Press release

Government to update communications with benefit claimants

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The government is updating the way it talks to benefit claimants following an independent review of Jobseeker's Allowance sanctions.

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The government is set to update the way it talks to benefit claimants, setting up a specialist team to look at all communications – including claimant letters – and working more closely with local authorities and advice centres to simplify the system.

Independent expert Matthew Oakley has conducted a review of how Jobcentre Plus and back to work scheme providers communicate with claimants who have their benefits stopped – called a sanction – for not keeping up their end of the bargain.

Acknowledging that sanctions have a vital role to play, Mr Oakley has today made a series of recommendations that will help encourage more claimants to do the right thing – and help save taxpayers’ money – which the government has accepted.

Employment Minister Esther McVey said:

Every day Jobcentre Plus advisers up and down the country are helping people get the skills they need to get a job and turn their lives around, and only this week we saw employment match the highest level on record.

Our welfare reforms are helping to transform people’s lives, and we are committed to continuous reform of the sanctions system to ensure it remains fair to taxpayers and to claimants.

By sticking to the government’s long-term economic plan and making further reforms, it will mean even more people can help build a better future for themselves and their families.

Matthew Oakley, author of the review, said:

The sanctions system plays a vital role in the modern day welfare system. While the majority of those sanctioned do understand what is expected of them, more needs to be done to help the most vulnerable. The recommendations in my review will ensure that all claimants know when and why a sanction will be applied and give them the information they need to challenge that decision and claim the financial help that they might need.

It is encouraging to see the department already making great strides to improve the system and I hope my proposals are taken forward to ensure that many more people are helped into long-term and rewarding jobs.

The Oakley Review, along with the government response, has been published today, and recognises the fundamental backstop that benefit sanctions provide in the social security system for jobseekers.

Sanctions are applied as a last resort when claimants fail to do enough to find work, fail to attend appointments or have turned down job offers, and recent research shows that 72% of claimants say that they are more likely to follow the rules because of threat of having payments stopped.

In order for the sanctions system to remain fair to taxpayers, and to keep pace with reforms that have been introduced by the government to help more people into work, ministers have accepted all recommendations in the Oakley Review and actions agreed include:

  • setting up a specialist team to audit all communications including claimant letters, texts and emails and transform how claimants on all benefits are provided with information about their responsibilities and the support on offer – this team will take on board the latest academic research and innovations in private sector communications
  • streamlining the robust checks and balances that are already in place that give claimants the opportunity to provide evidence of why they haven’t complied with the rules
  • clarifying guidance and updating the process in which claimants can access hardship payments once they have been sanctioned
  • working more closely with local authorities to coordinate their approach to deliver Housing Benefit for claimants who have been sanctioned for not doing the right thing
  • ensuring the contract that claimants sign up to in exchange for their benefits – the Claimant Commitment – in which they agree what they will do to get a job, can be shared with their provider throughout their time on a back to work scheme
  • working with providers, stakeholders and advocates for groups to continuously explore alternative formats for all types of communications with claimants

The government will take the recommendations from the Oakley review even further and roll out changes to other types of benefits where practicable.

The report recognises that the vast majority of claimants do the right thing, with 95% of claimants not sanctioned. The government already has a robust system in place where anyone who disagrees with a sanction can ask for a review. Only around 13% of sanction decisions are changed on reconsideration or appeal, and often that is because the claimant provides new evidence.

Advisers in 700 jobcentres around the country are helping people move off benefits and into work, and last week’s independent statistics showed that the employment rate had reached one of the highest ever, with more people in work than ever before.

The Work Programme, which is run by private providers who are paid by results, has helped more people than any programme before with more than half a million having already started a job and almost 300,000 having moved into lasting work.

Through the Work Programme, we are helping long-term unemployed people and people with health conditions who were previously written off on a life on benefits.

Sanctions have always been part of the benefits system, and in October 2012 the government set out higher expectations on benefit claimants to take responsibility for doing everything they could to find a job.

The rules regarding someone’s entitlement to Jobseeker’s Allowance – and what could happen to their benefits if they don’t stick to those rules – are made very clear at the start of their claim.

Jobseekers are given the help and support they need to find a job, but it is only fair that in return they live up to their part of the contract. Sanctions are used as a last resort and anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal.

Read the Oakley Review and the government response.

A fact sheet on claimants and their responsibilities has also been published today.

Sanctions fact-sheet

What is a sanction?

Sanctions involve a reduction in benefit payments, or a halt to Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) payments.

Sanctions are a last resort when claimants lose or leave work without good reason, fail to do enough to find work, fail to attend appointments, or have refused to apply for work or turned down job offers.

When would a jobseeker be sanctioned?

A sanction can be put in place if a jobseeker does not fulfil their requirements. These include attending meetings with a work coach, applying for suitable jobs, attending training courses, taking steps that will increase their chances of finding work such as failing to update a CV, or taking part in employment schemes.

Recent research shows that 72% of claimants say that they are more likely to follow the rules with the knowledge that they could face a sanction.

What can a jobseeker do if they don’t agree with a sanction?

Anyone who disagrees with a sanction can ask for a review within 1 month of the decision. The claimant has the chance to explain why they believe the decision is wrong and show evidence that supports their case. If the claimant is still not happy with the decision they can appeal to a tribunal.

How many sanctions are issued?

The vast majority of people aren’t sanctioned. In an average month in 2013 only around 5% of JSA claims resulted in a sanction.

In 2013, 871,000 sanctions were issued, owing to DWP’s increased efforts to get people into work.

What is the successful appeal rate?

Only 13% of sanction decisions are changed after review or appeal largely due to new evidence from the claimant.

What can a jobseeker do if they need financial support if their benefits are stopped?

If a benefit is stopped, and the claimant does not have enough money to live on, they may be able to get a hardship payment.

Are there different levels of sanctions?

Low level sanctions could be put in place if a claimant does not attend meetings with their work coach, does not take part in employment schemes or undertake activities that will improve their chances of finding work.

Intermediate level sanctions can be put in place if a claimant is not actively seeking work.

High level sanctions can be put in place if a claimant left their last job without good reason, a claimant does not take a job offered to them, or if they do not take part in Mandatory Work Activity scheme when asked to.

How long do sanctions last?

Low level sanctions mean benefits can be stopped for 4 weeks, if it is the first time, or for 13 weeks if it is the second time.

Intermediate sanctions mean benefits can be stopped for 4 weeks, if it is the first time, or for 13 weeks if it is the second time, after the claimant re-applies Jobseeker’s Allowance.

High level sanctions mean benefits can be stopped for 13 weeks if it is the first time, 26 weeks for the second time within a year of a first failure, or 156 weeks (3 years) for the third or more time within a year of a previous failure.

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Published 22 July 2014