Tagged: CAB

Exposed: Jobcentre Benefit Sanctions Culture Revealed – Whistleblower

I worked for DWP for many years, in various roles including management and adviser positions, and can verify that Jobcentre Plus did and do talk about benefit sanction targets/expectations.

Benchmarks did exist, but there was no pressure to meet them until around October 2010. Prior to 2010, sanctions were rarely discussed and staff from my experience did not feel under pressure to make referrals to the Decision Maker.

A benchmark is “a standard by which something can be measured or judged” so does not precisely imply a target. A benchmark level is not a target directly, but indirectly policy to meet a benchmark level is a target that is set to meet the minimum standard.

Performance expectations” serve as a foundation for communicating about performance throughout the year. They also serve as the basis for assessing employee performance. When a business and an employee set clear expectations about the results that must be achieved and the methods or approaches needed to achieve them, you establish a path for success.

Report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith (pdf).

CAB staff reported that their caseloads began to increase significantly to year ending 2011; this was during the same period when the 6% benchmark/target was enforced.

Ruth Owen said at the time, “targets create perverse behaviour” and hence the reason targets/benchmarks were removed from staff appraisal objectives.

However, targets were still discussed, despite staff being informed there were no Stricter Benefit Regime measures. In my district the target/benchmark at the time was 6% of the live load of unemployed people on the office register.

Furthermore, initiatives were introduced that were not always intended to help people, but to achieve the 6% target. I felt this behaviour was unethical and I decided to resign from a job I once enjoyed, because I was extremely unhappy with the new ethos and the welfare agenda. The situation has worsened since my departure.

Following the Guardian’s DWP whistle-blower story sanctions took a dip from July 2011, but they began to rise again during 2012 and have continued to rise significantly ever since.

This can only happen if staff are being encouraged and are expected to make more and more referrals to the Decision Maker (870,793 claimants were subject to an adverse decision to lose their benefit during an 8 month period in 2013); the highest level since the Baldwin government’s campaign against the unemployed in the 1920s, which saw disqualifications of over 2 per cent per month for the very similar, not genuinely seeking work from October 1928 to March 1929 and in April-May 1929. This reason for disqualification was ended by a Labour Party backbench revolt resulting in abolition in March 1930.

> Labour Party backbench revolt – there’s something you don’t hear nowadays… especially not on behalf of the unemployed.

In all my years as a public servant, I have never witnessed the bureaucratic excessiveness which currently exists within the welfare system today.

The impact of the harsher regime, which also includes longer sanctions (which range from 1 month to 3-years), is devastating for claimants who are already under enormous financial pressure and emotional strain; claimants must now contribute to Council Tax, which has resulted in a circa 4% cut in a claimant’s income and in some cases there is the Bedroom Tax to pay too, resulting in a further 19% cut on average.

In addition, benefits have not increased in line with the cost of food and utilities. The EU advice to the UK is, benefits are inadequate.

The sick, the unemployed and those on low incomes are now paying for the failures in the banking system.

The system was and can never be perfect, due to the ever-changing demands of ministers. However, I believe it is now failing many of the people it is intended to help and support, particularly the vulnerable. The support on offer is often insensitive to a claimant’s needs and many people are referred to multiple courses inappropriately at the tax papers’ expense.

To cite one example, an older claimant with arthritis (which Jobcentre Plus knew about) was referred by Jobcentre Plus to attend an unpaid work opportunity that entailed travelling on 3 buses for 90 minutes each way and then to spend up to 30 hours per week picking up cans.

It is, therefore hardly surprising that claimants find the current regime bewildering, frightening and confusing. The professionals, including claimant representatives, are frequently dismayed by the irrational and insensitive treatment our clients are subjected to by, Jobcentre Plus as well as the private contractors delivering the welfare programme.

The reason I initially became involved was due to my family and friends being hurt by the system; I felt I had to assist and things snowballed from there.

The current regime has led to my increasing anger and lack of confidence in the organisations administering the current welfare policies; the people I help feel the same. A number of vulnerable claimants I assist physically shake and/or perspire with fear when they cross the threshold of the Jobcentre or the Work Programme provider premises.

It must feel like a cruel game of Russian Roulette – “will I, won’t I get my benefit stopped today” and for those people who have had their benefit sanctioned wrongly for doing more than is required of them by law, their anxiety is further heightened.

In my view and from experience sanctions do not work; they create excessive anxiety, which is not conducive to productive job search. When I assist a claimant achieve a more relaxed agreement and fairer treatment, they tell me they feel less stressed and undertake more productive and quality job search; many with several disadvantages have found work.

