New two-tier UC and JSA #BenefitSanctions policy introduced, as only some claimants will be subject to sanctions, depending upon where they live in the UK

Today the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has provided more details (report paper 24) of the DWP’s and DfC’s Benefit Sanctions policy under the coronavirus crisis. The SSAC report confirms some policies outlined in previously published DWP documents, but gives more details of internal processes used by Jobcentres and Work ‘Coaches’, some extracts are shown below and are the subject of FOI requests.

If understood correctly , the SSAC report implies likes of Universal Credit (UC) claimants in Northern Ireland will not be subject to Benefit Sanctions, but UC claimants in England, Scotland and Wales will be once a new or revised Claimant Commitment is in place.

Therefore DWP and DfC appear to have created inconsistent two-tier Benefit Sanctions regimes that are significantly different, specifically “For new claims made from 8 July 2020, DfC [Northern Ireland] will instigate “light-touch” discussions without the threat or potential of a sanction” and “From 1 July 2020 DWP [England, Scotland and Wales] began to reintroduce new and updated claimdant commitments for UC, on a phased approach as capacity allowed, and have told us that only once a claimant’s new or updated claimant commitment is in place can claimants receive a sanction for failure to meet the commitment without good cause.” The “DWP has a developed a Discretion Framework that is available to DWP staff. While an internal discretion framework can help guide consistency on how conditionality might be eased”. The SSAC report goes on to say:

“The approach by DfC is that the reintroduced work search conversations and the claimant commitment for new Universal Credit claimants will involve a light-touch discussion that will seek to support and help those new to Universal Credit, and that it will not involve the threat or potential of a sanction for non-compliance.

In the interim, it is unclear what the elements of pre-pandemic claimant commitments DWP and DfC regard as reasonable for claimants to follow or not follow, and at what point claimants will be failing to meet their commitments and therefore be liable for sanctions”

The report then makes a recommendation that seem muddled or may just reflect how inconsistent the DfC and DWP Claimant Commitment/Conditonality/Sanctions policy approaches are.

Recommendation 3:

DWP and DfC should communicate clearly with those whose pre-lockdown claimant commitments have not yet been updated to identify what it is reasonable to expect them to do under their existing claimant commitment. DWP and DfC should also ensure that there is consistent treatment with those who have updated claimant commitments so that no sanctions are applied for something that would not be sanctionable under an updated claimant commitment.

It remains unclear what status the DWP statement below has:

“During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak,
you will not get a sanction if you cannot keep
to your Claimant Commitment
See ”No Claimant Commitment #BenefitSanctions the during Covid19 outbreak? + All Universal Credit guidance published (179 docs)” for more background on this quote.

Work coaches should not take any action if the claimant has not met all
their work related [Claimant Commitment] requirements, but can show a reasonable level of activity

Source: DWP ‘Spotlight on: Fortnightly work search reviews‘ – disclosed 29 September 2020

Independent report: A review of the COVID-19 temporary measures:
occasional paper 24
Published 18 November 2020
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-review-of-the-covid-19-temporary-measures/a-review-of-the-covid-19-temporary-measures-occasional-paper-24

Extracts: “Our review of these measures and the potential challenges of unwinding them covers 6 themes:

  1. Conditionality and the unwinding of the easements

DWP and DfC reinstated these conditionality measures, stating that:

“The reintroduction of the claimant commitment represents a return to business as usual, not a policy change”[footnote 13]

“Claimant commitment requirements will be reasonable taking into account current circumstances”[footnote 14]

DWP has told us that Work Coaches will work to ensure that commitments made by claimants are reasonable and allow them to adhere to continuing local and national public health advice in regards to COVID-19, while also doing what they can to engage with the labour market.

From 1 July 2020 DWP began to reintroduce new and updated claimant commitments for UC, on a phased approach as capacity allowed, and have told us that only once a claimant’s new or updated claimant commitment is in place can claimants receive a sanction for failure to meet the commitment without good cause.

For new claims made from 8 July 2020, DfC will instigate “light-touch” discussions without the threat or potential of a sanction, in recognition of the challenging circumstances people still find themselves in.

Assurances of reasonableness in taking account of current circumstances are welcome, as is the Department’s expectation that its Jobcentre managers and Work Coaches will work with claimants appropriately.

DWP’s commitment that conditionality and sanctions policies will continue to be tailored in light of the ongoing public health situation…

“DWP has a developed a Discretion Framework that is available to DWP staff. While an internal discretion framework can help guide consistency on how conditionality might be eased…

Reviewing commitments for other claimants

For other claimants, the commitment agreed pre-lockdown may not be suitable under current circumstances. While new claimant commitments are being prioritised, it will take time to revise those claimant commitments that were developed pre-pandemic. DWP and DfC have both said they will review and update these claimant commitments as capacity allows.

As DWP has told us, in some cases it may take some time until claimants have a revised claimant commitment, but that there is an expectation that claimants will do everything they can reasonably do to prepare and look for work before then. On this basis, DWP has said that once their new or updated claimant commitment is in place, and work-related requirements agreed and accepted, claimants can again receive a sanction if they fail to meet those requirements without good reason.

The approach by DfC is that the reintroduced work search conversations and the claimant commitment for new Universal Credit claimants will involve a light-touch discussion that will seek to support and help those new to Universal Credit, and that it will not involve the threat or potential of a sanction for non-compliance.

In the interim, it is unclear what the elements of pre-pandemic claimant commitments DWP and DfC regard as reasonable for claimants to follow or not follow, and at what point claimants will be failing to meet their commitments and therefore be liable for sanctions.

Footnotes

  1. UK Parliament, Social Security Benefits: Disqualification: Written question – 66869
    https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2020-06-30/66869
  2. UK Parliament, Social Security Benefits: Written question – 70412
    https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2020-07-07/70412

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