Ask CPAG Online - Avoiding Universal Credit Sanctions

What does this section cover?

This section covers information and tactics relating to avoiding universal credit (UC) 'work preparation' and 'work search' sanctions.

What does it not cover?

This section does not cover the following topics:

  • Avoiding 'high level sanctions' for ceasing work or losing pay voluntarily without a good reason or because of misconduct, or failing to apply for a job or accept a job offer without a good reason. Most of the information in Avoiding high level JSA sanctions is equally applicable to UC.

  • Avoiding 'low' or 'lowest level sanctions' for failing to participate in a work-focussed interview without a good reason. Most of the information in Avoiding work-focussed interview sanctions is equally applicable to UC.

  • Avoiding work programme sanctions. Referrals to the Work Programme ceased on 1/4/17. It is due to be replaced by a Work and Health Programme from the end of 2017. For UC claimants already on the work programme, much of the information in Avoiding JSA work programme sanctions is relevant, but there is Work Programme Provider Guidance specifically for UC claimants.

  • Avoiding a sanction if you already working (see Chapter 47(3) of the Handbook for details of 'in-work conditionality' which is currently being trialled.

How can you avoid a work preparation sanction?

'Work preparation' is specified activity which you are required to undertake which makes it more likely that you will obtain paid work, or more or better paid work. It could include going on training courses, drawing up a CV, undertaking work experince and taking part in a work-focussed health assessment. It applies to you if you have 'limited capablity for work' or you are the responsible carer for a child aged 2. See Chapter 47 of the Handbook for more details.

Your work preparation requirements are drawn up following consultations with your DWP 'work coach'. The DWP has operational guidance for work coaches which you access here. It includes specific information on how work preparation requirements should be set.

If you fail to meet a work preparation requirement without a good reason, the sanction is normally the loss of your UC standard allowance until you meet a 'compliance condition', plus a further fixed period of 7, 14 or 28 days (see Chapter 48(2) of the Handbook for details).

The following points may help you to avoid a sanction:

  • Ensure your 'claimant committment' takes full account of your circumstances and difficulties (see Chapter 47(1) of the Handbook. The claimant committment is normally drawn up after an initial interview with your DWP 'work coach' after you claim UC. Accepting a claimant committment is a condition of entitlement to UC. If your circumstances change, or you think the record of your committments is or becomes unreasonable, you can ask for it to be reviewed.

  • Check whether a work preparation requirement can apply to you. In particular, check whether you are, or could become, exempt from work-related requirements because, for example, you have 'limited capablity for work-related activity', are caring for a severely disabled person or a child under one, or are a recent victim of domestic violence. See Chapter 47(3) of the Handbook for details.

  • Get full details of what you are required to do, so there are no misunderstandings. DWP operational guidance states that you must be told what are you required to do, when, and what you must do if you fail to meet the requirement, including any alternative activity you can do to comply. 

  • If you feel what what you are asked to do is unreasonable, tell your DWP 'work coach' why. The legal purpose of a work preparation requirement is to make it more likely that you will obtain paid work or more paid work (section 16 Welfare Reform Act 2012), and you may be able to argue that what you are being asked to do will not serve this purpose. Be ready to fully explain your reasons and difficulties. If you can get any supporting evidence (e.g. from your doctor, social worker, support worker), do so and show it to your work coach. You can make your representations in a meeting or telephone call with your work coach, or in your online 'journal' if you live in a UC 'full service area'. If you feel that your work coach is ignoring or unreasonably dismissing your concerns, you could complain (see Chapter 58 of the Handbook). 

  • If you have complex needs or require extra support (e.g. because of a mental health condition), you should ensure that your work coach is aware of this (supporting evidence is always helpful). The DWP has some 'safeguarding guidance' which may apply, although it appears to be less stringent than applies to other benefits. Greenwich Welfare Rights Service has produced a summary of the guidance (with relevant links), which is attached in the right hand pane.

  • Keep full records of your activities. If you live in a UC full service area, you can do this via your online claimant account (there is a 'To Do' list). 