Furthermore, there is a shortage of sufficient and suitable employment opportunities available for everyone. Therefore, a proportion of the population will be unemployed at any given time and no government has successfully eradicated this problem, despite the billions of pounds that has been spent trying to tackle this particular issue.

This leads me to conclude, that most people will take responsibility for their own affairs and require little intervention from the state.

I believe the cost of poverty and administering the sanctioning machine is a further drain on the public purse, due to the wider impact on society; the associated crime such as food theft, increasing debt plus child poverty.

The additional cost to service providers must be taken into consideration too, namely; social services, welfare/debt agencies, food banks, schools, the police, HMCS and the NHS who must pick up the pieces. A number of claimants I help feel suicidal and there has been a recent death reported in the media as the consequence of sanctions being applied.

I am shocked by the very poor treatment of vulnerable claimants. However, more recently I have been assisting professionals who have been sanctioned repeatedly without any justification; these cases have been overturned because the decision was unlawful and/or natural justice, human rights as well as EU law were not applied in many cases.

Other welfare workers mirror my concerns; some of these issues may be addressed by the Mathew Oakley review, but in the absence of the immediate removal of sanctions altogether the process as a whole needs to be examined and in particular the quality and accuracy of decision-making. Examples of poor as well as perverse decision-making are littered all over the Internet by MPs and welfare agencies.

DWP has a duty to get their decisions right first time (pdf) and this must start at the coal face by, the adviser preparing a reasonable and lawful agreement and establishing all the facts fully before raising a doubt. The evidence I have collected indicates that Jobcentre staff and Decision Makers’ fail to follow their internal quality and training manuals too frequently.

“Things done well and with care, exempt themselves from fear.” William Shakespeare

Discretion must also be applied for those claimants who are clearly vulnerable and/or are not wilfully refusing or failing to fulfil their responsibilities.

A client agreed to a Jobseeker’s Agreement (re-named Claimant Commitment) that required them to take 9 steps to seek work; they took more than 40 quality steps, but a sanction was still applied.

Clients have had their benefit stopped indefinitely on the basis that they were not available for work due to the withdrawal of their telephone number and email address from the Jobcentre computer system.

There is no requirement in legislation to provide a telephone number or email address to Jobcentre Plus or the Work Programme to prove availability for work. I have since discovered via Freedom of Information, that this is happening in more than one area.

Claimants are being informed by some Jobcentres and Work Programme providers that everything is mandatory and they are being directed indiscriminately to carry out all activities under a threat of a sanction.

Some claimants are also being mandated to give access to their Universal Jobmatch account or to provide their login details; this is unlawful.

Mandates for non-mandatory activities were only ever issued as a very last resort.

A 57-year-old client who has worked all her life recently told me; “she feels Jobcentre Plus treats her like a school child who cannot be trusted to do her homework without the threat of a severe punishment.” This oppressive regime will not inspire or motivate her to find work more quickly, but it does make her feel angry, stressed and humiliated.

It appears that respect, fairness, reasonableness as well as proportionality have been thrown right out of the window.

The public are told that claimants can access the Hardship fund, but this is not accessible to everyone and many claimants are not made aware of it, because they are not issued with the appropriate paperwork or even told their benefit has been stopped.

If a four-week sanction is applied, most claimants who are over 25 year of age* and not in a vulnerable group (people with health issues, children or expectant mothers) will have nothing to live on for 2 weeks and then only circa £43 for the remainder of the sanction period. This money must cover all their bills, food and travel costs to the Jobcentre, which can exceed £5 in many areas; it simply is not possible.

* JSA rate £72.40 for claimants 25 years and over, £57.35 for 18-24 year olds.

The consequences are several fold; debt which may lead to high interest lending and/or theft not to mention the physical and mental impacts that can significantly affect a person’s ability to seek work effectively or to find the energy or confidence to appeal.

Who would decide to inflict this pain upon themselves, let alone others?

I am also aware some claimants are not receiving travel expenses on their non-signing days, which creates further hardship and more so if they are being forced unreasonably to attend the Jobcentre daily.

These are typical remarks that I read and hear in the course of my voluntary activities to assist claimants:

I am poverty-stricken. I have no electricity; food and no friends or family close by, can you assist me?”

“I was sanctioned for not doing enough job searches even though I have been told my job search activity is good.”

“I am being forced to participate in an activity that does not support me back to work and makes my health condition worse, but Jobcentre Plus/the private contractor refuses to listen to me.”

There are some good people administering the welfare system, but I believe from the available public evidence that they are being placed under pressure (reference: PCS conditionality questionnaire) to implement the very harsh conditionality regime and, as a consequence a perverse culture is cultivated.

