Written by: Cally Worden
Certain benefits come with strings attached. There may be particular things that you have to do in order to remain eligible to receive them, such as attending interviews, or applying for jobs. And if you fail to meet these obligations then the government has the right to temporarily stop or reduce the amount of benefit you receive. This is called a Sanction.
Who Can be Sanctioned?
The following benefits operate under the sanction scheme – when you claim them you will sign a document known as a Claimant Commitment, which outlines your obligations, and what form the sanction will take if you fail to comply. If you don’t have a Claimant Commitment form then your responsibilities may be outlined elsewhere in your benefits documentation:
- Income Support
- Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Universal Credit
- Employment and Support Allowance (for those in the Work-Related Activity Group)
The most common reasons for sanctions being applied are for not attending a Job Centre meeting, not putting in enough effort to look for work, and failing to take part in a training or employment scheme.
If you view your obligations as a series of hoops that must be jumped through in order to gain your benefits then you can easily avoid being sanctioned. Discuss your responsibilities with your benefits advisor and make sure you understand them clearly. If there is anything that you know will be a challenge to complete then be open about this and ask your advisor for help in seeking a solution (for example – you may have limited internet access that will hamper your efforts to find work). Finally, keep a record of all important dates and figures and any efforts you make to meet your responsibilities so that you never miss an appointment, and are always able to prove you have upheld your side of the commitment.
Challenging a Sanction
If you feel you have been unfairly sanctioned you can challenge the decision, and make an appeal if your challenge is refused. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau or the Law Centre may be able to assist you in appealing any decision.
When you are sanctioned you are still entitled to receive Housing Benefit and reductions in Council Tax, but the Job Centre may contact the council and they may stop these benefits until you have provided proof of your income (or lack of one) in order for them to reassess your claim. You need to contact the Revenues and Benefits Dept at the council to explain your new situation in order to avoid the possibility of adding rent and council tax arrears to your problems. If possible, avoid taking out any debt, especially those with very high interest rates. Payday loans may seem like a great solution, but if you are unable to repay the loan quickly the interest can quickly mount up into an unmanageable debt.
Assess your New, Reduced Income
When your benefits are sanctioned it’s essential that you reassess your financial situation immediately. You may need to make cutbacks to enable payment of your essential bills while the sanction is in force, and it’s worth thinking about renegotiating a deal on your energy bills, or asking for a reduced rent period, for example. If you are unable to live on the reduced income you may be eligible for a hardship payment. It usually equates to around 60% of your normal benefit – be aware that this money will have to be paid back once your benefits sanction is lifted. If you are really struggling to make ends meet there may be a local food bank you can use, or a local welfare scheme that may be able to assist you in the short term.