Benefit sanctions: Britain’s secret penal system

Benefits claimants are subjected to an ‘amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system’, writes Dr David Webster of the University of Glasgow.

Few people know that the number of financial penalties (‘sanctions’) imposed on benefit claimants by the Department of Work and Pensions now exceeds the number of fines imposed by the courts. In Great Britain in 2013, there were 1,046,398 sanctions on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, 32,128 on Employment and Support Allowance claimants, and approximately 44,000 on lone parent recipients of Income Support. By contrast, Magistrates’ and Sheriff courts imposed a total of only 849,000 fines.

Sanctioned benefit claimants are treated much worse than those fined in the courts. The scale of penalties is more severe (£286.80 – £11,185.20 compared to £200 – £10,000). Most sanctions are applied to poor people and involve total loss of benefit income. Although there is a system of discretionary ‘hardship payments’, claimants are often reduced to hunger and destitution by the ban on application for the first two weeks and by lack of information about the payments and the complexity of the application process. The hardship payment system itself is designed to clean people out of resources; all savings or other sources of assistance must be used up before help is given.

Decisions on guilt are made in secret by officials who have no independent responsibility to act lawfully; since the Social Security Act 1998 they have been mere agents of the Secretary of State. These officials are currently subject to constant management pressure to maximise penalties, and as in any secret system there is a lot of error, misconduct, dishonesty and abuse. The claimant is not present when the decision on guilt is made and is not legally represented. While offenders processed in the court system cannot be punished before a hearing, and if fined are given time to pay, the claimant’s punishment is applied immediately.

Unlike a magistrate or sheriff, the official deciding the case does not vary the penalty in the light of its likely impact on them or their family. If the claimant gets a hearing (and even before the new system of ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ only 3 per cent of sanctioned claimants were doing so), then it is months later, when the damage has been done. ‘Mandatory reconsideration’, introduced in October 2013, denies access to an independent Tribunal until the claimant has been rung up at home twice and forced to discuss their case with a DWP official in the absence of any adviser – a system which is open to abuse and has caused a collapse in cases going to Tribunal.

Yet the ‘transgressions’ (DWP’s own word) which are punished by this system are almost exclusively very minor matters, such as missing a single interview with a Jobcentre or Work Programme contractor, or not making quite as many token job applications as the Jobcentre adviser demands.

Read more of this article by David Webster here: http://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/resources/benefit-sanctions-britains-secret-penal-system

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4 thoughts on “Benefit sanctions: Britain’s secret penal system

  1. Pingback: Benefit sanctions: Britain’s secret penal system | Lindas Blog

  2. PERMANENT SANCTIONS – NIL BENEFIT – NIL STATE PENSION

    The government has allowed the return of the 19th Century Truck System, that today is called the salary sacrifice system.

    Where workers are paid part in wages and part in expenses (deductions taken for admin),

    Which pushes the low waged below the Lower Earnings Level
    so get nil automatic National Insurance credits, so out of the welfare state and
    will never get a state pension.
    See end of:
    https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/state-pension-at-60-now

    HARDSHIP PAYMENTS BECOME A LOAN

    Universal Credit will make sanctions permanent, by Hardship Payments becoming revoerable loans by direct deductions from future benefit or wages, by court action.

    UNIVERSAL CREDIT SANCTIONS – NO FOOD MONEY – NO ROOF OVER YOUR HEAD

    UC will absorb housing benefit, deny pay-out of pension credit and state pension,
    cut up to 40 per cent of Carer’s Allowance claimants, and potentially include council tax support, and much more besides.

    WORKERS SANCTIONED AS WELL

    Universal Credit will sanction part time worker for failing to gain full time hours.

    OTHER SECRET COURTS ABOUND IN ENGLISH LAW

    There are other secret courts that have no appeal and accept hearsay evidence throughout the English law, that, for example, give you no rights against the state for forced child adoption and care of your elderly parents.

    SOCIAL TENANTS BEING SOCIALLY CLEANSED OUT OF LONDON

    Councils in London are evicting entire social housing estate’s tenants, to sell the housing stock to developers to build luxury flats on the site. Rehousing people as far north as Birminghan and Stoke-on-Trent, with far less chance of a job.

    POOR UNEMPLOYED, WORKING POOR, POOR PENSIOENRS,
    POOR DISABLED

    We are now about 75 per cent of all voters, and most of the non-voters, but then so are a lot of people of all income levels.

    The Tories did not win, neither did any party in government. The people mostly did not vote.

    Not even 8 million voted out of a population of 60 million odd in the UK.

    Most voting areas had far more non-voters than voters.

    So the poor have all the power they need.

    SEE HOW ON:

    Vote different.
    Vote SNP in Scotland.
    Vote Plaid Cymru in Wales.
    Vote Mebyon Kernow in Cornwall.
    Vote Labour in England where sitting Labour MP already in the job.
    Vote one of the parties of the poor in a Tory and Lib Dem MP voting areas in England.
    WHO ARE THE PARTIES OF THE POOR, see:

    http://www.anastasia-england.me.uk
    Please share my website by word of mouth in your campaign group or those you know about, and in blogs and forums. The poor cannot afford not to vote on Thursday 7 May.

    The poor need to know about the 100 and more new MPs from a group of parties
    of the parties of the poor of the le,t only they can bring into the UK parliament, that would ensure the austerity cuts did not happen.

    And reduce Tory and Lib Demp MPs in the job as well.

    http://www.anastasia-england.me.uk

  3. Brilliant post. The original article should make headlines & be plastered all over the press to expose this disgrace. Instead we get headlines of Towie celebs rapping about workshy scroungers (as in last Sunday’s The Dumb paper). These are signs of media cover up.

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