A personal Freedom of Information request can reveal improper behaviour. Further, there are several research papers that counter the government’s view about the effectiveness of benefit sanctions.

Poor treatment and service can also result in Jobseekers claiming sickness benefit (Employment Support Allowance) to escape the stress of attending the Jobcentre or the private contracted provision; this outcome is classified as a positive off-flow and during the period of a sanction Jobseekers are not counted as unemployed, because they are not in receipt of

I would urge all claimants to appeal every sanction and make a complaint to their MP at the same time about their poor treatment. I would also urge the unemployed, the sick, low paid and the agencies that witness first-hand what is happening to come together to stop this merciless treatment.

British people are in the main, compassionate and civilised. I also believe most people would be as horrified as I am if, they witnessed first-hand the consequences of the punitive measures being meted out to fellow citizens in order to attain performance measures and/or to frustrate people off the unemployment register.

When I talk to people about welfare many people are in favour of the government’s tougher stance via enhanced conditionality.

However, when I explain how the welfare policy is being administered and the human impacts, they are shocked.

I also find it very distressing that poverty related diseases are also on the rise in the UK, placing further pressure on the NHS. I am sure many readers of this story will be equally disturbed by these findings.

The UK ‘is the first country to face UN inquiry into disability rights violations‘.

I am not politically motivated and made a conscious decision not to vote in the past 2 elections. I am simply a very concerned UK citizen who is struggling to comprehend why fellow human beings are being treated so appallingly and why the gap between the haves and have-nots is continuing to widen. The current regime simply cannot be allowed to continue in a society which claims to care for the welfare of all its’ citizens.

It makes me want to weep the depths which have been plunged. The increasing volume of very poor quality decisions made by local Jobcentre staff and DWP Decision Makers’ is of great concern.

If everyone appealed and complained many more sanctions would be overturned, thus making their very existence unjustifiable.

> I agree wholeheartedly with that last sentiment. It’s not always easy, barriers will be put in your way, but from personal experience the mere fact of winning an appeal against an unjust decision is a real boost.

Sender has requested anonymity.

Source –  Welfare News Service,  02 Sept 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/exposed-jobcentre-benefit-sanctions-culture-revealed-whistleblower/

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Tribunal Fees Allowing Employers To Get Away With ‘Unlawful Sackings’, Says Charity

The introduction of employment tribunal fees has contributed to a 73% fall in tribunal claims, new research from the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) reveals today.

Since the coalition government introduced employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 last year, figures suggest that the number of claims brought against employers dropped by 73% between October 2013 to March 2014, on the same period the previous year.

Citizens Advice claim that the new fees are deterring employees from bringing forward legitimate claims against employers and are allowing bosses to get away with “unlawful sackings and withholding wages”.

 > Which is exactly what it was intended to do, in line with the government policy of putting the plebs firmly in their place.

An analysis of 182 employment cases brought to the CAB between June and July 2014 found that only 31% of potentially successful claims were likely to proceed to tribunal. In over half of cases people said that employment tribunal fees, and other costs, were deterring them from taking their case forward.

The analysis also found that a quarter of employment claims worth less than £1,000 were not pursued and a fifth of all claims were based upon alleged employer discrimination.

CAB say that unfair dismissals, withholding wages and holiday pay were the most common reasons given by workers for considering legal action against employers.

The charity has witnessed a 42% rise in people visiting its website seeking employment advice and employment tribunal searches are up 54% on last year. This comes as people say they are fearful of retribution and losing their job if they take legal action against their employer.

A case study included as part of the research tells the story of a kitchen porter known as Jack. The CAB say that Jack was denied £300 holiday pay he was entitled to and sought assistance from the charity.

Jack was advised that because his partner was working he would not qualify for remission of the Employment tribunal fees. On being informed that taking his case forward would cost £390 in tribunal fees, Jack understandably decided that it would not be ‘cost-effective’ to continue with the claim.

Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice chief executive, said:

Employers are getting away with unlawful sackings and withholding wages. People with strong employment claims are immediately defeated by high costs and fees.

“The risk of not being paid, even if successful, means for many the Employment Tribunal is just not an option. The cost of a case can sometimes be more than the award achieved and people can’t afford to fight on principle anymore.

“Citizens Advice wants to see a fair and robust review of the Employment Tribunal system to make it work for all people and employment abuses eradicated.”

Related News: Tribunal fees have been a “huge victory” for Britain’s worst bosses, says TUC

Source –  Welfare News Service,  27 July 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/tribunal-fees-allowing-employers-get-away-unlawful-sackings-says-charity/

Hartlepool residents rack up £7.5m debt mountain

Hundreds of people in Hartlepool have been forced to plead for help after racking up personal debts worth £7.5m in just a year.

