Ask CPAG Online - Benefit Sanctions

What is a benefit sanction?

A benefit sanction is a reduction for a specified period of the amount of benefit payable to a claimant who has failed to meet specified requirements to prepare and look for work, or has committed a benefit related criminal offence. The rules about sanctions are covered in detail in Chapter 48 of the CPAG Handbook.

Which benefits can be sanctioned?

The most commonly sanctioned benefit is jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) for failures relating to work-related requirements. Sanctions can also apply to employment and support allowance (ESA), incapacity benefit (IB), income support (IS) and universal credit (UC) for work-related failures. A wider range of benefits can be sanctioned for benefit offences.

When do sanctions apply?

The most common type of JSA sanction is the removal of entitlement where the DWP has decided that a claimant has failed to ‘actively seek work’ or comply with a requirement to participate in a ‘Work Programme’ scheme. JSA can also be sanctioned for a failure without good reason to attend an interview at tthe Jobcentre, or apply for or accept employment, or where a claimant has left a job voluntarily or due to misconduct. ESA, IB and IS can be sanctioned where a claimant fails to take part in a ‘work-focussed interview’ without good cause, or fails to undertake required ‘work-related activity’ (ESA and IS only). UC can also be sanctioned for a wide range of work-related failures. Sanctions for benefit offences apply where a claimant is convicted or has paid a penalty following a benefit offence.

How much is a sanction?

The amount by which benefit is reduced depends on which benefit and type of sanction is involved. JSA is removed altogether (unless only one of a ‘joint-claim’ couple has been sanctioned, or the claimant is aged 16 or 17). ESA is reduced by the amount of the personal allowance for a single person (currently £73.10 per week). IS and IB are reduced by lesser amounts and UC sanctions involve the loss of the standard allowance.

How long does a sanction last?

The length of a sanction depends on the type of sanction and whether it is for a first or repeat failure. Most JSA sanctions are for four or 13 weeks, with a maximum sanction period of 3 years in the case of repeat offences. ESA and IS sanctions for failing to take part in an interview or undertake work-related activity are open ended until the requirement no longer applies. UC sanctions range from 28 days to 3 years, or in some cases until a 'compliance condition' is met.

What issues and problems commonly arise?

There has been a signficant increase in the number of benefit sanction decisions since new tougher rules were introduced in 2012. More and more claimants are experiencing hardship, debt and in some cases, destitution, due to sanctions.

By clicking on the links below, you can access detailed information and practical advice on common problem areas: