Benefit sanctions | CPAG

Benefit sanctions

Post date: 
03 February 2014

Since the election of the Coalition government in 2010, there has been an escalation of benefit sanctions, which have come to play a major role in extreme poverty. This has led to widespread criticism and a series of inquiries and reports, to which this page provides links. To add a report to this page, please contact Kelly Smith: [email protected]

Oakley review

Under the terms of the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013, Matthew Oakley carried out a review of the operation of the sanctions system for JSA claimants on mandatory back-to-work schemes. A broad range of organisations and individuals submitted evidence to the review. This page has links to many of them.

  • Citizens Advice
  • Community Links 
  • Crisis
  • Greater Manchester Citizens Advice Bureaux Cluster Group
  • Norfolk Community Law Service
  • Partners in Salford
  • Scottish Federation of Housing Associations 

The DWP published their response to the report (22 July 2014)

House of Commons

The House of Commons had a debate on sanctions on 3 April 2014, the following motion by Michael Meacher which was carried.

'Resolved, That this House notes that there have been many cases of sanctions being wrongfully applied to benefit recipients; and calls on the Government to review the targeting, severity and impact of such sanctions.' (col.1082)

House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee: Inquiry into the Role of Jobcentre Plus in the Reformed Welfare System

The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee has carried out two inquiries relating to benefit sanctions.

Its report of 20 Jan 2014 on The Role of Jobcentre Plus in the Reformed Welfare System made the following recommendations on sanctions:

para. 97 We recommend that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by benefit sanctions, including by collecting, collating and publishing data on the number of claimants “signposted” to food aid by Jobcentres and the reasons for claimants’ need for assistance in these cases.

para. 100 It is important that JCP makes fair and proportionate sanction referrals and that the process is transparent. We welcome the current independent review which will focus on the clarity of communications between JCP and claimants in relation to the conditionality and sanctioning process; the availability of hardship payments for sanctioned claimants; and the clarity of the review and appeals process. We strongly believe that a further review is necessary and welcome the Minister’s commitment to launch a second and separate review into the broader operation of the sanctioning process.

para. 101 We recommend that the second review of sanctions investigate: whether sanction referrals are being made appropriately, fairly and proportionately, in accordance with the relevant Regulations and guidance, across the Jobcentre network; and the link between sanctioning and benefit off-flow, including whether benefit off-flow targets have an influence on sanctioning rates. We also recommend that this review consider whether, and to what extent, the use of sanctions is having the desired effect of encouraging claimants to engage more actively in job-seeking. We further recommend that this review is launched as a matter of urgency and reports before the end of 2014.

The government published its reply to the Work & Pensions Committee report on 3 April 2014.

The government has gone back on the commitment to a further inquiry post-Oakley which was made to the Work and Pensions Committee by the Employment Minister Esther McVey on 20 November (Qu. 570-71) and reaffirmed in a letter of 1 February 2014.

The government reply of 3 April stated:

'We have already committed to an independent review by Matthew Oakley which will look primarily at the communications to claimants and offer recommendations to improve the operations of the sanctions process. And we will be publishing further information on sanctions through the forthcoming Work Programme Evaluation and the claimant commitment research to help inform our future strategy. We are fully committed to monitoring the current regime to ensure it continues to deliver the intended outcomes and will assess whether any further evaluation is needed once the current evaluation programmes have concluded.'

House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee: Inquiry into Benefit Sanctions Policy beyond the Oakley Review

The Committee published a further report on sanctions on 24 March 2015: Benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review. The government is due to publish a response when the Committee has been fully reconstituted following the general election of May 2015.

The Committee’s report has once again reiterated its call for a comprehensive independent review, to cover both the application of sanctions and the coherence of the legislative framework on which they are based. It calls for full implementation of the Oakley review’s recommendations, in particular to resolve the problem of conflicting demands on claimants by Jobcentre Plus and Work Programme contractors, to allow contractors to take a common sense view on good reasons for non-compliance, and to pilot pre-sanction written warnings and non-financial sanctions. It says that sanctioned claimants should receive additional, tailored support. It has concluded that there is no evidence to support the longer sanction periods of the post-October 2012 regime, and generally little evidence to support financial sanctions as opposed to other elements of conditionality. It expresses concern about the movement of sanctioned claimants off benefit but not into work, and calls for tracking of this group. It calls for urgent review of the appropriateness of conditions being imposed on claimants via the Claimant Commitment, of the adequacy of claimants’ involvement in setting them, and of the relationship between the Claimant Commitment and Jobseeker Directions. It suggests that DWP staff are not properly applying the flexibilities applicable to lone parents under JSA and says that Universal Credit rules for lone parents should be reviewed to ensure no worsening compared to JSA. It challenges the universal application of benefit sanctions and proposes that DWP should confine the regime to identified claimants whose attitudes it seeks to change. It criticises the blanket use of sanctions for ‘not actively seeking work’ against claimants who are seeking work but are merely not doing exactly what they are instructed by the Jobcentre; and it also criticises the immediate suspension of benefit in ‘not actively seeking work’ cases, before the claimant has had an opportunity to offer a ‘good reason’. It expresses particular concern about the rapid increase in ESA sanctions, notes the absence of evidence on their efficacy, doubts that these claimants receive sufficient support, and calls for specific review of the use of sanctions for this group as compared to alternative approaches. It recommends that non-‘vulnerable’ sanctioned claimants should be allowed to apply for hardship payments from day one, instead of after two weeks as at present. It also recommends that where a claimant is vulnerable or has children, the DWP itself should initiate the hardship payment process prior to the sanction decision. It criticises the lack of published information about hardship payments. It calls for external, independent review of cases where claimants die. It also points out that there is no evidence to support the application of sanctions under Universal Credit to people in part-time work who are considered not to be doing enough to increase their hours, and urges that these sanctions should not be implemented unless such evidence materialises.