  • If you fail to meet a work preparation requirement 'without a good reason' you may be sanctioned. You should be asked what your reason for non-compliance was before you are issued with a sanction. It is clearly important that you give your reasons with as much detail and supporting evidence and as soon as possible. There is no legal definition of what constitutes a 'good reason', but it can clearly include factors relating to your health and other personal circumstances.  There is further information about 'good reason' in Chapter 48(4) of the Handbook.  There is also extensive guidance to UC decision makers which may be helpful to your case.

  • If you are threatened with or given a sanction, it is also important that you are given details of the 'compliance condition' i.e. what you must do to end the failure or the sanction (see Chapter 48(2) of the Handbook). This will enable you to end the sanction as soon as possible. 

How can you avoid a work search sanction?

'Work search' is all reasonable action and any particular action you are required to undertake to obtain paid work, or more or better paid work. You can be required to spend up to 35 hours per week looking for work within 90 minutes travelling time from your home. See Chapter 47 of the Handbook for more details.

Your work search requirements are drawn up following consultations with your DWP 'work coach'. The DWP has operational guidance for work coaches which you access here. It includes specific information on how work search  requirements should be set.

If you fail to apply for or accept a particular job without a good reason, the sanction is normally the loss of your UC standard allowance for 3 months, 6 months or 3 years. If you fail to take all reasonable action to get paid work without a good reason, the sanction is normally the loss of your UC standard allowance for 28 or 91 days. See Chapter 48(2) of the Handbook for full details.   

The following points may help you avoid a sanction:

  • Ensure your 'claimant committment' takes full account of your circumstances and difficulties (see Chapter 47(1) of the Handbook). This should include any restrictions you have been allowed to place on your work search (see below). The claimant committment is normally drawn up after an initial interview with your DWP 'work coach' after you claim UC. Accepting a claimant committment is a condition of entitlement to UC. If your circumstances change, or you think the record of your committments is or becomes unreasonable, you can ask for it to be reviewed.

  • Check whether a work search requirement can apply to you. In particular, check whether you are, or could become, exempt from work search because, for example, you have 'limited capablity for work' (but note that this does not apply while you are waiting to be assessed), or are caring for a severely disabled person or a child aged under three. Check also whether you are exempt for a period because, for example, you are unfit for work (see below), have recently suffered a bereavement or domestic violence or other specific temporary circumstances apply. See Chapter 47(3) of the Handbook for details.
  • You may be allowed a 'permitted period' of up to 3 months during which you can restrict your work search to the type of work you were previously doing for similar pay (see Chapter 47(2) of the Handbook). 

  • If you are temporarily unfit for work, you should inform your work search and provide a 'fit note' from the GP after 7 days. You can be exempt from work search for two 14 day periods in a year, and longer if reasonable (see Chapter 47(2) of the Handbook).

  • If you have caring responsibilities for children or a disabled person, you may be able to restrict your hours of work search.  The same applies if you have a 'physical or mental impairment'. See Chapter 47(2) of the Handbook for details. You also cannot be required to carry out work of a particular type or in a particular place if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantailly affects your ability to carry out such work. Note also that you can do fewer than your expected number of hours if the DWP is satisfied that you have taken all reasonable action for the purpose of obtaining paid work. Work coaches should carry out a full diagnosis of your capacity and circumstances in accordance with operational guidance.

  • It is important to keep full records of your work search activity (see Chapter 47(2) of the Handbook for guidance on how to prove you are searching for work.

  • If you feel what what you are asked to do is unreasonable, whether it is ongoing activity or applying for a particular job, tell your DWP 'work coach' why. If you fail to meet a work search requirement  without a 'good reason', you may be sanctioned. You should be asked what your reason for non-compliance was before you are issued with a sanction. It is clearly important that you give your reasons with as much detail and supporting evidence and as soon as possible. There is no legal definition of what constitutes a 'good reason', but it can clearly include factors relating to your health and other personal circumstances.  There is further information about 'good reason' in Chapter 48(4) of the Handbook.  There is also extensive guidance to UC decision makers which may be helpful to your case.