Once, twice, three times a sanction

01 August 2016
Issue 253 (August 2016)

Ros White considers recent amendments to the sanction rules.

The new rules

The Social Security (Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 No.678, which came into force on 25 July 2016, do two main things:

  • they clarify the length of a sanction where there have been repeated failures to carry out a work related requirement; and
  • they enable people with no work-related requirements under universal credit (UC) to have sanctions and hardship payment debt written off if they undertake a specified amount of paid work.

Escalation of sanction periods

The explanatory memorandum to the new rules1">www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2016/678/memorandum/contents sets out the background to the amendments to sanctions provisions for UC2 and‘new style’ and ‘legacy benefit’ jobseeker’s allowance (JSA)3 and employment and support allowance (ESA).4 The DWP confirms the policy intention is that there is a sliding scale of sanction periods and that the greater the number of previous sanctions a claimant incurs, the longer the length of the next sanction, with the exception that:

‘… any sanction imposed for a failure more than twelve months before the failure currently under consideration will not increase the duration of the next sanction. Secondly, in order to prevent anyone incurring lengthy penalties over a short period the policy is for a failure which occurs within two weeks of the most recent previous failure to incur a sanction of the same length as the sanction imposed for that previous failure rather than the length of the sanction increasing.’

However, the DWP goes on to say that it has identified specific circumstances where the existing sanctions provisions did not reflect the policy intention and have led to a sanction that was either longer or shorter than intended. These are where a claimant has three or more sanctionable failures and either:

  • each occurred within 14 days of the next and there are more than 14 days between the first and third; or
  • the last two occurred within 14 days of each other and there are more than 365 days between the first and third.

As a result – to ensure that, in all cases where a failure has occurred within 14 days of a previous one, the length of the sanction is for the same duration as the previous sanction – the new regulations replace existing provisions with a table setting out the escalation procedure for each level of sanction under UC and ‘new style’ and ‘legacy benefit’ JSA and ESA.

It’s also worth noting that:

  • the new regulations apply to failures that occur on or after 25 July 2016 where no sanction decision has been made;
  • the length of the reduction periods have not changed;
  • in calculating the length of the sanction, it is the date of the current sanctionable failure and the previous sanctionable failure which count, not the dates of the sanctions decisions;
  • UC and ‘new style’ ESA and JSA sanctions periods continue to run consecutively, while ‘legacy benefit’ ESA and JSA sanctions periods continue to run concurrently and overlap as appropriate; and
  • repeated sanctions only lead to an escalation where they are in the same category – ie, low level, medium level or high level.

Nigel, who is claiming UC, is given a high level sanction for failing to apply for a specific vacancy on 29 July 2016. As it’s his first failure, the sanction is for 91 days. On 2 August 2016, he fails to apply for another vacancy. As the second failure is within 14 days of the first failure, there is no escalation and the new high level sanction is for 91 days. On 15 September 2016, he fails to take up a job offer. Since this failure is within 365 days but not within 14 days of the previous failure, the new high level sanction period is escalated to 182 days.

Nadine, who is claiming JSA, fails to meet her worksearchrequirementson 2 August 2016 and is given a medium level sanction of 28 days. On 24 August 2016, she fails to apply for a job and is given her first high level sanction which is for 91 days. On 4 October 2016, she fails to meet her work search requirements again. Since she has already been subjectto a medium level sanction for a failure which was within 365 days but not within 14 days of the current failure, the new medium level sanction is escalated to 91 days.

Writing off sanctions and hardship payment debt

In the explanatory memorandum to the regulations, the DWP explains that UC claimants who are expected to work have an earnings threshold which is the amount they should be aiming to earn if working as many hours as they are able and that, if they work and earn an amount at or over their threshold for six months, any outstanding sanctions are written off.5 In addition, once their sanctions end, repayments on any repayable hardship debt (if they have any) are suspended and, if hardship repayment is suspended because of earnings for six months, any outstanding hardship debt is written off.6

The DWP goes on to say that, from 25 July 2016, the new regulations extend these provisions to claimants who do not have an earnings threshold because they are not expected to work (eg, those caring for a child under age one, those caring full time for a disabled adult or those found not capable of work or work-related activity) and that:

‘If they choose to work, provided they earn a weekly amount equal to or over 16 hours at national minimum wage for a period of 6 months, the amendments made by this instrument will ensure that claimants who are not required to work or undertake any work related activity in order to be entitled to universal credit have the opportunity to write off their sanctions or hardship debt.

Please be aware that welfare rights law and guidance change frequently. Older Bulletin articles may be out of date. Use keywords or the search function to find more recent material on this topic.

  • 1. 2. Reg 100-104 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 No.376
  • 3. Reg 69, 69A and 69B Jobseeker’s Allowance Regulations 1996 No.207 and reg 17-21 Job Seeker’s Allowance Regulations 2013 No.378
  • 4. Reg 62 Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2008 No.794 and regs 50-52 Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2013 No.379
  • 5. Reg 109 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 No.376
  • 6. Reg 119 Universal Credit Regulations 2013