 Shocking new figures reveal Hartlepool Citizens’ Advice Bureau supported 1,500 people with debt and money advice over a 12-month period – with the average debt a staggering £16,000.

Worried officials at the Park Road-based CAB say they are very concerned with the high level of personal debt their clients have, some of which is more than £100,000.

Not everyone in money trouble seeks help or advice from the CAB either so the £7.5m figure – which is similar to previous years – is likely to be even higher.

Personal debt includes everything from credit cards, personal loans, pay-day loans, mortgage and rent arrears, council tax arrears, catalogue debts and bank overdrafts.

The figures relate to the period between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014. In 2012, the figure was around £8m and worried officials say there has been no “let-up”.

Joe Michna, CAB manager, said: “There has been no let up or reduction in the number of people contacting us with debt related problems.

“The debt levels, given that they are average figures, are concerning.

“While the average debt may be £16,000 excluding mortgages, some clients have debts of well over £50,000 when they contact us.

“We deal with clients who have personal debts of everything from a few thousand through to £100,000.”

Officials say the golden rule for those experiencing money trouble is to seek help or advice early.

The CAB offers two services, a Debt Advice Service and a Money Advice Service, which offers help and support from everything from financial planning to budgeting.

CAB staff aim to re-arrange and improve debt-ridden clients’ financial affairs by gathering information on a client’s indebtedness, confirming household income, alerting clients to other potential sources of income, and identifying priority debts.

Once a full and complete picture of a client’s financial situation has been established, the CAB team can help to identify the most appropriate option for dealing with the particular client circumstances which include self-help support packages, negotiations with client creditors and bankruptcy applications.

The debt and money advice services gave advice and assistance to a combined 1,500 clients.

Mr Michna added: “The golden rule for people who have gotten themselves into debt is to seek advice early.

“We are fortunate in that we can offer two services to local people – a full debt advice service and also a money advice service.

“The money advice service can offer advice on budgeting, financial planning and income maximisation.

“We then have our full debt advice service which offers advice and assistance with debt relief orders, bankruptcy and individual voluntary arrangements as well arranging repayment plans with creditors.”

 

Source –  Hartlepool Mail,  16 July 2014

 

Legal aid cuts cause benefits appeals to fail

Nine out of ten Citizens Advice Bureaux (92 per cent) are finding it difficult to refer people to the specialist legal advice they need since cuts to legal aid came into effect last year, the charity has found, leading to benefits appeals failing because of lack of written submissions and supporting evidence.

Citizens Advice is reporting it is now extremely hard to get legal aid around issues such as housing, relationship breakdown or employment disputes. Where limited provision of legal aid remains people have to meet very stringent criteria. The length of time it takes to get legal aid means people’s situations often become far worse than they would have had there been earlier intervention.

In some cases legal aid is now simply not available, such as to help with getting employers to pay outstanding wages or challenging unfair benefit decisions.

Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy will today share this evidence with the Justice Select Committee inquiry into the impact of changes to civil legal aid. Guy will call for a Government strategy on funding of advice, to ensure that people can access the right level of advice, at the right time, in the right way for them.

Citizens Advice also reveals a 62 per cent increase in people seeking online advice about help with legal costs.

Gillian Guy:

 “Cuts to legal aid have created an advice gap, stranding people with nowhere to turn. At precisely the time when people’s need for specialist advice on issues such as housing and welfare increased, provision for this support has been slashed.

“Modern life presents increasingly complex problems and people need help to understand, adjust to, and in many cases challenge decisions affecting their income, housing and work status.

“In a rapidly changing world, where people’s expectations of services are rising, accessing the right advice at the right time will be critical to help people solve problems and understand what government changes mean for them.”

In the year before changes introduced under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) came into effect Citizens Advice Bureaux provided specialist advice in approximately 136,000 cases to help people struggling with legal problems. Changes introduced under LASPO have withdrawn support for approximately 120,000 of these cases.

A CAB in the North West reported:

“Benefits appeals are failing as clients are unable to pay for supportive medical evidence and/or are attending on their own without submissions. There have been problems with referring clients to specialist advice to challenge decisions on benefit entitlement and overpayment issues, including assembling specialist medical evidence to support ESA and DLA/PIP claims and preparing cases for appeal.”

Source – Benefits & Work,  08 July 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2839-legal-aid-cuts-cause-benefits-appeals-to-fail

Sign of the times – three new Citizens’ Advice offices open in north Durham

Three new CAB offices are being opened in north Durham to help people deal with a range of problems.

A new Citizen’s Advice centre will open at 77 Medomsley Road, Consett, from Tuesday, following £12,000 worth of investment.

