Beaten, Abused, then Sanctioned

CHARLOTTE HUGHES uncovers the appalling story of a young mother punished for avoiding a violent partner, and exposes the tricks used to rob jobseekers of their rightful benefits.

I REGULARLY campaign outside my local jobcentre in Tameside against benefit sanctions, and at a recent demonstration I was approached by a young woman who had a baby with her.

She was clearly distressed and she had a very sore black eye. I asked her what was wrong. She was a bag of nerves. She went on to tell me that she had just escaped from the clutches of her very violent boyfriend.

The police had to rescue her from her home. She left with her baby, his clothes and the pram. She was shaking.

She is now staying at the local women’s refuge, a haven for women escaping violence.

She should be able to recover now, you would think. But she couldn’t.

She went on to explain that she had previously been attending a jobcentre in another town and was supposed to attend an interview at that jobcentre.

She couldn’t attend. Why? Because it’s the town where her ex-partner lives and she has to keep away due to the risk of violence to her and her baby.

She did the right thing and phoned the jobcentre, and they agreed on the phone that she didn’t have to attend — but they stopped her money.

She phoned the Department for Work and Pensions on their expensive number and it informed her that she had been sanctioned because she didn’t attend.

So that is why she was at my local jobcentre that day. She wanted advice.

I gave her some advice and a leaflet and she went inside the jobcentre.

I was shocked. The poor woman has gone through hell and is now paying the price for escaping. I hope that she is OK and manages to heal.

Read the other stories in the rest of this article here: http://morningstaronline.co.uk/a-e80e-Beaten,-abused,-and-then-sanctioned#.VUvffVEpLlc

Advertisements

Domestic violence victims to challenge benefit cap

Families who have escaped domestic violence are challenging the coalition government’s benefit cap in the Court of Appeal today.

The families are appealing a High Court decision in November which found the £26,000-a-year cap did not breach human rights laws and were not disproportionate.

The benefit cap limits total household benefits to £500 per week. Campaign groups, including Women Against Rape, argue that this affects women who have fled their homes because of domestic violence and who are then hit with the benefit cap if they live in hostels or refuges with more expensive rents.

Solicitor Rebekah Carrier, of Hopkin Murray Beskine, is representing the families. She said: ‘Two of the families have fled domestic violence in circumstances where they were financially reliant upon their abusive partners. They now face a stark choice between descending further into poverty and risking losing their homes, or returning to their abusers in order to escape the imposition of the cap.’

Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape said: ‘We call on the government to put the safety of women and children first by lifting the benefit cap so no one is trapped in a violent relationship where they risk injury, trauma and even death.’

by Carl Brown in Inside Housing, 28th Jan 2013: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/legal/domestic-violence-victims-to-challenge-benefit-cap/7001837.article

A DWP spokesperson said: ‘We remain confident that the benefit cap measures are lawful. The benefit cap sets a fair limit to what people can expect to get from the welfare system – so that claimants cannot receive more than £500 a week, the average household earnings.’

The legal challenge is also being supported by the Child Poverty Action Group, Shelter and the Women’s Aid Federation.

The suffering being caused by benefit sanctions

The Citizen’s Advice Bureau has published a report on benefit sanctions, what they are given for and how they are affecting the people who’s benefits have been taken away (minimum period of 3 weeks, maximum of 3 years!) The vast majority of people receiving these sanctions had no other source of income, and have been left destitute and with lasting long term debt. The number of sanctions handed out  has rocketed from around 130,000 in 2009 to 2 million in the past year. Most of the people being sanctioned are on Job Sieekers Allowance, but there’s a sizeable minority on invalidity benefits.

The report makes shocking reading and I recommend following the link at the bottom of this article to read the whole thing. Here’s what some people reported as happening to them because of these sanctions:

Most people had had to cut down on food (70%), and/or on heating (49%) and travel (47%). Almost a quarter of respondents had had to ask for a food parcel.

Some respondents had been left in a very desperate state:

Buy damaged food, market scrounge about at end of day

Used the skip from the local shop for food

Starved and lived off what I had. Scrounged food from bins and only left the house after darkness fell. Had no electric or gas so had to get ready-to-eat food. Struggled and went without nothing for 3 days with just bread and a block of cheese that my friend kindly gave me as it was past its sell by date.

Begged in the city.

Slept on a park bench and in empty shed.

I stopped doing anything and have become agoraphobic.

For those with children, it was particularly hard to cope:

Went without meals so my son could eat. My sanction should have been for a week but they took 8 weeks to pay me again, despite me constantly phoning etc. I also complained and received no reply.

And there were other adverse effects on children:

My daughter stopped attending school. I couldn’t afford the taxi she needed to get her there without distress and trauma.

