I have today provided the Government’s response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee report on benefit sanctions.
I am very grateful for the Committee's work which has set out many helpful recommendations.
We have been building a labour market system in which each claimant, closely assisted by a work coach, agrees the steps they need to take to secure a job, receives support to help them do so, and understands the requirements placed on them in return for their benefits. Last week’s labour market statistics showed the UK’s employment rate had reached 73.6%, the highest since records began; evidence that the system is working.
Accepted by Labour, Coalition and Conservative Governments, sanctions are a necessary part of that system and we keep them under regular review, making improvements where necessary. In response to the Select Committee I am announcing that we will be introducing a number of changes.
Prompted by the yellow card approach recommended by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, we will trial from early next year a system of warning before a sanction is imposed. At present people are notified of a sanction and it is imposed immediately afterwards. In some cases, claimants go on to challenge the decision and the sanction may be overturned. We will trial arrangements whereby claimants are given a warning of our intention to sanction and a 14 day period to provide evidence of good reason before the decision to sanction is made. During this time, claimants will have another opportunity to provide further evidence to explain their non-compliance. We will then review this information before deciding whether a sanction remains appropriate. We expect that this will strike the right balance between enforcing the claimant commitment and fairness.
We will reintroduce automated JSA sanctions notifications. In 2001 under the last Labour Government, the process for issuing notifications was changed, replacing automated letters with arrangements whereby staff had to manually trigger a notification. Recent analysis assessed historic compliance with these arrangements when notifying of decisions of JSA sanctions as above 93%. The Department has introduced new checks to move compliance towards 100%, and will revert to the arrangements before 2001 of issuing letters automatically. The Department will write to claimants it has identified who may not have had a decision letter to explain the position. Further information for anyone who may have been affected will be available on gov.uk.
We will consider extending the definition of “at risk” groups we use for hardship purposes to include those with mental health conditions and those who are homeless. This will mean that they can seek access to hardship from day 1 of a sanction being applied. We have recently accelerated the process for considering hardship claims so they are now paid within three days. Subject to further work on feasibility we will accept the Committee’s recommendation to have a decision maker set up an appointment to discuss hardship where a claimant is either vulnerable or has dependent children, a step which would help decisions to be made even more quickly.
The Government sees sanctions as playing an important part in the labour market system, encouraging people to comply with conditions which will help them move into work. We want the sanctions system to be clear, fair and effective in promoting positive behaviours and we will continue to keep it under review so that it meets those aims.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords