Written by: Cally Worden
Recent changes in the rules regarding eligibility for Job Seekers Allowance have thrown many recipients into disarray. The ensuing confusion over who must do what and when has resulted in many recipients being sanctioned, which basically means their benefits have been stopped. Sanctions are designed to help job seekers focus on actively seeking work, and to weed out anyone who has simply been playing the system. The rules regarding sanctions are strict, so here’s what you need to know, and what you must do, to avoid one.
What is Job Seekers Allowance?
Job Seekers Allowance is a fortnightly benefit paid to people of 18 years or older who are capable of working, and available to do so. They must be actively seeking work or seeking to extend their existing employment, which must not currently exceed 16 hours per week.
What is a Sanction?
In signing up for Job Seekers Allowance you agree to abide by a certain set of rules. Breaking any of these rules gives the authorities the right to stop your benefit for a defined period of time. This is known as a Sanction. If you receive a sanction it is still best to continue to meet all of your obligations, such as appointments at the JobCentre, and a prescribed number of job applications each week, or you run the risk of your sanction being extended for a longer period of time.
Why are Sanctions given?
- Being late for meetings with the JobCentre
- Not turning up for meetings
- Non-attendance at a compulsory training or employment programme
- Being unavailable for work
- Not making enough job applications
- Refusal to apply for a position that is considered suitable for you
- Voluntarily leaving a job or being fired for misconduct
You will normally be informed of the sanction, but slip-ups do happen, so if you are expecting money in your account that hasn’t arrived, contact your JobCentre and find out why.
Can I get the Sanction Lifted?
If you can present a valid and confirmed reason for lateness then you may be able to get the sanction lifted. For example, if your bus didn’t arrive (and this can be confirmed with the local bus company). JobCentre personnel have only a limited degree of discretion in the matter – they are bound by law to impose a sanction on you if you break the rules.
You can challenge the decision within one month of notification of the sanction, and if your challenge is rejected you are able to make a further appeal. If you are ultimately successful in your challenge you may receive backdated payments.
How Long Does a Sanction Last?
It depends on the reason for the sanction, and whether you have had one before. In most cases, an initial sanction is for 4 weeks, and if the same breach of rules occurs again within 12 months every further breach will see you receiving a 13 week sanction. Some offences, such as a sacking for misconduct, or refusal to participate in a mandatory work programme, will result in an immediate 13 week sanction. In these cases, a second offence will see you sanctioned for 26 weeks, and if it happens a third time within a year you will receive a 3 year sanction term.
If you a desperate for funds while sanctioned you may be eligible for a hardship payment. If you find yourself in this situation discuss your options with your JobCentre contact.
In applying to receive Job Seekers Allowance you are committing to making yourself available for work, to actively seeking it, and to being willing to accept a job that you are capable of doing. If your circumstances prevent you from meeting these criteria in some way, then don’t bury your head in the sand – go and talk to your JobCentre advisor and see how they can help you avoid a sanction.