Other consequences of the sanction

The final survey question asked respondents for any other comments on the effects of sanctions on them or their family. More than 150 respondents took the trouble to complete this question, often with extensive accounts of the serious long-term effects on their own physical and mental health, the social and material impact of serious financial hardship, and the adverse effects on their family’s well-being

The possibility of ending up homeless because of rent arrears was a frequent worry:

Because my housing benefit wasn’t paid for 3 months and still hasn’t been reinstated I’m facing eviction and I’m a full time carer to my adult son.

I’m worried housing benefit won’t be sorted in time for my rent as this could make us all homeless yet again and the council have no homes. Last time we were homeless was a result of fleeing domestic violence and me and my five children were put in B&B by the council in two rooms.

Several people said they had been unable to leave the house because of lack of money:

It’s all getting too much. We are now prisoners in our home, no point going out, can’t buy or do anything

The anxiety created by the imposition of a sanction had a serious effect on mental health for many people. A number of people described feeling suicidal because of the stress of the situation and several said they had made suicide attempts. For those with pre-existing mental health problems the effect of the sanction was to exacerbate their condition:

I suffer from severe mental depression and this has definitely not helped my condition. Still currently without any money even though I am doing full time work experience and not sure how I am going to eat until the sanction is lifted.

I was on ESA due to a nervous breakdown in 2009 and have not been given even the slightest chance of recovery as I have had this constant & losing battle with DWP/ATOS ever since. I stay with a friend who feeds me, but have been suicidal for a long while now. I have now given up completely on claiming any benefits at all, as I can no longer face the prospect of the never-ending challenges. I have absolutely no hope left in me at all.

I had no income, and had to borrow from my parents (who are also on benefits and don’t get much income. It has affected me mentally, and I am severely depressed and having anxiety attacks which I have never had before becoming a jobseeker! I believe this is going to affect me in the long run, and I will find it difficult when I do find work, because I am now petrified of speaking to people. I was very confident and bubbly before I became a jobseeker, now I tend not to leave my house unless necessary.

I wasn’t long out of a safe house for domestic abuse I tried to commit suicide and my doctor had to put my medication up and I have to get someone to collect them weekly.

For others there had been effects on their physical health, because of lack of money for an adequate diet or because of stress, or both:

I had to ask my mum to help me with my gas and electric and wasn’t able to fed myself properly and [that] didn’t help as I have coeliac and my family were appalled that I had to live like that for 4 weeks. My health suffered because of it.

I’ve lost over 2 stone in weight through lack of food.

The stress has made me physically sick with irritable bowel syndrome, which I haven’t suffered with for many years. I have previously battled depression and am hoping I won’t end up back on antidepressants again.

I am a type 1 diabetic and I ended up being hypoglycaemic several times.

We couldn’t afford a meal each day so often didn’t eat for days on end. I suffer with hypoglycaemia and need to eat, so this left me with many black outs, confusion, incredibly weak and sick.

I lost weight and got ill. I felt like a scavenging wild animal, not like a human. It’s a miracle I didn’t end up homeless.

The sanction had wider impacts on family relationships in some cases:

My mum has been taken to court and fined for not being able to pay the shortfall in council tax and is struggling to pay the rent arrears accrued when I was sanctioned and the strain has quite literally smashed our family to pieces – I feel like a burden on her and have felt suicidal on more than one occasion.

The stress put us both in hospital with stress-related problems. We were refused hardship payments but later got this [revoked] because we went to CAB and Shelter. It had a massive effect on our son, who at one point was being considered for going into care because we couldn’t provide for him.

My partner also cares for me so he was left incredibly stressed and upset from this situation due to firstly no money (he has to look after me full time pretty much) and secondly my conditions and mental state became so hard to cope with (it also affected his mental health, he attempted suicide when he could not cope).

At 52 years of age I lost my home and my 21 year-old son, who has had to move in with his girlfriend’s family. We are both sofa-surfing with absolutely no hope for a future of any kind…I stay with a friend who feeds me, but have been suicidal for a long while now. I have been kicked out of my mother’s household due to being sanctioned and I’m now homeless.

This had a devastating effect. I am separated so couldn’t have my children as couldn’t afford the bus fare to travel for them.

For those living with children, the effects of the sanction were particularly hard:

It was so difficult. Had no gas or electric. Sent my children to my mum’s 5 out of the 7 days of the week.

For nearly a month I didn’t get any money before I got hardship [payment]…At this time I was pregnant with my daughter and had another 2 kids in the house…If it wasn’t for my child tax credits and borrowing money I wouldn’t have been able to feed myself. We done without heating during the winter because I couldn’t afford to pay for gas.

I went begging on the streets to get money to buy food as my partner is 7 months pregnant

Many respondents wrote at considerable length about their feeling that they had been very unjustly treated.

