An undercover Universal Credit adviser was ordered not to inform claimants about vital hardship payments, the Daily Mirror has reported.
The undercover adviser, working for Channel 4 Dispatches, was told not to advise claimants about the existence of emergency cash funds available to jobseekers struggling to make ends-meet.
He was also instructed not to inform claimants about the availability of advance payments, which can be paid while their Universal Credit claim is being processed by decision makers.
Claimants can apply for a one-off grant from the ‘Flexible Support Fund’, which can be used to help them move into employment.
However, a trainer told the undercover report not to inform claimants about the fund unless they specifically asked about it.
When he questioned the motives behind this stance, he was told:
“If we did, everybody would want one, yeah, and it’s a very small budget, so we don’t talk about it.
“It’s a bit like Fight Club – we don’t discuss what happens in Fight Club. So you don’t talk about flexible support fund either… so the work coaches usually bring this up…”
New Universal Credit claimants often have to wait several weeks for a decision to be made on their claim. During this time they are typically expected to support themselves.
However, advance payments and other hardship funds are available to people who may experience financial difficulties during this time.
Universal Credit merges a number of existing benefit into one single monthly payment. The flagship scheme has been dogged by delays and software problems since its conception.
The reporter, who was working in a DWP service centre, was also told not to tell claimants about hardship funds in the event of their benefit payments being ‘sanctioned’.
“You don’t offer it unless you think they’re in dire straits”, the trainer said
“The whole idea is the punishment, that’s what you’ve got to suffer but if you can’t manage, we’ll consider doing something for you.
“So they’ve got to say, ‘well I can’t manage without my standard allowance, so I need some help’ and you go ‘right, there is a hardship possibility’.
“You don’t advertise it but if they say, ‘I can’t manage’, they don’t have to say, ‘I need a hardship payment’, they say ‘I can’t manage’ and you say, ‘well I can’.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said:
“Service centre workers are there to provide administrative support over the phone, not to build the close relationship with the claimant that our work coaches in Jobcentres do.
“At a new claim interview our work coaches inform claimants that budgeting advances are available ”
“Work coaches can identify if the locally-administered flexible support fund can help someone overcome barriers to work – not service centre workers.”
Defending Universal Credit, the spokesperson said:
“Universal Credit replaces the complex myriad of means-tested benefits to simplify the system and make work pay.
“It is already transforming lives with claimants on Universal Credit moving into work faster and earning more.
“When fully rolled out it will make three million people better off with a £7 billion boost to the economy every year.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 12 Mar 2015
A new report from a coalition of major UK Churches has revealed that around 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions in 2013/14.
It also shows that in the same period a total of nearly 7 million weeks of sanctions were handed out to benefit claimants.
The new data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, will feature in this evening’s episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, entitled ‘Britain’s Benefits Crackdown’.
The report, entitled Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions, is published today by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. It contains new data on the severity and length of sanctions under Welfare Reform, and on how sanctions affect vulnerable groups such as children and those with mental health problems.
It features the stories of people like James (not his real name) who have had their benefits sanctioned:
“During the first three weeks of my sanction I continued to look for work as I was required to. By the fourth week however I was exhausted, unwell and no longer had it in me. I was not eating as I had no food and was losing a lot of weight. I told the Jobcentre I was unwell through not eating but was sanctioned for another three months for not looking for work properly.”
“Those who already have the most difficult lives are those most likely to be sanctioned,” said Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church and one of the authors of the report.
“Sanctions impact disproportionately on young people, care leavers, homeless people, single parents, the mentally ill and those with long term illness. This system causes problems for the very people that most need help.
“But sanctions don’t just have a financial impact. The people we’ve spoken to have told us of the shame, demoralisation and loss of self-worth caused by this system.
“As Christians we believe that everyone is loved, valued and made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to challenge any structure or system that undermines that dignity.”
The Churches are calling for a full and independent review of the regime and for urgent reform of the hardship payments system to avoid the deliberate imposition of hunger.
In the meantime, they are urging the Government to suspend all sanctions against families with children and those suffering from mental health problems. Most importantly, they say, there needs to be a change of culture, from one of enforcement and punishment to one of assistance and support.
“If you commit a crime, no criminal court in the UK is allowed to make you go hungry as a punishment,” added Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty.
“But if you’re late for an appointment at the Jobcentre, they can remove all your income and leave you unable to feed you or your family for weeks at a time.