The Committee received some 150 written evidence submissions. 

The Committee published Benefit Sanctions: Beyond the Oakley Review: Government Response to the Committee’s Fifth Report of Session 2014-15 on 22 October 2015 and a letter from Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith to Chair of the Committee, Frank Field accompanying the response.

Scottish government

Scottish Government (2013) The potential impacts of benefit sanctions on individuals and households: Welfare Analysis, December

On 6 November 2014 the Scottish Government published a statistical analysis of JSA Sanctions in Scotland, covering the period up to March 2014.

Scottish Parliament's Welfare Reform Committee

Following a period of significant evidence gathering the Committee published an Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck? (11 June 2014)

All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty (December 2014)
Fawcett Society Inquiry Where's the benefit? (February 2015)

Other reports on benefit sanctions

The voluntary sector and academic groups are continuing to produce reports on the impact of benefit sanctions. These include the following:

Citizens Advice Scotland (2012) Voices from the Frontline: Sanctions, October

Homeless Link (2013) A High Cost to Pay: the impact of benefit sanctions on homeless people, London, September

Manchester CAB Service (2013) Punishing Poverty? A review of benefits sanctions and their impacts on clients and claimants, October

Community Links PDF iconPolicy briefing (2014), January

West Dunbartonshire Citizens Advice Bureau (2014) Unjust and uncaring: a report on conditionality and benefit sanctions and their impact on clients February

Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (2014) PDF iconCause for Concern? Early impacts of benefit sanctions on housing associations and cooperatives in Scotland, April

Public & Commercial Services Union (2014) Results of the PCS Membership Survey on Conditionality and Sanctions, May

Advice Sheffield (2014) Jobseekers Allowance sanctions: impact report and recommendations, May

Citizens Advice Scotland (2014) Sanctioned: what benefit? July

Salford CAB, CVS, UCRC and City Council (2014) DWP Conditionality and Sanctions: an interim report in to the DWP's regime and impacts in Salford August 

New Economy (2014) Benefit sanctioning in Greater Manchester, September

Midlothian Financial Inclusion Network (2014) Welfare reform: Sanctions - a report on how sanctions are operating, November

Scottish Unemployed Workers Network (2014) Sanctioned Voices: A report on the impact of the DWP sanctions regime as implemented in Dundee Job Centre, compiled by volunteers for the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network, December

Loopstra, Rachel, Aaron Reeves, Martin McKee & David Stuckler (2015) Do punitive approaches to unemployment benefit recipients increase welfare exit and employment? A cross-area analysis of UK sanctioning reforms, Oxford University Department of Sociology, January

Crisis (2015) Benefit sanctions and homelessness: a scoping report, March

Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, The Church in Wales, Church of Scotland, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church (2015) Time to rethink benefit sanctions, March

Loopstra, Rachel, Aaron Reeves, David Taylor-Robinson, Ben Barr, Martin McKee & David Stuckler (2015) Austerity, sanctions, and the rise of food banks in the UK British Medical Journal, 360:h1775, 8 April

Tinson, Adam (2015) The Rise of Sanctioning in Great Britain, London, New Policy Institute, June

Economic and Social Research Council (2015) Exploring the use of conditional welfare, July

Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, The Church in Wales, Church of Scotland, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church (2015) Time to rethink sanctions: Welsh data supplement, July

Quarriers (2015) Compounding disadvantage, October

Advice NI (2015) Benefit sanctions in Northern Ireland, October

One Parent Families Scotland (2017) Single parent families, benefit conditionality and wellbeing: necessary, just, effective? April

The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice special edition Volume 25, Number 2, June 2017 Disability and Conditional Social Security Benefits

Rethinking Incapacity (2017) What effect do sanctions & conditionality have on disabled people? July

CPAG in Scotland Policy Bulletin