Changes to Jobseeker Allowance sanctions

From 22 October 2012 the law regarding Jobseeker Allowance (JSA) sanctions has changed. Those in receipt of JSA are being informed of the changes via a letter being handed out at Jobcentres. The letter can be viewed by clicking here.

The letter states that people could lose their JSA benefit for 13 weeks, 26 weeks or 156 weeks (3 years), if a person:

  • leaves a job voluntarily or loses a job due to misconduct or your part
  • fails to take part in a Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) programme
  • fails to take on a suitable employment opportunity
  • refuses or fails to apply for a job which your adviser has notified to you

The length of time will depend on whether it is the first, second or third time you have failed to meet any of these responsibilities in the last 52 weeks’ (1 year) of the previous time.

It also states that people may lose their JSA benefit for 4 weeks or 13 weeks if a person:

  • fails to attend an adviser interview
  • if applicable, fails to take part in a particular employment programme (such as the Work Programme)
  • does not take the opportunity of a place on an employment programme or training scheme
  • refuses or fails to apply for or accept a place on such a programme or scheme notified to you by your adviser
  • fails to attend or gives up a place or through your own misconduct loses a place on such a programme or scheme
  • fails to comply with a Jobseeker’s Direction

The length of time of a sanction will depend on how many times a person has failed to meet any of the above requirements over a 52 week period. Also if it is deemed that a person did not actively seek work or were not available for work during the period of a sanction, their benefit and entitlement to JSA will be stopped. Any JSA reclaim following such a failure may not be paid for up to 4 weeks and for up to 13 weeks if it is not the first occasion within a 52 week period.

Of course there should be a genuine expectation that a person in receipt of JSA adheres to their Jobseekers Agreement, is available and actively seeking employment. However, not only, are these sanctions very severe, open to individual Jobcentre / work scheme provider interpretation but they also seem to open the floodgates to enforced unpaid work placements.

Statements such as “does not take the opportunity of a place on an employment programme or training scheme” appear to imply that all unpaid work placements will be included within these new sanction procedures and would blow apart previous government claims that the majority of unpaid work schemes are “voluntary”. And this should be of major concern to everyone.

The government’s savage austerity measures are clearly not working and sending the economy into a death spiral which can only be worsened by their continued obsession with forced unpaid work. These policies will not solve the unemployment crisis and neither will they create growth……

Figures obtained by Corporate Watch show that 508,000 benefit sanctions were handed out in 2011; a shocking rise from the 139,000 sanctions imposed in 2009 and with the ever increasing use of schemes such as the Work Programme things can only get worse.

The total number of referrals by Jobcentre Plus to the Work Programme from 1st June 2011 to 31st of January 2012 was 565,000 with 519,000 of those registered onto the programme by private sector providers.

Latest statistics show 91,000 referrals for JSA sanctions were made and completed by the end of January 2012 where claimants allegedly failed to participate in the Work Programme. Of these, 33,000 resulted in sanctions; 34,000 were not sanctioned and 25,000 were cancelled or reserved to be reviewed / applied on a future benefit claim. The total figure of 59,000 (65%) failed sanction referrals should set alarm bells ringing. Obviously these referrals would be for various reasons but a culture of intimidation and coercion seems prevalent amongst the providers.

After a person receives a sanction, they have the right to appeal. However, the remedy of an appeal is not an adequate one to a person who’s JSA has been stopped. Although if successful the claimant will receive payment of the JSA that was withheld, during this period they will have struggled to survive without that money pending the appeal (which may or may not have been assisted with hardship payments; a reduced rate of JSA). The lack of a mechanism to dispute the imposition of a sanction before it is applied means that many people comply with demands placed upon them by Work Programme providers regardless of whether they are lawfully allowed to make those demands.

Another major concern is the DWP’s Community Action Programme (CAP) which has completed a pilot stage and the rollout is expected to be announced this autumn. If, as expected, this scheme is extended across the country, almost 1 million people on JSA for longer than 3 years will be forced to work unpaid for six months or have their benefits stopped.

Sources:
DWP – Work Programme referrals, attachments and Jobseekers Allowance sanctions
Child Poverty Action Group – Sanction busting – appealing Work Programme sanctions
Guardian – Million jobless may face six months’ unpaid work or have benefits stopped

Advertisements