Responding to increasing conditionality and sanctions

Alongside the reductions to payment, the welfare reform programme is introducing more conditionality which brings with it a higher risk of sanctions. Sanctions are a particular concern for local authorities, as the social fund hardship scheme has been localised, and councils may have to meet the needs of households experiencing hardship as a result of benefit sanctions.

However, there may be ways to minimise the risk of sanctions. For example, in Birmingham, attempts are being made to develop a joint-protocol with DWP and Jobcentre plus staff, so that before applying a sanction to a young person, that young person’s personal adviser would be contacted to see if any mitigating circumstances exist.

St Basils’ preventing sanctions procedure

Through representation at the Multi-Agency Welfare Committee, St Basils’ in Birmingham has been able to raise awareness of the issue of sanctions on young people. Following an initial meeting with the DWP, a procedure was established (below).  Both organisations recognise that the young people St Basils work with are already marginalised and are anxious to ensure that we don’t exacerbate this. The procedure developed attempts to prevent sanctions being imposed. In brief, the procedures require a closer working relationship with St Basils support staff and DWP staff; we notify them of all young people who are making a claim and living within our service and any special circumstances around each case which may contribute to non compliance with normal JSA routines. We attend the initial appointment with the young person to ensure that both the appointment is attended and the correct information provided. If someone has never made a claim previously, the whole procedure can be seen as longwinded and bureaucratic, young people have been known to simply give up, which then has a detrimental effect on their ability to maintain their accommodation, leading back to homelessness.

The goal of the attendance of staff being that before a sanction is imposed St Basils can be notified of the issue arising and assist the young person to rectify the problem thereby making them compliant with their claim requirements.

Currently operating as a three-month pilot, St Basils and the DWP hope to gather enough intelligence to roll out the procedure across the sector as a whole. Certainly early indications are that this can be an effective productive method of working.

Preventing sanctions procedures
  1. Staff should inform young people to make DWP aware that they reside in hostel accommodation.
  2. DWP must be informed of EVERY change of circumstance relating to the claimant.
  3. All young people will have a named adviser at each Jobcentre so that they can start developing relationships and be aware of the young person’s journey.
  4. Staff to complete a DPA1 for submission to DWP, this will ‘flag’ the young person on their system as vulnerable and gives permission to discuss cases with. The DPA1, document must be printed off, completed, signed and dated by the claimant. Claimant or designated support worker with data sharing consent should then submit to the Jobcentre for the claimant’s file. The DPA1 should declare the claimant’s: offender status; refugee status; substance/alcohol misuse/recovery/treatment; health problems that affects day to day life; any other significant barrier to employment.
  5. Ideally a support worker should attend the first appointment where possible, this will be an appointment with their personal adviser who will conduct the diagnostic interview, this will take one to two hours.
  6. Support worker to write a support letter in respect of every young person that makes a claim. This should include:
  7. A general overview of the support plan. The support plan letter should indicate any restrictions on the claimants’ availability, engagement in self-improvement courses etc, realistic job and training prospects.
  8. If they have any set times or appointments which prevent them from working during particular hours – eg,YOS/probation, medical appointments. As long as they are available to work 35 hours a week.
  9. This can be evenings, weekends or nights. A completed confidentiality waiver to be completed for each claimant. This should be signed by the young person naming the individuals and their contact details whom the claimant is consenting the DWP to share information with. Must be dated and signed by customer, copy kept by support agency, original to DWP adviser for file.
  10. A new letter should be done if they move Jobcentre, home or have a change of circumstances. 

With thanks to Jean Templeton, St Basils