Providers of the government’s work programme have been required to bring in sanctions when they know the claimants had done nothing wrong.
The government is to overhaul the way it treats benefit recipients threatened by sanctions, after an independent report it commissioned showed systematic failings in the process, including disproportionate burdens placed on the most vulnerable.
The report found that the way in which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communicated with claimants was legalistic, unclear and confusing. The most vulnerable claimants were often left at a loss as to why their benefits were stopped and frequently they were not informed about hardship payments to which they were entitled, the report said. It also revealed serious flaws in how sanctions were imposed; providers of the government’s work programme were required to bring in sanctions when they knew the claimants had done nothing wrong, leaving those people “sent from pillar to post”.
The independent report was written for the DWP by Matthew Oakley, a respected welfare expert who has worked as an economic adviser for the Treasury and for the centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange. The report was completed some weeks ago, but publication of its 17 reform proposals was delayed.
Oakley said that the system was not fundamentally broken, but his criticism was all the more damaging for a government that has consistently described the benefit sanctions regime as fair.
The DWP responded to the report by saying it would be altering the way it talked to benefit claimants, setting up a specialist team to look at all communications, including claimant letters.
The sanctions regime, and the confusing way in which it is administered, has been one reason behind the growth in the public’s use of food banks.
In a new commitment, the DWP promised that if vulnerable claimants claimed for hardship on or before their signing day, they would receive a hardship payment at their normal payment date. The department also promised it would take steps to ensure local authorities did not dock housing benefit and that they gave claimants a clear chance to comply with sanctions, and that there was consideration over whether work programme providers could be empowered to make decisions on sanction referrals.
read the rest of this article in the Guardian here: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jul/22/independent-report-failings-benefit-sanctions