are happy with.
We have held solidarity demos in support of individuals over various issues over the years, and the vast majority have been successful.
CARRY ON CLAIMING
Do not be intimidated into giving up your claim, this is what they want. Continue signing on, even if your benefit is suspended – if you win you will get the money back, but if you stop signing on, you won’t be able to get backdated money.
APPEAL TO AN INDEPENDENT TRIBUNAL
If the mandatory reconsideration does not restore your benefit, then appeal to an independent social security tribunal. Best to seek advice and support.
SANCTIONS FOR CLAIMANTS ON SICKNESS BENEFITS
Disgustingly, even claimants too ill or disabled to work can be sanctioned if they are in the Work Related Activity Group of the Employment and Support Allowance.
If you are in this situation and forced onto the Work Programme, then protect yourself by submitting medical evidence to the Workfare Provider (e.g. Ingeus) that shows you are too ill to attend office appointments. We have supported claimants at Ingeus on the Work Programme to gain the right to have contact by phone calls rather than appointments.
If you are sanctioned, or a sanction referral is made, then the advice in this leaflet applies, plus do get medical evidence to back up your case, e.g. to say you were too ill to make an appointment.
Remember to take someone with you to any appointments.
If they refuse to take your illness into account you can sue the DWP and workfare provider for disability discrimination.
As well as claiming Hardship Payments you may be able to get a grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund which is run by local councils. See the ‘Social Welfare Fund’ page for more information.
Investigate Food banks – you usually need a referral. Ask us for more info on sources of free food, we have leaflets from Food Solidarity explaining how to access Food Banks etc. Visit us during the ECAP Tuesday shift 12 to 3 pm at ACE, 17 West Montgomery Place, EH7 5HA..
When submitting any information to the DWP it is vital to either post it SIGNED FOR or hand-deliver and get a receipt.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
The unprecedented wave of sanctions is part of the government’s war on the poor. The rich are trying to get us to pay for the crisis caused by their greed and the chaos of the global profit system. We need to fight back. We need to resist all benefit cuts and link up with any and all struggles resisting austerity.
It’s no good relying on politicians or political parties, they are part of the problem. We need to organise at the grass-roots and take direct action. Ultimately we need to challenge capitalism – this system is based on the legalised robbery of the majority by the ruling class. Why shouldn’t the world’s resources belong to the world’s people and be used to meet human need?
We are keen to organise more action against sanctions, like our demonstration at Leith Job Centre. Opposition to sanctions is growing. As we write in 2014 demonstrations are being organised against sanctions in Clydebank, Dundee and Glasgow. Get in touch if you would like to join with us to fight back against sanctions.
MORE DETAIL ON ARGUING AGAINST SANCTIONS
Info below adapted from “Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook” which is published by the Child Poverty Action Group – this is an invaluable resource.
Deciding whether you should be sanctioned
A decision maker decides whether you should be sanctioned, often some time after the incident that led to the sanction (the ‘sanctionable action’) took place. Do not presume that because you have not yet been informed of any sanction that your previous action has been excused.
If there is a possibility that you will be sanctioned, make sure you give full details of your side of the story. If you:
- left or were dismissed from a job and it appears there may have been misconduct or you may have left voluntarily without a good reason, your former employer is asked for a statement. You should be given an adequate chance to comment on what s/he says. Your remarks may be passed to her/him for further comments. Make sure you explain why you disagree with the allegation of misconduct or why you had a good reason for leaving. If you are going to an employment tribunal (e.g., to claim unfair dismissal), you should say so. Discuss your reply with whoever is advising you on this, as you may be asked questions at the employment tribunal hearing by your former employer about what you have said;
- refused to apply for or accept a job, what the potential employer says might be taken into account. Make sure you explain what enquiries you made about the nature of the job, and your reasons for not applying for or accepting it.
For training scheme and employment programme related sanctions (including sanctions for failing to participate in speciﬁed schemes for assisting people to obtain employment), your scheme or programme provider refers your case to a decision maker. Before a sanction is imposed, you should be given an adequate chance to comment on any statements made against you.