“Most people in this country would be shocked if they knew that far from providing a safety net, the benefit sanctions policy is currently making thousands of people destitute.
“This policy must be reviewed urgently.”
The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said:
“The findings of this report are disturbing.
“It exposes a system that is harsh in the extreme, penalising the most vulnerable of claimants by the withdrawal of benefits for weeks at a time.
“Most worryingly, it appears from DWP guidance, quoted in the report, that deprivation and hunger are knowingly being used as a punishment for quite trivial breaches of benefit conditions.
“Employers would not be allowed to stop someone’s wages for a month the first time they were 10 minutes late for an appointment, but this is the kind of sanction that is being imposed on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including those with mental and physical health problems.
“We are concerned that the problem may be even worse in Wales, recognising the higher levels of poverty in this country. No Welsh data, however, is included in the report because despite submitting a Freedom of Information request to the DWP three months ago, we are still waiting for a reply.
“There is supposed to be a 20-day turnaround period for Freedom of Information requests. We are pursuing this.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 02 Mar 2015
Systematic problems in the way the government administers and imposes benefit sanctions, including disproportionate burdens on the most vulnerable, are revealed in a report commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions.
The report found the way in which the DWP communicated with claimants was legalistic, unclear and confusing. The most vulnerable claimants were often left at a loss as to why benefits were stopped and frequently not informed by the DWP about hardship payments to which they were entitled, it said.
It also revealed serious flaws in how sanctions were imposed, with Work Programme providers required to send participants for sanctions when they knew they had done nothing wrong, leaving “claimants … sent from pillar to post”.
> Personal experience – I was sanctioned by the Work Programme for not attending an appointment that didn’t exist – in actual fact the appointment was for the following week, which I did attend. Nevertheless, if I hadn’t appealed it (and won) the sanction would have stood.
The independent report was written for the DWP by Matthew Oakley, a respected welfare expert who is widely acknowledged as one of the leading thinkers on welfare on the centre right and as a result his criticisms, couched in careful language, are all the more damaging for a government that has consistently said the sanction regime is fair.
> This would be the very same Matthew Oakley who last year was pushing the idea of lower wages for regions like the North East. At that time he was talking as head of economics and social policy at the right wing “think tank” Policy Exchange. Just how independent a report he’s likely to produce is open to question.
His main recommendations, which have been accepted by ministers, are:
- All correspondence with claimants, including its style and content, should be reviewed
- Claimants must be given personalised information about why they have been referred
- Clear information must be given about the appeals process and access to hardship payments
- A guide to benefit sanctions must be easily accessible in hard copy and online
- Claimants who need particular help in understanding letters must be identified and spoken to
- People should get information through their “preferred channel“
- Procedures should be reviewed to ensure people have a clear understanding of their responsibilities
The DWP responded to the report by saying it would be updating the way it talked to benefit claimants, setting up a specialist team to look at all communications, including claimant letters, and working more closely with local authorities and advice centres to simplify the system.
Read Matthew Oakley’s full report on the government website here
Source – Benefits & Work, 23 July 2014
Benefit sanctions can lead to a spiral of decline and potentially destitution, often getting in the way of people getting back to work, according to the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee.
In its report Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck?, the committee refers to a climate of fear around jobcentres rather than one that encourages people to engage with them and find their way back to work.
Evidence presented showed that the loss of income that sanctions can lead to is now twice the maximum that can be imposed in fines by the courts.
The report identifies a number of weaknesses in the current system –
- a consistent failure to notify people that they are being sanctioned and why;
- a lack of flexibility and misapplication of sanctions reducing the likelihood of people finding work;
- a failure to appreciate that many people on benefits do not have the necessary IT skills at day one to utilise the DWP’s Universal Jobmatch facility or other IT technology;
- a failure to make those sanctioned aware of the availability of hardship payments;
- the consistent triggering of a stop in housing benefit as a result of a sanction, which should not happen and can lead to significant debt being incurred even for a minor sanction;
- the lack of a deadline for decision-making on DWP reconsiderations leading to delays in redressing wrong decisions; and
- the shunting of the costs of dealing with sanctioned claimants onto other agencies: local authorities, health board, third sector agencies etc.
Noting that four in ten decisions to apply a sanction are overturned, the report calls for a review of the current regime and makes several recommendations for change.
Commenting on the report, Committee Convener Michael McMahon said:
“The system is so broken that many people do not know why they have been sanctioned, which totally undermines the DWP assertion that sanctions ‘teach’ people a lesson.
