A number of people, some of them professionally involved in Welfare advice, have recommended, very highly, the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty’s guide published this August. .
Here is the main text on what claimants should do faced with this threat.
- When signing on always give the Jobcentre as much info as possible about your jobsearch.
- If you have health issues ask to be seen regularly by a Disability Employment Adviser. Your health should be taken into account when decisions are being made about what your jobsearch.
- Ask for everything in writing, where possible. If the Jobcentre or the Workfare Provider (A4e, Ingeus, etc) say something is mandatory, ask them to write which law/ regulation states this.
- If something is agreed by phone, or verbally, write or e mail to ask them to confirm it.
- Ensure your Job Seekers Agreement is realistic. If the Jobcentre proposes changes you do not agree to, then you can ask for the issue to be referred to a decisionmaker, and meanwhile the original agreement stands. If your current agreement is unreasonable, you can ask for it to be reviewed.
- Be accompanied to any tricky appointments by a friend or advisor. This is your right.
SANCTIONS – WHAT HAPPENS
The process for imposing sanctions is
1) The Jobcentre or a workfare provider (eg A4e ) makes a SANCTION REFERRAL.
2) Then a DWP decision-maker, generally in a different decisionmakers section, in a different location, makes the decision about whether or not a sanction is to be imposed.
Sometimes, especially if the sanction referral is made by the Jobcentre for allegedly not doing enough to actively seek work, your benefit is suspended immediately.
The decisionmaker should write to you to give you the chance to put your case before he/ she makes their decision. When they do make their decision, they should send you a decision letter. It seems that often they do not do this. If they don’t send both these letters, this is something you can use in your appeal and in an official complaint.
SANCTIONED/ BENEFIT SUSPENDED/ SANCTION REFERRAL?
WHAT YOU CAN DO
It’s vital to contest the sanction – over half of appeals succeed.
WRITE TO ARGUE AGAINST A SANCTION
- You should submit full information, in writing, as soon as possible to the decisionmaker, to argue against a sanction. Act right away. Whether it is a sanction referral, or an actual sanction, whether your benefit is suspended or not, put forward your case in writing as soon as you can.
- If the sanction referral is for allegedly not doing enough to look for work then write to the Decisionmaker with as much info as possible about your jobsearch, including ALL the steps you have taken. This can include phone calls and emails to employers, looking in newspapers, at websites, asking friends and family etc, as well as actual job applications. Where possible provide evidence.
- Do not rely on the Jobcentre forwarding all the information they hold about your jobseeking to the decisionmaker. We have supported claimants in cases where the Jobcentre has withheld information about jobseeking activity from the Decisionmaker and from the Tribunal, thus making it appear the Jobseeker had done much less job search activity than they actually had.
- If your sanction is for missing or being late for an appointment you need to show you had “good cause” or “good reason” for this. A domestic emergency, illness, a funeral and other reasons could constitute good cause. More info on this below.
INSIST ON A MEETING WITH A MANAGER
As soon as you know a sanction referral has been made, then insist on a meeting with a Jobcentre manager to explain why the sanction referral should be withdrawn (if the referral is done by a workfare provider like A4e then seek an appointment with a manager at the provider). We have succeeded in stopping several sanctions this way.
The Jobcentre in particular is likely to resist a meeting but this is your right. If you and a rep go to the Jobcentre, insist on a date for an appointment with a manager, and won’t leave until you get a time and date for a meeting, then it won’t be easy for them to refuse. If many claimants insist on a meeting with a manager when sanctioned, it will help make the mass imposition of sanctions unworkable. If refused an appointment, make an official complaint, copying it to your MP and seeking their support.
MAKE AN OFFICIAL COMPLAINT
If the sanction referral is clearly unjustified, make an official complaint to the Jobcentre manager. Copy the complaint to your MP and insist he/ she supports you. If you do not get the proper response, you can escalate the complaint to the DWP District Office and then to the DWP Chief Executive’s Office in London.
ADVISER PROBLEMS? GET A NEW ONE
If your adviser has treated you badly, then as well as making a complaint, you can request a different adviser. This is your right, whether at the Jobcentre or at a Workfare provider like A4e or Ingeus We have supported many claimants to successfully do this.
