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Friday, 9 May 2014

CPAG in Scotland - ‘Early Warning’ report about sanctions

‘Early Warning’ report about sanctions !

Child Poverty Action Group CPAG in Scotland has set up an ‘Early Warning System’ to identify problems reported by front-line workers in the operation of benefits.  Their first policy briefing is online, giving examples of problems with sanctions.  They give examples of a series of  mistaken decisions:  for example, a sanction for not reporting for the Work Programme while in police custody and benefits were already stopped, and a sanction for turning up for the time on the letter instead of the time the office thought it had sent out.  Part of this, too, is that people who are suffering sanctions then have to go to food banks – a link recently denied by Neil Couling, of the DWP, at a meeting of the Holyrood Welfare Reform Committee.

The Early Warning System (EWS) is a framework which has been developed by CPAG in Scotland to collect case studies and wider evidence about how welfare changes are affecting the health and wellbeing of children. They are currently collecting information and anonymous case studies from 75 frontline workers including welfare rights officers, housing advisers and support workers across Scotland. Please visit the website for more information on the project.

Concerns raised through the Early Warning System Cases collected through the EWS suggest that sanctions are often applied without adequate consideration of claimants’ personal situations, characteristics or the barriers they face - particularly in relation to their ability to comply with the conditions placed upon them. Cases illustrating these concerns include:

* A father with dyslexia, spinal arthritis and COPD was sanctioned for not attending a work-focused interview. He had told the jobcentre in advance that he didn’t have enough money to get to the office, as it was not local to him. He was told to walk to appointment, but was unable to due to health conditions. He was sanctioned for 13 weeks.

*The lone parent of a 5 year old child was sanctioned for 4 weeks for failing to keep an appointment with her careers adviser. This was despite the fact she was in the jobcentre for her first appointment but, due to being misdirected, did not hear them call her name. A new appointment was to be sent by post but the client never received this.

* A client could not sign on because his children were left with him unexpectedly by the parent with care. He was sanctioned and, given that he was not classed as vulnerable, was unable to access hardship payments for 15 days.

* A 56 year old claimant was sanctioned for missing one appointment (he admits the error). As a result of the sanction the claimant had no money to travel 14 miles each way to sign on for his hardship payment. The jobcentre advisor moved his appointment to the middle of the day so he would have time to walk the 28 mile round trip in daylight.

* A client was sanctioned twice for failure to attend work programme appointments. The DWP were aware he could not have attended because he was in police custody (as they stopped his benefits for the period he was detained). DWP did not provide adequate written information to allow him to challenge the sanctions effectively.

* A claimant was given written instruction to attend a jobcentre appointment on Monday – which he did. He was sanctioned for failure to attend on the Friday (despite having no appointment to attend). The sanction was overturned on appeal after 6 weeks, during which time the client had to access a food bank.

The policy briefing can be downloaded by clicking this link : 'Early Warning' impact of Sanctions

These issues raised within the report will be given in-depth consideration at a policy seminar at the Renfield Centre in Glasgow on the 28th May 2014. Please contact hmcculloch@cpagscotland.org.uk or 0141 611 7090 for more information or for details of how to book you place at the Policy Seminar on Wednesday 28th May.

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