In a number of situations, a sanction cannot be imposed if you have a good reason for your actions. ‘Good reason’ is not deﬁned in the rules, but what may count is set out in guidance.
The factors that may mean you have a good reason depend on the sanction. It is up to you to show you have a good reason, but the decision maker should take all the circumstances into account. You must show that you acted reasonably. You should be given sufﬁcient time to explain your reasons and to provide relevant evidence. The DWP says you should be given at least ﬁve days, but you may be given less time than this if you can be contacted by telephone or electronic means.
For ideas about what might count as a good reason, see below.
Circumstances that should be taken into account
The decision maker should take all of your circumstances into account when deciding whether you have a ‘good reason’. Argue that this should include the following.
- Any restrictions or limitations you have been allowed to place on your availability for work, having regard to any discrepancy between these and the requirements of the job, although minor differences might not count. Although you do not necessarily have a good reason for refusing to apply for a job covered by your restrictions or limitations, it is a very signiﬁcant factor to take into account.
- Any condition of yours or personal circumstances that suggest that a particular job, or scheme or programme, or carrying out a jobseeker’s direction, would be likely to cause you unreasonable physical or mental stress or signiﬁcant harm to your health.
- A disease or physical/mental disability that meant you were unable to attend a scheme or programme, or your health (or that of others) would have been at risk if you had done so.
- You misunderstood what you had to do because of language, learning or literacy difﬁculties, or because you were misled by the DWP.
- You (or someone for whom you care) were attending a medical, dental or other important appointment which would have been unreasonable to rearrange.
- You are the victim of domestic violence or of bullying or harassment.
- A sincerely held religious or conscientious objection.
- Caring responsibilities that make it unreasonable for you to do the job, attend an interview, participate in the scheme or programme or carry out a jobseeker’s direction. This should include whether suitable childcare would have been (or was) reasonably available;
- You are homeless.
- Any transport difﬁculties.
- Excessive travelling time involved between your home and the place of work or the scheme or programme or a place mentioned in a jobseeker’s direction
- Unreasonably high expenses (e.g., for childcare or travel) that were (or would be) unavoidable if you had taken the job or carried out the jobseeker’s direction.
Account should also be taken of any other factor that appears relevant. In particular when the terms of a job on offer break the laws on minimum working conditions.
Refusing a job
You may be able to show you have a good reason for refusing a job, for example, if:
- the travelling time to or from the job was more than one hour and 30 minutes
- you are within your ‘permitted period’ and have restricted the type of work for which you are available to your usual occupation or to at least your usual rate of pay, and you refuse a job that does not meet these conditions
- you have been laid off or are on short-time working, have been accepted as available only for casual employment , and you refuse to take some other type of work
- you come under the rules that exempt you from having to be able to start work immediately, and you refuse to take a job which you would have to start immediately
Note: you cannot be given a sanction if you refuse a job because it is vacant because of a trade dispute.
The effect of minimum working conditions
Employers are required to provide certain minimum working conditions and pay a minimum wage. Try to argue that you have a good reason for not applying for any job where the terms do not comply with the legal requirements. Make sure that this is the case, particularly where the Working Time Regulations are concerned, as there are many exceptions and opt-outs that might apply. If the terms offered break the rules about the hour limit on the average working week, it is possible that the DWP might suggest that you agree to an ‘individual opt-out’. Argue that this would be unreasonable, as the working time rules are intended to protect the health and safety of workers.
Argue that you have a good reason for refusing a job if you do so because it does not pay at least the national minimum wage that applies to you. The DWP has accepted this in the past and should continue to do so.
Leaving a job, training scheme or ’employability’ programme
If the conditions of a job or of a training scheme or employment programme are poor, if possible you should try to sort out any problems (e.g. by raising them with your employer or the scheme or programme provider, or using any grievance procedure) rather than leaving immediately, and to look for another job seriously before giving one up. You may have difﬁculty showing you have a good reason if you do not do so.
Note: in some cases, you cannot be given a sanction if you leave a job in speciﬁed circumstances – e.g. because you are laid off or are on short time working.
The decision maker should take into account:
- any caring responsibilities you have which made it unreasonable for you to stay in your job and whether suitable childcare was (or could have been) available; and
- any childcare expenses you had to pay as a result of being in the job, if they amounted to an unreasonably high proportion of the income you received.
You may be able to show you have a good reason for leaving a job in the following situations:
- Your chances of getting other employment, including self-employment, were good and, in addition, there were strong reasons for leaving your job and you acted reasonably in doing so.
- You genuinely did not know or were mistaken about the conditions of the job (eg, it was beyond your physical or mental capacity, or was harmful to your health), you gave it a fair trial before leaving and it was reasonable for you to leave when you did.
- You left your job for personal or domestic reasons – eg, you gave up work to look after a sick relative. Explain why you left your job before looking for alternative employment. It could be helpful to show that you tried to negotiate an arrangement with your employer to resolve the problem – eg, for a reduction in your hours or time off work.
- You left your job to move with your partner who has taken a job elsewhere. Relevant factors may include how important it was to your partner’s career to make the move and how good your chances are of ﬁnding work in the new area.
- Your employer made a change in the terms and conditions of your employment that does not amount to your contract of employment ending. You are expected to use any grievance procedure ﬁrst.
If you leave your job because your employer cuts your wages unilaterally, you might not be able to show you have a good reason. However, a cut in pay can mean your existing contract of employment has ended and, therefore, you have been dismissed rather than having left your job.
- You left your job because of a ﬁrm offer of alternative employment, but claimed beneﬁt because the offer fell through. However, the DWP may say you do not have a good reason if the offer was cancelled before you left your previous employment or you changed your mind and did not take the new job and you could have stayed in the existing employment, or did not ask your employer if you could stay.
You may be able to show you have a good reason for leaving a training scheme or employment programme in the following situations.
- You gave up a place and your continued participation would have put your health and safety at risk.
- The travelling time to or from the scheme or programme was excessive.
- You had caring responsibilities, no one else was available to provide the care, and it was not practical to make other arrangements.
- You were attending court as a party to the proceedings, a witness or a juror.
- You were arranging or attending the funeral of a close relative or a close friend.
- You had to deal with a domestic emergency.
- You were engaged in activities of beneﬁt to the community – eg, crewing or launching a lifeboat, working as a part-time ﬁreﬁghter or doing work as part of an organised group for the beneﬁt of others in an emergency.
Note: these reasons may also enable you to show you have a good reason for failing to participate in the scheme or programme.
The effect of minimum working conditions
Employers are required to provide certain minimum working conditions and pay the minimum wage.
Is your employer not complying with the legal requirements?
1. Do everything possible to resolve problems before giving up your job.
2. If all else fails or if you think that the hours you are expected to work or the amount of pay you receive is intolerable, you might decide to give up work. The laws about minimum working conditions could help to show that you have a good reason for doing so. Point out that the intention of the Working Time Regulations is to protect the health and safety of workers, so conditions that do not comply with them should be regarded as unacceptable.
3. You are likely to have difﬁculty showing you have a good reason for leaving a job just because the pay is low. However, in the past, the DWP has said that this does not apply if you left your job because you tried to get your employer to pay the national minimum wage and your employer was not doing so.
Other scheme and employment programme related sanctions
For the purpose of training scheme and employment programme sanctions, you may be able to show you have a ‘good reason’, for example, if:
- you had a disease or physical/mental disability that meant you were unable to attend, or your health (or that of others) would have been at risk if you had done so;
- you gave up a place and your continued participation would have put your health and safety at risk;
- your failure to participate resulted from a sincerely held religious or conscientious objection;
- your travelling time to or from the scheme or programme was excessive;
- you had caring responsibilities, no one else was available to provide the care, and it was not practical to make other arrangements;
- you were attending court as a party to the proceedings, a witness or a juror;
- you were arranging or attending the funeral of a close relative or a close friend;
- you had to deal with a domestic emergency;
- you were engaged in activities of beneﬁt to the community – eg, crewing or launching a lifeboat, working as a part-time ﬁreﬁghter or doing work as part of an organised group for the beneﬁt of others in an emergency.
HOW TO APPEAL A DWP BENEFITS DECISION – LEAFLET
[Last updated: August 2014]