Whilst I was on the sanction I visited jobcentre on 3 different occasions to ask how I was to live on no money for 4 weeks? On each occasion I was told there was nothing they could do. I later found out that the correct procedure was to give me a hardship form to help me out. I eventually got the form and handed it in. The jobcentre have since rejected the claim as it was handed in too late. I sent in 3 reconsideration requests explaining the jobcentre was at fault for not telling me I could claim this and again all 3 requests denied…I feel the jobcentre have deceived me to avoid paying out money.

A number felt that the limitations which their ill-health placed on their ability to work, or the kinds of work they could do had not been given adequate consideration:

I am epileptic and can’t apply for certain jobs that’s why I am limited, I apply for 5-10 jobs that I can do, but it’s not enough.

I can’t work, I take 23 pills a day and I’m also diabetic, yet the group they put me on was for work? They have no right to take money away just like that. Totally unfair, I’ve lost half a stone as I can’t buy enough food to eat and as a diabetic I’m supposed to eat 5 small meals a day. No chance. As I don’t, I’m open to foot infection, eyesight problems, coma or death or amputation. I’m worried sick. Also stress brings on a relapse of other condition.

There were numerous complaints from respondents that they had not been told about the sanction, and had only discovered when they found their money had stopped, that they didn’t understand the reasons for the sanction or that the sanction had been imposed unreasonably, given their circumstances.

I believe it was the Work Programme that had been in the wrong in the first instance for not reimbursing claimants travel expenses when they should be, yet I was the one punished for not attending 1 hour of job search when I couldn’t afford to go.

The original sanction letter made no sense and I couldn’t understand it at all either. It didn’t give any dates as to when or IF the sanction would end.

I had no idea I had been sanctioned until I got a letter from the housing association stating that my housing/council tax benefit had been stopped due to suspension of JSA which I wasn’t even claiming

In other cases the injustice stemmed from poor administration which led to a sanction being imposed when the claimant was not in any way at fault:

I was sanctioned for not supplying information regarding my job search. The forms I was given did not ask for [this] information.(The wrong paper work was given) My paper file was ‘lost’ during the appeal process, and was ‘found’ in secure waste awaiting shredding, My file (the one being destroyed) contained information that refuted the validity of the sanction.

I was sanctioned by the DWP on their error. They never changed my address when I sent in a change of address form. They later admitted it was completely their fault and an admin error. They left me without payments for six months and didn’t reply to a single letter and they wouldn’t speak to me on the phone as they held old details for me.

Respondents felt that it was unfair that the expectations with which they had to comply did not apply to the agencies they had to deal with:

The sanction was so annoying. A4E missed three appointments. When I attended they said to go home. But I miss one appointment and get sanctioned.

The sanction I got was for not attending triage…It was them that mucked up the dates and I was the one that paid for their mistake.

Read the whole report here: https://skydrive.live.com/view.aspx?resid=CB5ED957FE0B849F!350&app=WordPdf&authkey=!AJTbB-gzwsSCayQ

Domestic violence victim seeks bedroom tax judicial review

A victim of domestic violence who faces losing her council home which has a secure “panic room” is to challenge the government’s so-called bedroom tax.

Lawyers for the woman have issued a claim against Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, after council officials told her she would be charged for having a spare bedroom.

The woman, who is in her forties and lives in the East Midlands, has had her bedroom door and the surrounding frame strengthened to provide protection against an ex-partner who has threatened to kill her.

Thousands of pounds have been spent by a women’s refuge charity reinforcing window frames and the front door and making the back garden more secure. The loft has been fortified as an additional safe retreat.

The local council has inspected the three-bedroom property, where the woman and her young son live, and told her she will lose £11.65 a week from her benefits on the grounds that she has a spare room………

The woman, who can be identified only as Julia, says that if she is forced to move she will also lose her neighbours who are aware of her vulnerability and keep a lookout. Her case is being supported by the charity Women’s Aid…………………………..

“I receive £380 a fortnight for myself and my son. My outgoings already exceed my income. If I lose £11.65 a week, I will get into debt and be forced to leave. I’ve lived here for 25 years.

 

From “The Guardian” 24th May 2013

Domestic violence victim may lose home after panic room is classed as spare bedroom May 4th 2013

A domestic violence victim may lose her home after a panic room protecting her from a violent ex was classed a spare bedroom.

The mum-of-one was abused by the thug, also arrested for attempted murder of a police officer.

He began to make threats against her and cops insisted she had a panic room installed.

The woman – whose name we are withholding – shares a three-bedroom house in Nottingham with her son and will lose 14 per cent in housing benefit because the room is deemed a “spare”.

She said: “I spend every day in fear and the security in place at the house is something I need.

“I don’t know how I’ll pay the bedroom tax. I cannot move out as they won’t replace the room.”

A panic room is a bedroom converted into a high-security area with solid door and barred windows.

from the Mirror 4/5/2013
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/bedroom-tax-domestic-violence-victim-1870391#ixzz2SN0HHCgs
Follow us: @DailyMirror on Twitter | DailyMirror on Facebook