“How many of us could manage if we did not get paid one week, without any notice or often explanation?
“This demonstrates once again the enormous gulf between reality and DWP thinking.”
Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck? is available from scottish.parliament.uk
Source – Benefits & Work, 12 June 2014
This article was written by Adele Irving and Sheila Spencer, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 11th June 2014
Because there is no requirement to measure single homelessness in England, it is extremely hard to find direct evidence of the impact of reform. But welfare reform is leading to a rise in the number of risk factors for homelessness, and our study found these risks were escalating fast in the north east of England.
There is a shortage of one bedroom flats in many parts of the region, with sharp competition between individuals trying to move on from supported housing, and those faced with having to downsize to avoid the bedroom tax or risk falling into arrears.
We are also seeing a slide into food poverty. Single people without disabilities tend to have much smaller incomes at their disposal. Many are now economising on food in order to pay basic household bills. Use of food banks is growing and some local authorities and housing providers say they are becoming part of a standard response to poverty, rather than a last resort.
Tough benefit sanctions are disproportionately hitting vulnerable young and homeless people. Rent arrears have increased in the region, though some housing providers say they have now begun to stabilise. When sanctioned, claimants often do not understand the complex rules that can protect housing benefit payments and are being plunged into further debt unnecessarily. Increases in money lending are also reported.
There is already additional pressure on advice services. The Citizens Advice Bureau says the number of people asking for help because of council rent arrears is up by more than a third and the number looking for advice about discretionary housing payments (DHPs) – used by government to offset the impact of the bedroom tax – has doubled.
Benefits is now the biggest category for services, and many advice providers are struggling to cope with demand. But, as one agency noted to researchers: “No amount of advice is going to replace the entitlement that has been lost”
Crime levels are increasing. Two north east police forces report an increase in burglaries and shop thefts, and some homeless people are turning to crime instead of applying for hardship payments when sanctioned.
Other emerging effects of welfare reform are deteriorating physical and mental health, worsening relationships with families and increasing numbers of people who are found to have complex needs.
Local authorities and housing providers are putting significant resources into helping affected households, particularly those struggling to pay the bedroom tax.
An Ipsos MORI survey of predicted housing association spend reported an average of £109,000 per household affected by March 2014. The irony is that this expenditure may not have been necessary. One local authority, which in July 2013 had just 54 customers affected by overcrowding (1% of the total on the housing register), commented: “We’ve spent over £4m fixing a problem that never existed.”
There is also growing evidence that the welfare reforms have failed to encourage people into work. A series of reports show that homeless people and young people in the north east want to work, but face significant barriers. Increased conditionality appears to actually be discouraging engagement with government support and removing people from benefit claims altogether, rather than improving their chances of securing employment.
Agencies across the north east have called for action to understand the cost-effectiveness of welfare reform, campaigned against the proposed loss of housing benefit for under-25s and challenged DWP to work more closely with agencies supporting vulnerable homeless people. Wouldn’t government funding be better spent supporting vulnerable people into work and investing in social housing?
Adele Irving is a research fellow at the Centre for Public Policy at Northumbria University. Sheila Spencer is a housing consultant
Source – Welfare News Service, 11 June 2014
David Cameron’s pathetic tirade about poverty this week – during which he accused one of the most senior figures in the Catholic Church of lying about the extent of vicious cuts to social security – was exactly what might be expected from an aloof, out of touch Prime Minister who’s never had to do a real day’s work in his life.
Cameron claims that Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols’ statement that the safety net of the welfare state has disappeared for many people is ‘just not true’. After all, David Cameron doesn’t know any poor people and life in Chipping Norton is simply spiffing. He goes on to say how lucky those unable to find a job are to be…
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Are we now getting to the point where the ConDems realise they’re unlikely to get re-elected next time, so are wrecking as much of society as they can, in the belief that Labour probably won’t rescind half of it anyway ?
Details are emerging (thanks to @refuted) of a horrifying regime planned when Universal Credit is introduced which will see emergency Hardship Payments converted into repayable loans.
These payments will be all that is available to people who have had benefits sanctioned for not meet the draconian and ever-changing conditions for claiming benefits. Claimants can face benefit sanctions for being late to an appointment, missing a meeting or failing to turn up for unpaid workfare placements. In some cases sanctions can last up to three years. Hundreds of thousands of benefit sanctions each year are now inflicted on some of the poorest people in the country by Jobcentres.
Hardship Payments, currently set at just over £40 a week for unemployed…
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