Tagged: unlawful Jobseeker Agreements

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.

Advertisements