Builders are currently working on premises on Church Chare in Chester-le-Street and it is hoped it will be open in June, following a £50,000 makeover.

Citizens Advice County Durham is also looking for suitable premises in Stanley and has a between £30,000-£40,000 to invest.

Neil Bradbury, chief executive of the charity, said: “All of the new offices will provide clients with a modern, easy to access and friendly place to come for free advice.

“It used to be that CABs were tucked away above shops. That is not good enough and we can provide a better offer for clients with these new premises.”

The funding has come from various sources including the Department of Health, Durham County Council, the Community Foundation in County Durham and various councillors’ funds and funding from area action partnerships.

Neil Bradbury added: “In terms of Consett and Stanley the need for these premises is urgent as we don’t have our own offices in these towns.

“In Chester-le-Street, the new office will hopefully make a whole world of difference providing access for those with mobility problems.

“We have great offices in Seaham and other towns and it has been about upgrading so they are the same standard.”

Last year almost half of the 20,000 people turning to Citizens Advice County Durham (CACD) needed help with benefits with 29 per cent of clients struggling with debt.

The charity, which helps thousands of residents get access to millions of pounds of extra income each year, is hoping to recruit over 300 volunteers.

 Mr Bradbury said: “We have people come to us wanting advice about managing their budgets or consumer rights to those who have reached crisis point.

“We are the main advice service in the county and we are free and confidential for all. People can come to us about anything and talk it through.”

For more information about CACD, its opening times or to volunteer email enquiries@cdcab.org.uk or search Citizens Advice County Durham on Facebook.

Source – Durham times   04 May 2014

Benefit Sanctions Pushing Unemployed Further Away From The World Of Work

Minimum length benefit sanctions are ‘setting people up to fail’ and pushes unemployed people further away from the world of work, figures released by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) suggest.

Figures released by the CAB on Tuesday, show that unemployed people who have had their Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) sanctioned under the current system are left ‘distracted from job-hunting as they have to focus on putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head’.

Benefit sanctions are also pushing people into debt, which in-turn is having a detrimental impact on their health and making it even more difficult for them to spend time looking for a job, the CAB say.

> Who’d have guessed that would happen, eh ?

 The charity claims to have spent over £7 million in supporting their clients in appealing JSA sanctions decisions at tribunals and have witnessed a sixty per cent increase in problems caused by the tough new benefit sanctions regime, which was introduced by the coalition government in October 2012.

According to the CAB, of the 100,000 food bank vouchers handed out by the charity last year, sixteen per cent were due to people having their benefits sanctioned.

The CAB has called on the government to implement the ‘more responsive sanctions model’ used in Universal Credit, which the charity claims is ‘more focused on getting claimants back on track with their job-hunting rather than the often more punitive approach of the current system’.

Under the new benefit sanctions system in Universal Credit, Jobcentre staff would be able to use a more ‘proportionate’ approach to sanctioning claimants, rather than the often disproportionate minimum four-week period currently in use. Benefits could be sanctioned for as little as a week under the new system, the CAB say.

> But do benefits need to be sanctioned at all – surely that’s the real question? The current surge in sanctions isn’t because claimants are acting worse than before, its because Jobcentre staff are trying to hit targets, so that they don’t lose their bonuses.

If anything, the surge is because jobcentre staff are acting worse than they used to !

Some of the CAB’s key findings include:

  • 1 in 4 Citizens Advice clients with a JSA sanction problem had dependent children
  • 1 in 4 identified as being disabled of suffering from a long-term health condition
  • 1 in 6 also had a debt problem
  • 1 in 10 had issues with rent arrears or threat or reality of homelessness

Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:

“The minimum four week sanction is setting people up to fail and creating a barrier which can stop them from looking for work. Four weeks is a long time to go without money to get by and people are struggling to make ends meet.

“The success rate of sanction appeals reveals a culture of ‘sanction first and ask questions later’. This is not only ineffective and a huge waste of money but also has a devastating effect on thousands of people’s lives.

“People need a system that can take into account their situation, set suitable work search requirements and where necessary apply sanctions at a level that won’t limit their chances of employment. Whilst it is vital that people receiving taxpayers’ support do their utmost to find work, the model needs to work and not make it harder for claimants to find a job.

“To date, Work Programme contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have successfully helped people find work. Combined with Citizens Advice’s latest figures this paints the strongest picture yet that the system is not working as it should.”

Source – Welfare News Service   18 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/benefit-sanctions-pushing-unemployed-further-away-from-the-world-of-work/

Sanction figures: Shurely shome mishtake?

Vox Political

There’s something not quite right about the DWP’s latest statistics covering benefit sanctions.

