Scotland politics

Questions over new benefit sanctions warning system

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Image caption Benefits are sanctioned by the DWP if claimants do not comply with the rules

An SNP MP has raised questions over a new benefit sanctions warning system to be trialled in Scotland next year.

The UK government has proposed telling benefit claimants two weeks in advance that payments are to be cut off, giving them more time to appeal.

SNP social justice spokeswoman Eilidh Whiteford said "tinkering around the edges" of the system would not resolve "the deep flaws at its core".

The UK government said the new method would "strike the right balance".

Under the current system, benefits are cut off immediately when a claimant fails to comply with rules set by the Department for Work and Pensions.

The system came under criticism when it emerged that 58% of people who lodged appeals in 2014 were successful in having sanctions overturned.

The new proposals, to be trialled in Scotland in 2016, would see claimants given a "yellow card" or warning when a sanction was triggered, giving them 14 days to appeal and provide evidence.

In October Iain Duncan Smith, the UK government's work and pensions secretary, said: "During this time, claimants will have another opportunity to provide further evidence to explain their non-compliance.

"We will then review this information before deciding whether a sanction remains appropriate. We expect that this will strike the right balance between enforcing the claimant commitment and fairness."

'Deep flaws'

The SNP has called for sanctions to be scrapped altogether but said a two-week warning was "better than no warning at all".

Dr Whiteford said withdrawing welfare payments "clearly does not work", and said the "yellow card" system was acknowledgement of that.

She said: "We are told that the yellow-card warning will be trialled in Scotland but we have had no detail on which parts of Scotland or even how the system will be rolled out.

"But tinkering around the edges of the DWP's sanctions system is not going to resolve the deep flaws at its core; the government's own figures show that half of all sanctions were later overturned on appeal and the Poverty Alliance, Trussell Trust, Crisis and many more frontline organisations have said that sanctions simply do not work in getting people back to work.

"So while a two-week warning is better than no warning at all for someone who is about to lose their welfare payments it is unacceptable for the Tories to paper over the cracks while failing to address the very real issues at the heart of the DWP's sanctions regime."

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