UK Politics

Jobseekers to get 14-day warning of benefits sanction

Two people stood outside a Job Centre Image copyright Getty Images

Jobseekers are to be given 14 days' warning before facing benefit sanctions under a new scheme being trialled next year, the government has announced.

Currently sanctions, which result in the loss of benefits, can be imposed immediately.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said they were a "necessary part of the system" but kept under review.

Labour's Frank Field, who is the chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, welcomed the move.

"Conditionality is an important part of our benefit system, but sanctions must be fair, clearly understood and not plunge families into unjustifiable hardship," he said.

Explanatory evidence

Claimants face sanctions for issues such as failing to turn up for job interviews or meetings with job advisers.

In a parliamentary statement to the Commons, Mr Duncan Smith said that it was in response to a report by the select committee that he had decided to trial a warning system.

"We will trial arrangements whereby claimants are given a warning of our intention to sanction and a 14-day period to provide evidence of good reason before the decision to sanction is made.

"During this time claimants will have another opportunity to provide further evidence to explain their non-compliance," he said.

Review recommended

But shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith claimed that the written statement had been "snuck out" and did not address "any of the principal recommendations" of the select committee.

"In particular it doesn't address the recommendation as to whether there should be an independent review into those people who have died while subject to benefit sanctions," he said.

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association, said: "We welcome the recognition by the secretary of state that the sanctions system is in need of reform, but are concerned that the changes today don't go far enough."

She said that for some jobseekers receiving a sanction could act as a wake-up call, but for the majority the sanction system was more likely to "hinder the journey to employment".

"Jobseekers move into work quickest when they feel positive about work and thus sanctions should only be used as a last resort," she added.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "The vast majority of jobseekers do everything expected of them in return for their benefits, and accept the support on offer to move into work.

"There are now record levels of employment in the UK, and unemployment is back to pre-recession levels. The Jobcentre regime, of which sanctions are a part, has played an important role in this."

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