I’d go into it in detail but, in the spirit of the saying that a picture can tell a story better than a thousand words, let’s just have a look at this graph instead (courtesy of @UKJCP on Twitter).

140417sanctions

By my reckoning, somebody’s calculations started to go seriously amiss in November 2012.

What do you think has happened?

And who do you think is to blame?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Extended Benefit Sanctions Push Up Numbers Seeking Advice On Paying Bills

This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 14th April 2014

There has been a 60% spike in the number of people seeking advice about paying bills as a result of increases in the length of benefit sanctions, according to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

 It came as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published a new survey showing that women make up four in five people losing money from the £500-a-week benefit cap. Almost all have dependent children and 83% have three or more.

A year after the limits were introduced, Ipsos Mori research found a third of people affected have been forced to cut back on essential items. Around 25% have looked for a job after being hit by the cap, while 45% plan to do so in future. The survey looked at 1,000 people out of more than 38,600 households that have been caught by the new rules.

The government extended the period Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) is withheld from one week to four weeks last October. There have been repeated reports that JSA claimants feel they have suddenly lost benefit on the basis of arbitrary decisions for which they have been given no warning or little explanation.

An independent review of the sanctions regime commissioned by DWP is yet to be published, but the latest CAB figures suggest there is an urgency to the issue that ministers have yet to grasp. Polls suggest the DWP would feel under little pressure to soften any aspect of the welfare regime.

The CAB – which is a free advice service – said that since the sanctions regime was toughened, it has helped clients with over 15,000 JSA sanction problems. The increase in the numbers seeking help is disproportionate to the increase in the number of sanctions being applied by the DWP.

Under the previous one-week sanction claimants could cope, the CAB said, but a four-week withdrawal of access to benefit led people into desperate measures including approaching loan sharks.

Publishing its research, the CAB said: “People are struggling to pay their bills, rent and put food on the table. Many clients are forced to turn to food banks and even payday loan companies. With all this on their plate people are distracted from looking for a job, so they’re less likely to get into work.”

The CAB said: “From October to December last year one in four Citizens Advice clients with a JSA sanction problem had dependent children, one in four identified as being disabled or suffering from a long-term health condition, one in six also had a debt problem, and one in 10 had issues with rent arrears or threat or reality of homelessness.”

The chief executive of CAB, Gillian Guy, said: “The minimum four-week sanction is setting people up to fail and creating a barrier which can stop them from looking for work. Four weeks is a long time to go without money to get by and people are struggling to make ends meet.

“The success rate of sanction appeals reveals a culture of ‘sanction first and ask questions later’. This is not only ineffective and a huge waste of money but also has a devastating effect on thousands of people’s lives.

“People need a system that can take into account their situation, set suitable work search requirements and, where necessary, apply sanctions at a level that won’t limit their chances of employment.

“To date, work programme contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have successfully helped people find work. Combined with CAB’s latest figures this paints the strongest picture yet that the system is not working as it should.”

CAB pointed out that under universal credit – the new benefit integrating many existing benefits including JSA – Jobcentre staff are to be given greater flexibility in deciding the length of benefits. The CAB asked how it was possible to give staff flexibility for the incoming benefit system, but not for the current one.

Case study

Ian is a 43-year-old single father of two (aged nine and 12) living in Hastings. He has been on long-term sick leave for depression but, following a work capability assessment by Atos, was told he did not have enough points and was moved onto JSA.

Ian was put on to the work programme, though due to a staff mix-up by Pertemps he has not been receiving support to find work. He has been filling in his work-search forms and giving them to the Jobcentre. Then last Thursday Ian was told he had been given a four-week sanction for not giving enough work-search detail. He was told there were six cleaning jobs for which he could have applied, but he said that they were early morning jobs that did not fit with his responsibilities to his children.

He was given no notice or warning that he was doing anything inadequate about his work search. The money – £72 a week – just didn’t appear.

“I’ve been left high and dry. I filled in the work-search form as usual, but this time they’ve said it’s not enough. Thursday/Friday I was at rock bottom, I was in a total state. I was just thinking, where am I going to get money from?

“I had a water bill due on Friday, but the direct debit bounced as no money had gone in. I’m worried about my rent, as I don’t know if my housing benefit will come in now I’ve been sanctioned. Then at 5pm on Friday I got a hardship payment through so I can look after my kids. The crux of the issue is that they should give you some warning or notice that they are going to deduct some money. Otherwise the only two options at the end of the day are to borrow money or commit a crime.”

He adds that he took out a £100 emergency loan that will require repayment of £160. Ian is appealing his sanction, as he has a letter from Pertemps stating he has not been getting the support he should have due to an administrative mix-up.

