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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CAS submitted our own detailed evidence to the DWP Committee’s inquiry, showing the impact of sanctions on people in Scotland. You can find this submission under related publications above. It included the following case studies from Scottish CABs (all anonymous, to protect the clients’ confidentiality).
- A South of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose claim for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) was sanctioned due to a mistake by a work programme provider. The client informed the provider that we could not attend a meeting, but the wrong box was ticked and the client was sanctioned. The provider has attempted to advise the DWP of the mistake and that the client has engaged in work activities for weeks, but no action has been taken. The client has now been living on the sanctioned rate for eight weeks. The client says that he has lost two stone in weight as he cannot afford to eat.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is currently receiving ESA in the work related activity group and is required to attend ‘Triage' on a regular basis. He was given a 20% sanction for not attending and his payment for yesterday was stopped. When attending the bureau he seemed medically distressed and had to leave prematurely. His doctor has certified that he is not well enough to undertake the bus journey to the work programme provider, but he makes regular phone calls to them. It was stressed to the DWP that this client was in desperate need of money given his difficult medical condition and although they were asked if there was anything else they could do, they did not offer to make a hardship payment.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was sanctioned for two weeks for allegedly not doing enough to find work. The client cannot read and write, which he has told the Jobcentre on numerous occasions. He has been looking for work but tends to visit workplaces canvassing for employment and notes all of these at signing on but on this occasion he has been sanctioned.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who suffers from scoliosis, other back problems and a weak shoulder. The client had a letter of medical support dating back to 1981. The client had not worked since she was 17-years-old due to her health issues. She felt that the Jobcentre did not help her and that the jobs that were being suggested (e.g. cleaning jobs) were inappropriate. The client risks being sanctioned if she is unable to keep up with her claimant commitment.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of an 18 year old client who received a 13 week sanction within three weeks of receiving JSA. The client had failed to conform with the direction to upload his CV to his jobseekers account. The client maintained that he had done this at home, but that something must have gone wrong. When shown how to upload the CV in his next appointment, the client offered to run home and upload the CV straightaway and return with the completed data. However, the suggestion was turned down and a 13 week sanction applied.
- A South of Scotland CAB reports of a 19 year old who came for advice in a distressed state. The client claims JSA after losing her job over the summer. The client had no money to pay for the £9 bus ticket to sign on at the Jobcentre, but upon asking if she can sign on by phone was told that she would be sanctioned if she did not attend in person.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a single parent with two dependent children who has lived with a sanction for five weeks without realising that he could have applied for a hardship payment. The client has been surviving on child benefit and child tax credit, and is now £500 in rent arrears.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has an appointment with Jobcentre Plus today and is concerned because she has been unable to complete the Claimant Commitment. She does not have a computer and has no computer skills. The Job Centre sent her to the Skills Development Centre to create an e-mail address and upload her Job Match online and create a CV. She was told at the Centre that they could not help her because of her literacy problems.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has been sanctioned for not applying for jobs online. The client had informed several 'personal advisers' that she didn't have a computer and was not IT literate without an offer of support. The client enrolled herself in a computer basics course, but has not been sanctioned for not looking for work online.
- A South of Scotland CAB reports of a former ESA claimant whose JSA claim was sanctioned. The client has severe depression but was assessed as fit for work after being awarded 9 points in his work capability assessment. The client claimed JSA and was quickly directed to apply for a job 40 miles from his home. The client said that his condition would prevent him from making this journey on a daily basis and he was therefore sanctioned for four weeks. The client is not sure what happened next, but it appears that his claim was closed entirely.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was sanctioned at his first meeting with a Jobcentre adviser when he believes he had made reasonable efforts to find work. He wanted guidance because he had been on ESA since October 2013 but found the adviser to be hostile and felt that she wanted to find cause to sanction him. When the adviser called the DWP, there was confusion about whether or not he had been sanctioned and when they eventually confirmed that he had, could not say how long for and when a decision would be made on length of sanction.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who advises that he was previously in receipt of ESA for approximately 13 months but after a medical was refused ESA and has subsequently been claiming JSA for five weeks. The client advises that due to the pressure of the JSA Claimant Commitment he has to complete six job searches (one per day) and is now suffering from severe stress, depression and anxiety and cannot cope with the pressure that is being applied by the Jobcentre. The client advises that he is due to have an interview with a DWP disability adviser but it is not for over three weeks and has already been waiting for four weeks. He has already discussed his condition with his GP as he has feelings of dread and fear when he has to attend the Jobcentre, which is having a detrimental effect on his health.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has been sanctioned for missing an appointment at the Jobcentre. He had read his work book but did not realise there was a fold-out page at the back and that was where the appointment was written. He applied for a hardship payment last week and should have received it on [date] but the money was not paid. He has had no electricity for nine days and has not eaten properly for six and is on medication for depression and anxiety.
- A South of Scotland CAB reports of a 19-year-old client who attended the bureau in distress. She is new to the area with no family and is living in homeless accommodation. Having previously 'signed on' via fax, she has now been told she must attend Job Centre Plus every fortnight. She was due to attend today but had no money for the bus as she is on hardship payments due to a previous sanction (note that return fare to the nearest Job Centre Plus is £8.90). When the CAB adviser phoned the Jobcentre to see if the client could sign on by phone, the client was told she had to attend or would be sanctioned. The adviser reiterated that the client has no money, no food and no electricity. The Jobcentre adviser asked if the CAB could provide funds for bus fare.