Ask CPAG Online - On what grounds can a ‘work-focussed interview’ sanction be challenged?

You can be required to attend a 'work-focussed interview' (WFI) with a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) 'work coach' or Work Programme personal adviser to discuss your job prospects and barriers to work if you or your partner are claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), incapacity benefit (IB), income support (IS) on the basis of incapacity or being a lone parent, or your partner is getting income-based jobseeker's allowance (JSA). The rules are set out in Chapter 46(1) of the CPAG Handbook. 

If you are claiming JSA, you are normally required to attend regular interviews with an employment officer ('work coach') at the Jobcentre in order to 'sign on' and / or to show that you are available for and actively seeking work. These are not technically 'work focussed interviews', but the rules and issues which arise are similar to WFIs, so for the purposes of this section, these are also referred to as WFIs. The rules are set out in Chapter 45(5) of the CPAG Handbook.

You can be sanctioned for failing to take part in an interview. The rules are set out in Chapter 48 of the CPAG Handbook.

If you claim JSA, the sanction is four weeks loss of JSA (13 weeks for a subsequent sanction within 52 weeks) for failure to ‘participate’ in an interview ‘without a good reason’. The rules are complex, but normally apply where you are late for an interview following a previous failure, or you fail to establish good cause within five days of a failure to participate on a notified date. In some circumstances, entitlement to JSA can cease altogether. 

If you claim ESA, the sanction for failing to take part in a WFI without ‘good cause’ is the loss of your personal allowance until you do take part or are no longer required to take part in an interview, plus a further fixed period of one week (or two or four weeks if this is repeat offence within a year).

If you are claiming IS or IB, the sanction for failing to take part in a WFI without showing ‘good cause within 5 working days (this can be extended up to one month) is the loss of a fixed percentage of benefit until you do take part, or you are no longer required to take part, in an interview.

It may be possible to challenge a sanction on the following grounds:

1. NO REQUIREMENT TO TAKE PART

It is always worth checking whether you are legally required to take part in a WFI or are exempt, for example because you are in the ESA support group, or you are responsible for a child under 1. See Chapters 45(5) and 47(1) of the CPAG Handbook for the rules on who is required to attend interviews and when.

2. NOTIFICATION FAILURES

You must be properly notified of the requirement to participate in a JSA interview. Notification can be in writing, by telephone or electronically. The law generally assumes that a notification has been received if it has been properly sent, so you will need to put forward good reasons why this assumption should not apply where you are arguing that a notification was not received (e.g. continuing problems with a postal address). If you can establish non-receipt, you cannot have failed to participate in an interview (see R(JSA) 1/04).

ESA claimants must be notified ‘in writing or otherwise’ of the requirement to take part in a WFI, including details of the time, date and place. Similar rules apply to IS and IB. There can be no failure if there was no notification, but establishing this is often difficult, particularly where the DWP can show the notification was sent or given. The matter must be decided on the balance of probabilities taking into account all the evidence.

3. NO FAILURE TO PARTICIPATE OR TAKE PART

If you are claiming JSA, there is no definition of what constitutes ‘participation’ in an interview, but mere attendance is now insufficient (the rules also enable interviews to be conducted by telephone). There is a requirement to actively take part in the interview e.g. by answering questions and providing requested information. 

If you are claiming ESA, ‘taking part’ in a WFI means attending it, or being available for a telephone interview at the date and time notified, providing information about qualifications, work history, skills, caring responsibilities and work aspirations and participating in work-related discussions. The rules are set out in Chapter 46(2) of the CPAG Handbook. 

Whether you have ‘participated’ or ‘taken part’ in a WFI depends on all the facts and evidence in each individual case.

4. GOOD REASON OR GOOD CAUSE FOR FAILURE

There is no definition of a ‘good reason’ (for JSA), or ‘good cause’ (for ESA) for failing to participate or take part in a WFI.. See guidance on what is 'good reason' under the section On what grounds can a JSA 'Work Programme' sanction be challenged?. See guidance on what is 'good cause' under the section On what grounds can a 'work-related activity' sanction be challenged?.