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Benefit sanctions warning 'a step in the right direction - but more action needed'

22 Oct 2015

Citizens Advice Scotland has welcomed Ian Duncan Smith’s announcement that benefit claimants will receive a ‘yellow card’ warning before having their benefits sanctioned. However the charity believes there are still many other flaws in the sanctions system, that it pushes many people into poverty, and that it still needs to be fully reviewed.

Mr Duncan Smith’s announcement comes in response to the House of Commons committee on Work and Pensions, which has been holding an inquiry into the issue of sanctions. CAS submitted evidence to this inquiry which included case study evidence of the impact of sanctions in Scotland (see below). 

CAS spokesperson Gael Scott says, 

“This is certainly a step in the right direction, and one we have called for in the past. But it needs to be implemented quickly and applied to all cases. A person’s benefit can be the sole income for them or for their whole family. It should not be stopped without proper warning. At the very least the person should be given the opportunity to question the decision and explain their reasons for any non-compliance with the rules. It will also allow them to plan for any loss of income, so they and their dependents are not suddenly left with no money. 

“Scottish CAB advisers see many cases where sanctions have been applied because of an administrative mistake by the jobcentre, or where the claimant has had a very legitimate reason for not complying with the rules (e.g. a sudden illness or accident).  In fact we strongly believe that a claimant should never be left without any income. If a sanction is to be applied, it should only cut a person’s benefit by a proportion rather than the entire amount so that people can still meet essential living costs. At the very least people should be able to eat and heat their homes. 

“So while we welcome this step, we still believe there needs to be an independent review of the whole sanctions regime, which should examine its effectiveness  in meeting its stated purposes (i.e. helping people into work) and the wider social impacts of sanctions -  including greater destitution, more foodbank referrals etc.”

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