Source – Welfare News Service  14 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/extended-benefit-sanctions-push-up-numbers-seeking-advice-on-paying-bills/

Over 400,000 people driven to CAB for help with benefit claims in 2013

Benefit tales

If you become sick or disabled and lose your job you need to know that you will be supported.

However, our advisers are helping more and more people who are having problems with the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). We think this needs fixing and want to make sure that ESA is fit for work.ESA blog graph                (Article and data from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, 3rd Feb 2014)

ESA is the benefit designed to help people who have limited ability to work. We have found that the ESA process too often fails to determine who is fit for work and who isn’t. This means that  the right people are not getting the support they are entitled to.

As our chart shows, despite attempts by successive Governments to put this right we are still seeing evidence that the system is not fit for work.We want…

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More Sanctions – And Some Ideas For Fighting Them

> Received via email…

I am a keen follower of your blog and thought you may be interested in this
story…

*I have recently helped a Jobseeker (I’ll call him John) to win an appeal
at the First Tier Tribunal after his benefit was stopped for allegedly
failing to ‘actively seek’ work*.

*About me *

I am a semi-retired business woman and I initially got involved in helping
benefit claimants due the significant and negative impacts of the new
Welfare reforms on some of my family and friends.  My deep concern led to offering my services as a volunteer at the CAB and now as a ‘Welfare
Champion’ on a part-time basis.  I do this work mainly on a private basis
and receive referrals from various sources.  I could not cope with lots of
readers contacting me (I am easily traceable), so for this reason I will
refer to myself as ‘Mary’.

*About John*

John has worked from the age of 15 and for over 24 years with a few short
breaks, so no-one could ever describe him as a “skiver” or a “shirker”.
However, due to the economic downturn he found himself unemployed for
longer than expected and could no longer afford to run his car; regretfully
he has had to turn down a number of job offers due to the lack of transport.

> I’ve noticed an increasing number of vacancies – usually shiftwork – require the applicant to have their own transport. 
At the beginning of 2013 a new Jobseeker Agreement was imposed on John; it required him to take at least 14 steps to look for work – it previously stated 3 as per the current legislation.  It also required him to seek work on-line 7 days per week and to register with the DWP Universal Jobmatch site, which incidentally is not mandatory, nor is it a condition for receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance despite what Jobcentre Advisers might tell claimants.

*Jobcentre errors in law and procedure!*

John took 10 strong steps, which included applying for 4-5 jobs to help him
secure employment each week during the period in doubt, but the Jobcentre thought this was not good enough and his benefit was stopped for 4 weeks!

From my experience unless a claimant fulfils every detail of their
agreement the majority will be sanctioned.  This is wrong, both legally as
well as procedurally!   In this particular case I uncovered numerous
procedural, policy as well as legal mistakes.

*The impact of the Jobcentres mistakes!*

John was completely stunned and bewildered by the sanction; the impact was immediate and significant.  He had no money and was unable to source a food parcel or any assistance from Social Services, so he was completely
destitute for 2 weeks.

The regulations do not allow access to an immediate hardship payment if you are not in a vulnerable group I.e., you are sick or, have dependent
children.  The hardship payment he received after 2 weeks was £43.02pw (his usual payment is £71.70pw) for the remainder of the sanction period.

He was already struggling financially and feeling low due to being unemployed for over a year and Christmas was on the horizon.  Those feelings darkened and he felt suicidal at times, due to his mistreatment by Jobcentre Plus.

He could not pay his bills or afford to eat properly and he certainly could
not afford to buy his children any Christmas gifts.

And, to this day he has still not recovered from the loss of his benefits
(his arrears are pending).  The sanction has not made him any more
motivated than he was previously; it has just made him very angry and
mistrustful of Jobcentre Staff, hence the reason he was keen to help others
by sharing this story.

*Sanctions are only used as a last resort!*

The government keeps claiming sanctions are only applied as last resort and if a Jobseeker wilfully does not to keep to their side of the bargain (the
Jobseeker’s Agreement).  This certainly is not true in John’s case, so what
is the real reason for the sanction….performance expectations (targets to
you or I), reducing the unemployment count, saving money or all 3?

*Jobseekers being set up to fail by Jobcentre Plus!*

An ex DWP employee has confirmed:

“But the truth is that benefit claimants are being deliberately set up to
fail in order to achieve sanction quotas without regard for natural justice
or their welfare . Staff are being asked to behave in a manner that is against the department’s values of integrity and honesty.”

