New sanctions see more benefits cut, DWP figures show

A job centre plus sign Jobseekers must stick to various rules otherwise their benefit will be cancelled

More than 400,000 people have lost Jobseeker's Allowance under new government sanctions aimed at ensuring they actively seek work.

Some 580,000 sanctions were handed down between October 2012 and June 2013, a 6% rise on the same period a year earlier, before rules were toughened.

Reasons for withdrawal of the benefit range from leaving a job voluntarily to failing to attend an interview.

The government said the sanctions were used as a deterrent.

The latest figures have been published by the Department for Work and Pensions.

The new sanctions were introduced on 22 October 2012. If a comparison is made between November 2012 and June 2013 and the same period a year earlier, then there was an 11% rise in sanctions.

In the most extreme cases, individuals can lose the benefit for three years if, for example, they leave three jobs voluntarily.

Sanctions

There are three levels to the new sanctions:

  • The highest sanction will see Jobseeker's Allowance withdrawn for 13 weeks when, for example, an individual leaves a job voluntarily. This rises to 26 weeks for a second "failure" and 156 weeks for a third
  • An intermediate sanction for failures such as not actively seeking a job or being available for work. Benefit is initially lost for a month, or 13 weeks for subsequently breaking the rules. Claimants must then reapply
  • A lower level sanction, resulting in loss of benefit for up to 13 weeks, for failures such as not attending an interview with a jobcentre adviser. Unlike an intermediate sanction, the benefit restarts automatically

The latest figures showed that 53% of decisions to withdraw benefit were the result of the lowest level sanction, while 38% were intermediate sanctions and 9% the highest level sanction.

Start Quote

Peter Jones

I'm scared of ever being in that situation again”

End Quote Peter Jones Former jobseeker

About a third of cases related to people failing to actively seek work, with slightly fewer related to people who failed to participate in the government's Work Programme - a flagship government scheme of work experience for jobseekers - or failing to attend training.

About one in five cases were the result of somebody failing to attend an interview with an adviser.

In total, 223,000 people have so far received the lowest sanction, while 167,000 have been hit with the intermediate sanction and 48,000 with the highest sanction.

'Rejecting support'

Employment Minister Esther McVey said that people were paid Jobseeker's Allowance only if they were doing all they could to look for a job.

She said these sanctions were only used against those who were "wilfully rejecting support for no good reason".

However, there has been criticism of the sanctions from some people who believe they have been used against them unfairly.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, has also criticised the way the system operates.

"When you're already struggling to make ends meet whilst looking for work, a sanction ends up being an extra obstacle to the huge challenge of getting a job," she said.

"The regime is not only self-defeating, it is also poorly administered."

Tim Nichols, of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: "Sanctions are meant to have a positive effect on behaviour, so if the system was working, their use would be falling, as claimants develop positive relationships with job centre and Work Programme advisers and do all the activities needed.

"Instead, the system has become an unhelpful bureaucratic nightmare, with job centres setting targets to arbitrarily push up the numbers of people hit with a sanction."

Separate figures from the DWP showed that the number of claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who have been sanctioned stood at 9,000 between October and June. They were hit by more than 11,000 sanctions, similar to the figure for the whole of the previous year to the end of May 2012, when 11,130 ESA sanctions were applied.

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