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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Interview with a sanctioned benefit claimant (Friday 20 December 2013)

I’ve been interviewing people who have had their benefit sanctioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
First a few facts.
Between October 2012 and June 2013 the DWP:
·      Imposed 860,000 sanctions against unemployed people;
·      Sanctioned more people on its flagship Work Programme than it got in to work (307,000 to 161,860);
However, it’s not all bad news:
·      Fifty per cent of sanctions that claimants insisted be 'reconsidered' were subsequently overturned by the DWP's own appeals system after being imposed wrongly;
·      The proportion of sanctions overturned by independent tribunals has gone up to 42.2 per cent.
Leslie Ashley, 27, lives between London and Brighton and was sanctioned shortly before Christmas 2012. As a consequence of his Employment Support Allowance (ESA) being cut, his housing benefit was cut as well (It’s commonplace for DWP officials to fail to inform claimants that the sanction will affect their housing benefit).
In and out of zero-hours contract work as a chef, Leslie was sanctioned after he didn’t receive a letter from his Work Programme provider A4E and, as a result, missed an appointment. After six weeks fighting, and on the breadline with no money, he finally overturned the sanction, got his housing benefit restored and had his rent arrears cleared.
The sanction had been applied unlawfully and, though clearly not his fault, Ashley was warned 'not to do it again.'
Claimants who contest a DWP sanction have a reasonable expectation of getting it overturned, around half are subsequently wiped by the DWP. A higher proportion still are overturned at Independent Tribunal.

A full recording of my interview with Ashley is here…

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