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Benefit sanctions and what to do about them

What is a benefit sanction?

Some benefits can be stopped or reduced if you don’t do the things you agreed to do in your claimant commitment, or miss appointments or meetings. This is called a benefit sanction.

Which benefits can be sanctioned?

These include:

  • Employment and Support Allowance (and you’re in the work-related activity group)
  • Income Support
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Universal Credit.

Why are benefits sanctioned?

If you’re claiming the benefits listed above, you’ll have signed a document called a claimant commitment.

This sets out all your responsibilities, and what the sanctions will be if you don’t meet them.

If you don’t have a claimant commitment, your responsibilities will be in your Jobseeker’s agreement, action plan or appointment letter.

Benefits are most often sanctioned if:

  • you’re not doing enough to look for work
  • you’re late for appointments or interviews
  • you don’t turn up to a meeting at the Jobcentre
  • you don’t take part in an employment or training scheme.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

Make sure you’re not sanctioned because you miss a phone call from the DWP. They used to call from a withheld number. But now it's shown on incoming calls as 0800 023 2635.

It’s worth saving 0800 023 2635 to your phone’s address book, so you remember to answer the call.

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How benefit sanctions affect Housing Benefit and Council Tax reduction

Are you already getting Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction (or rates in Northern Ireland)? Then you’re still entitled to get them if your benefits are sanctioned.

However, your Jobcentre will contact your local council. The council will then usually stop these benefits until you’ve confirmed your new income.

It’s important to contact the ‘Revenues and Benefits’ department at your council as soon as you can. Explain that your benefits have been sanctioned, and give them proof of your new income (or proof of no income). This means they can restart your claim.

Doing nothing might mean you end up with rent and Council Tax (or rates in Northern Ireland) arrears.

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How to manage while your benefits are sanctioned

First, work out how much of your income will be cut. Second, make a list of the remaining money you have coming in.

Then list all your outgoings. How much money do you need to pay for the basics?

Is there any way of cutting you’re spending? Are there any bills you think you might be able to get a better deal on that could save you money now and in the longer term?

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It’s important to try to keep up with essential payments. These include:

  • any money you have to pay towards your Council Tax (or rates in Northern Ireland)
  • your rent – if you’re responsible for paying it directly to your landlord
  • your mortgage, gas and electricity bills.
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If you fall behind with payments

Are you worried you’ll fall behind with essential payments while your benefits are sanctioned? Then it’s important to talk to your landlord/mortgage lender and energy supplier. Do this as soon as you can – and work out a way to get back on track.

They’ll be able to suggest ways to help you if they know there’s a problem.

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If you’re worried about losing your home:

You can also contact Citizens Advice:

Hardship payments

A hardship payment is a reduced amount of benefit. You can apply for this from the Jobcentre if your Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) has been reduced or stopped because of a sanction.

To qualify for a hardship payment:

  • you must be unable to pay for essentials, and
  • Your JSA or ESA personal allowance, or your Universal Credit standard allowance, has been cut.

You can’t apply for a hardship payment if your Income Support has been cut.

You must be able to prove you’re likely to suffer hardship or you're vulnerable.

You’re in a vulnerable group if, for example:

  • you or your partner are pregnant
  •  you’re caring for a severely disabled person
  • you’re responsible for any dependent children
  • you or your partner are aged 16 or 17 and are in hardship
  • you or your partner have a chronic health condition or disability.

To qualify for a hardship payment, you must now be following the rules for getting your benefit.

How much is a hardship payment?

It normally pays 60% of your usual benefit payment.

If you or your partner are pregnant or seriously ill, you might be able to get 80% of your usual benefit payment.

How to apply for a hardship payment

To apply for a hardship payment, ask your Work Coach at the Jobcentre – they’ll help you fill out form JSA/ESA 10JP.

They should give you an appointment to do this on the same day or the next day. And you should get a decision at the end of the interview.

If you qualify for a hardship payment, the money should be paid into your bank account immediately, or on the date your next benefit payment is due.

Or, call the DWP contact centre on 0345 608 8545 who will set up an appointment for later in the day or the next day at your local Jobcentre.

You’ll need to arrive ten minutes early so you can fill in the form.

Paying back a hardship payment

If you’re getting Employment and Support Allowance or Jobseeker’s Allowance, you don’t have to pay back a hardship payment.

However, this rule might change so it’s always best to check before you apply.

If you’re getting Universal Credit, you’ll have to pay back the hardship payment when the sanction ends.

DWP will usually take repayments from your Universal Credit payment each month until it’s paid off.

Make sure you ask for repayments to be set at a rate you can afford, to avoid getting into debt.

Apply to your local welfare scheme

If you need help with essential costs, such as heating or food bills – you could apply to your local welfare scheme.

How to find your local food bank

If you’re struggling to buy food, there might be a local food bank you can use.

Some food banks also give out fuel vouchers you can use to top up pre-pay meters.

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How to appeal against a benefit sanction

You can ask your local Jobcentre Plus (which is part of the DWP) to look again at their decision to sanction your benefits if you think:

  • they were wrong to sanction your benefits
  • they’ve given you the wrong level of sanction
  • they’ve deducted the wrong amount from your benefit
  • they’ve reduced your benefit for the wrong length of time.

This is called a mandatory reconsideration. You must do this before you can make a formal appeal.

You need to ask for this within one month of the date on your decision letter by:

  • phone, using the number on the decision letter, or
  • post, by completing the CRMR1 form.

Explain why you think their decision is wrong, and send copies of any more evidence you’ve got if you think it will help your case.

When the Jobcentre Plus has looked at your decision again, they’ll send you two copies of a document called a mandatory reconsideration notice. This will let you know the result of the reconsideration.

If they refuse to change their decision, you can then appeal against it.

If you’re appealing against a benefits sanction, it’s a good idea to get some help from an expert. For example, through Citizens Advice or your local Law Centre:

Download the CRMR1 form and notes about how to disagree with a decision on the GOV.UK website

How to appeal a mandatory reconsideration

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You can only appeal against a benefits decision when you’ve received a mandatory reconsideration notice.

To appeal, you need to send the following to HM Courts & Tribunals Service (the address is on the form):

  • A copy of the mandatory reconsideration notice.
  • Form SSCI, which you can download from the GOV.UK website
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How to avoid sanctions

The best way to avoid sanctions is to do all the things set out in your claimant commitment or agreement.

Here’s a checklist to help you:

  • Make sure you understand all your responsibilities.
  • Ask your Work Coach or Jobcentre Adviser to explain anything that’s unclear.
  • Let the Jobcentre know as soon as possible if there’s anything in your agreement you can’t do, and explain your reasons.
  • Keep track of all the dates when you have to go to the Jobcentre, and any other meetings you have to go to.
  • Keep a record all your activities relating to your benefit requirements. For example, make a note of the time you spend looking for work and any jobs you apply for.
  • Keep a copy of anything the Jobcentre gives or sends you.
  • If you can’t attend a meeting or interview, or know you’re going to be late, make sure you give as much notice as possible.
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impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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Looking for us? Now, we’re MoneyHelper

MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free,
impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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