Government to update dealings with claimants after report finds sanctions hitting most vulnerable
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Communities, Regulation
Government to update its dealings with benefit claimants after report finds sanctions hitting most vulnerable
The government has announced that is to update the way it talks to benefit claimants, after an independent review found that the coalition's sanctions are hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest.
Commissioned by the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP), welfare expert Matthew Oakley conducted a review of how Jobcentre Plus and back to work scheme providers communicate with claimants who have their benefits stopped.
Mr Oakley's study found that many vulnerable people who have been hit with sanctions did not understand why exactly their benefits had been stopped, and often hadn't been told by the DWP about the different hardship payments available to them.
Mr Oakley said: "The sanctions system plays a vital role in the modern day welfare system. While the majority of those sanctioned do understand what is expected of them, more needs to be done to help the most vulnerable.
"The recommendations in my review will ensure that all claimants know when and why a sanction will be applied and give them the information they need to challenge that decision and claim the financial help that they might need."
The report makes a number of recommendations, all of which ministers say they have accepted, including:
- Setting up a specialist team to audit all communications including claimant letters, texts and emails and transform how claimants on all benefits are provided with information about their responsibilities and the support on offer.
- Streamlining the checks and balances that are already in place that give claimants the opportunity to provide evidence of why they haven’t complied with the rules
- clarifying guidance and updating the process in which claimants can access hardship payments once they have been sanctioned.
- Working more closely with local authorities to coordinate their approach to deliver housing benefit for claimants who have been sanctioned.
- Ensuring the contract that claimants sign up to in exchange for their benefits can be shared with their provider throughout their time on a back to work scheme.
- Working with providers, stakeholders and advocates for groups to continuously explore alternative formats for all types of communications with claimants.
The report found 95% of benefit claimants have not been sanctioned. Though anyone who disagrees with a sanction can ask for a review, only around 13% of sanction decisions are changed on reconsideration or appeal.
Responding to the release of the report, Denise Hatton, chief executive of charity YMCA England, said: “With the remit for the independent review focussing only on a limited number of ‘back to work’ schemes which account for just a third of sanctions issued to young people, Matthew Oakley has only been able to scratch the surface of the problems with the sanctions regime.
"Rather than motivating them to find employment, the current policies and practices are hindering their ability to prepare and look for work, leaving many young people dependent on hand-outs just to eat, and in some cases even causing them to disengage with support entirely.
"While the recommendations put forward mark a welcome first step and should be taken forward by the government, a more fundamental review is still needed to ensure that the welfare system doesn’t continue to simply process and punish our most vulnerable young people, and instead gives them the right support to help them make a fuller contribution to society.”
Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: “Sanctions are cruel and can leave people utterly destitute – without money even for food and at severe risk of homelessness. It is difficult to see how they are meant to help people back into work. Our own research mirrors the findings of the Oakley review, and has shown that many people face unfair and inappropriate sanctions, often handed out due to errors on the part of the Job Centre or Work Programme provider.
“Poor communication around sanctions is a big problem, which the review rightly recognises. Far too often people are not adequately notified of what is expected of them or why they’re being sanctioned. The government must act on these findings immediately.
“While we welcome these findings, a wider review is needed looking at the appropriateness and effectiveness of sanctions, especially for people vulnerable to or experiencing homelessness. On top of this, we need to provide real support to help groups such as homeless people find and sustain work, including through addressing low levels of literacy and numeracy.”
The government says that its work programme, which is run by private providers that are paid by results, has helped more people than any scheme before it into work, with more than half a million having already started a job and almost 300,000 having moved into lasting work.
Employment minister Esther McVey said: "Every day Jobcentre Plus advisers up and down the country are helping people get the skills they need to get a job and turn their lives around, and only this week we saw employment match the highest level on record.
"Our welfare reforms are helping to transform people’s lives, and we are committed to continuous reform of the sanctions system to ensure it remains fair to taxpayers and to claimants.
"By sticking to the government’s long-term economic plan and making further reforms, it will mean even more people can help build a better future for themselves and their families."