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Benefit sanctions force people to sleep rough, claims charity

homeless man in North of England Image copyright Getty Images

Benefit sanctions are forcing people to become homeless or to sleep rough, according to the charity Crisis.

The study, based on research from Sheffield Hallam University, claims that 21% of people sanctioned in the last year became homeless as a result.

In addition, 16% of those sanctioned were forced to sleep rough.

The government said the report was "misleading" and contained "inaccuracies".

It has already announced a trial scheme to soften the impact of sanctions, particularly for those who have nowhere to live.

Under the sanctions regime, claimants have payments stopped if they fail to turn up to job centre appointments.

The system has already been heavily criticised, not least by a committee of MPs, who have twice called for an enquiry.

In March this year the Work and Pensions Committee said sanctions were causing "severe hardship".

'Staggering' impact

Sheffield Hallam University questioned 1,013 homeless people from 21 cities, and found that 213 of them had had payments stopped within the last year.

Of those claimants, 45 - or 21%- said they became homeless as a result of the sanctions, while 77% said they had gone hungry.

"Findings in these 21 cities demonstrate the potentially devastating effect of benefit sanctions, leading to more people on the streets and going hungry," said the report's author, Dr Kesia Reeve of Sheffield Hallam University.

"The impact on people's mental health and job opportunities is staggering."

The report recommends:

  • Sanction rules should be suspended until claimants have a place to live
  • A test to check in advance that sanctions will not force someone into homelessness
  • Tailored support to help homeless people into work

Sanctions halved

But the government disputed the findings.

A spokesman said: "Homelessness is a highly complex issue, and our priority is to ensure that those individuals affected get the right support.

"We know that the most important thing for homeless people is to get a roof over their head.

"This is why we make allowances - for example, we don't expect them to be looking for work while they are focused on finding living arrangements.

"This means that it is highly unlikely that any homeless person would be sanctioned."

In October, the government announced a trial "yellow card" system which will give claimants a warning that sanctions are being considered.

'Vulnerable'

They will then have two weeks to show why payments should continue. The scheme is not expected to start before the end of 2016.

In addition, the government is considering classifying homeless people - and those with mental health conditions - as "vulnerable".

This would enable them to apply for immediate hardship payments, alongside other vulnerable groups, such as those with children.

The number of people being sanctioned has fallen significantly over the last year.

Those having Job Seekers Allowance payments stopped has halved from 52,919 in June 2014, to 26,939 a year later.

Employment and Support Allowance sanctions have fallen from 3,113 in June 2014, to 1,852 in 2015.

Crisis said the government's planned changes still did not go far enough.

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