As soon your benefits have been stopped/ suspended, or as soon as your sanction is confirmed, claim Hardship Payments from the Jobcentre. Do not delay as it will be difficult to get them backdated. More info from Refuted here.
KEEP YOUR HOUSING BENEFIT AND COUNCIL TAX BENEFIT
Tell Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (CTB) to make sure that both these benefits continue as normal while you are sanctioned (In Edinburgh, contact City of Edinburgh Council Revenues and Benefits). While sanctioned you are entitled to the same Housing Benefit and CTB as before, but you MUST tell the Council of your changed circumstances or these benefits will automatically stop.
WRITTEN STATEMENT OF REASONS
If the sanction is confirmed, write to ask for a written statement of reasons for the decision. This will help in focusing your arguments against the sanction when you request a Mandatory Reconsideration.
The government has changed the rules about appeals, to make things worse for claimants. Now you cannot just make an appeal, you have first to apply to the DWP for Mandatory Reconsideration of the decision. You should send a letter with a detailed written argument why the sanction is not justified. As before, if the issue is allegedly not doing enough to seek work, write with details of EVERY SINGLE STEP you took in the relevant period to look for work. Best to get advice, we can help.
There is no set time for the DWP to take for this, but if you have not heard after three weeks then chase them up. They may phone you up about the Mandatory Reconsideration, but it is important to put your full case in writing.
Here is the link to the official government site which explains the process of Mandatory Reconsideration for benefits such as Job Seekers Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (the rules are different for some other benefits).
AUTHORITIES STILL NOT LISTENING? CONSIDER A SOLIDARITY DEMO
If the Jobcentre or provider are still not listening to you about the sanction, then you could consider a protest at the Jobcentre or provider’s premises. Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty have a solidarity network of people like yourself we can call on to give backing to people who need support against the authorities. If you would like to consider this, we can discuss it with you, and it will be up to you to decide the form of the protest, so it is something you are happy with.
We have held solidarity demos in support of individuals, over various issues over the years, and the vast majority have been successful.
CARRY ON CLAIMING
Do not be intimidated into giving up your claim, this is what they want. Continue signing on, even if your benefit is suspended – if you win you will get the money back, but if you stop signing on, you won’t be able to get backdated money.
APPEAL TO AN INDEPENDENT TRIBUNAL
If the mandatory reconsideration does not restore your benefit, then appeal to an independent social security tribunal. Best to seek advice and support.
SANCTIONS FOR CLAIMANTS ON SICKNESS BENEFITS
Disgustingly, even claimants too ill or disabled to work can be sanctioned if they are in the Work Related Activity Group of the Employment and Support Alllowance.
If you are in this situation and forced onto the Work Programme, then protect yourself by submitting medical evidence to the Workfare Provider (eg Ingeus) that shows you are too ill to attend office appointments. We have supported claimants at Ingeus on the Work Programme to gain the right to have contact by phone calls rather than appointments.
If you are sanctioned, or a sanction referral is made, then the advice in this leaflet applies, plus do get medical evidence to back up your case, eg to say you were too ill to make an appointment.
Remember to take someone with you to any appointments.
If they refuse to take your illness into account you can sue the DWP and workfare provider for disability discrimination.
As well as claiming Hardship Payments you may be able to get a grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund, run by local councils, in Edinburgh contact 0131 529 5299. And click here for more info.
Investigate Food banks, you usually need a referral. Ask us for more info on sources of free food.
When submitting any info to the DWP it is vital to either post it SIGNED FOR or hand-deliver and get a receipt.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
The unprecedented wave of sanctions is part of the government’s war on the poor. The rich are trying to get us to pay for the crisis caused by their greed and the chaos of the global profit system. We need to fight back. We need to resist all benefit cuts, and link up with all struggles resisting austerity.
It’s no good relying on politicians or political parties, they are part of the problem. We need to organise at the grass-roots and take direct action. Ultimately we need to challenge capitalism – this system is based on the legalised robbery of the majority by the ruling class. Why shouldn’t the world’s resources belong to the world’s people and be used to meet human need?
We are keen to organise more action against sanctions, like our demonstration at Leith Job Centre. Opposition to sanctions is growing, as we write in summer 2014 demonstrations are being organised against sanctions in Clydebank, Dundee and Glasgow. Get in touch if you would like to join with us to fight back against sanctions.
As said, highly recommended.