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/dec/09/iain-duncan-smith-dwp-stop-benefits-whistleblower

Suspected criminals are treated more fairly in this country than the sick
and the unemployed; they are innocent until found guilty, receive swift and
free legal assistance, a bed, food, water and a roof over their heads.

In my view all these sanctions are unjustifiable and certainly do not match
the offence. A low level sanction of 4 weeks sanction incurs a c£200
penalty for people over 25 years of age like John, who is already living
well below the bread line according the EU

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/29/uk-benefits-inadequate-council-of-europe.

A speeding ticket is £60 to people who can generally afford to run a car
and the offender is given time to challenge the penalty *before* it is
imposed.

*What the law says…. *

The *duty to actively seek work* *is not to be found in the job seekers
agreement* but in S7 of the jobseeker’s Act. S7(1), which provides:

*“a person is actively seeking work if he takes in that week such steps as
he could reasonably be expected to have to take in order to have the best
prospects of securing employment.”*

More detail is set out in regulation 18 of the Regulations. Regulation
18(1) provides that:

*”… a person shall be expected to have to take more than two steps in any
week unless taking one or two steps is all that is reasonable for that
person to do in that week.”*

Mr Commissioner Williams held at para 10 & 14 of CJSA/1814/2007 (case law)

*”**That is illustrated by this appeal. C was required by his Agreement to
take 6 steps each week and several other steps from time to time. That is
clearly more steps than the regulation requires of him to meet the test of
“actively seeking work”. And it is more steps than the Agreement asked him to record. On the facts, the secretary of state’s representative now
accepts that C took four steps in the week and that those four steps met
the test in section 7(1).”*

*”Further, there is nothing in the Act or the Regulations requiring that a
claimant must comply with everything in the Agreement. The reverse is the case. The agreement must comply with the law. To be valid, a jobseeker’s agreement must comply “with the prescribed regulations in force”: section 9(1) of the Act. The pattern of the legislation is that a jobseeker’s agreement must comply with the test of actively seeking work in sections 1(2)(c) and 7 of the Act and regulation 18 of the Regulations and not the other way round.”*

*The Outcome of this case – Success!*

Using this piece of case law the appeal was allowed, because the judge
determined John (the appellant) was actively seeking work as per section 7
of the Jobseeker’ Act 1995 and he took *significantly more than 2 steps to
in order to have the best prospects of seeking work *(Reg. 18 JSA Regs
1996)!

*What does this outcome mean?*

This result confirms that Jobseeker Allowance claimants are unwittingly
agreeing to unreasonable, thus unlawful Jobseeker Agreements (soon to
become JSA Claimant Commitments) and, as a result 1000s are being
sanctioned unfairly.

*However, this achievement is a hollow victory for the thousands of
Jobseekers expected to comply with their Jobseeker’s Agreements.*

This Tribunal ruling does not set a precedent for DWP to follow. As far as
DWP are concerned “it will be business as usual“.  DWP’s position will
remain that if an individual claimant wishes to challenge their Jobseekers
Agreements on the basis of this Tribunal ruling they will have to jump
through all the various hoops.

Most will decide it is not worth their while and I know from my own experiences how difficult it can be.  Further, the claimant must have the capacity to do so (many claimants are vulnerable) and they must also know that their Jobseekers Agreement is unlawful. The majority will not and as for the handful of claimants that do, DWP will cope with these people.

*What we appear to be dealing with here is, maladministration by the DWP on a grand scale affecting 1000s of individuals.  *

*What can people do?*

I would strongly urge those who have been affected to get in touch
with their MP to raise this important issue.

And, you *must* appeal.

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-work-pensions/about/complaints-procedure

*Read the recent news reports about unfair sanctions….*

“70,000 job seekers’ benefits withdrawn unfairly, says think-tank”

*I believe it is significantly higher.*

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/03/70000-job-seekers-benefits-withdrawn-unfairly-thinktank

And:
*Rising rates of successful appeals have been seen as a sign that the
system for penalising those deemed to have broken job-seeker agreements is flawed.*

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/successful-benefits-appeals-soaring-says-scots-academic.23532954

Regards

Mary

 

> Thanks, Mary. My own Jobseeker Agreement battles are chronicled on this blog (Jobseekers Agreement section) but need  updating. I’m a bit behind because some of the things that have been happening need unravelling and making sense of – I start to think that every individual DWP worker has their own set of rules !

But suffice to say, I’ve been fighting my corner for 4 months now,  still haven’t been sanctioned and am now on my second adviser – I’m wearing them down slowly.

Mary has provided more ammo here, some that I shall certainly being firing in the next battle. And I agree that everyone who can appeal, should – after all, what have you got to lose, and if nothing else you’ll help stretch the system a little nearer to breaking point.