Sanctions and Hardship
If you don’t follow the rules of the benefit you’re getting – such as going to an interview or medical examination – you could lose benefit. These are called sanctions. If losing benefits means you’re in severe need, you may be entitled to a hardship payment. Hardship payments for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) do not have to be paid back.
What steps towards employment might I be expected to take?
If you get Jobseekers’ Allowance or Employment Support Allowance, or Universal Credit in the future, you may be expected to take certain steps towards employment. Your situation and fitness for work will be taken into account when deciding what steps, if any, you will have to take. What you will be expected to do will fall into four broad categories:
Available for work
This will apply to most people getting benefits, including lone parents and couples with older children. You will be expected to actively look for work and to make yourself available for work.
This will apply if you have a disability or have a health problem that means you can only do limited work at the present time. You will be expected to take reasonable steps to prepare for work and may also be required to go to work focused interviews.
Keeping in touch with the labour market
This will apply to a lone parent or the main carer of a child over the age of one but under five years old. You will be expected to go to occasional interviews to plan for your return to work.
Not available for work
This will apply if you are disabled or have a serious health condition that stops you from working or preparing for work. It will also apply if you are a lone parent or the main carer in a couple with a child under the age of one or if you have intensive and regular caring duties.
What are sanctions?
It is important that people getting benefits take the steps they are capable of taking to get employment to support them financially.
There are already rules in the benefit system that mean you lose benefit if, for example, you leave your job without good reason or do not actively look for work.
The penalty for not following the rules of the benefit you are claiming can be that you lose benefit for a certain length of time. The name used for these penalties is sanctions.
How sanctions will work
You will always be aware of the sanction when you are asked to take any action, such as going to a meeting or an appointment. How much benefit you could lose and for how long will depend on how serious the rule you did not follow was, or how many times you did not do what you were expected to do.
Anyone at risk of sanction will be given an opportunity to explain why they did not adhere to the rules. Your reasons will be taken into account before any sanctions are taken against you. You may not lose benefit if you have a good reason, for example, a family bereavement or an urgent personal or domestic situation.
If you are not happy with a sanction decision you will have the right to appeal this decision to an independent tribunal.
Anyone at risk of sanction will be given an opportunity to explain why they did not adhere to the rules. Your reasons will be taken into account before any sanctions are made against you.
For example, if you could not afford rent or food, or you needed to buy medical or hygiene supplies, then the hardship payment would provide you with a basic financial safety net.
If you are not happy with any sanction decision made, you will have the right to appeal this decision to an independent tribunal.
Proposed welfare reforms includes new rules on sanctions. The new rules will be the same across different benefits and will be clear, so that people understand what the result of their actions will be. To date, this has not been introduced in Northern Ireland. This information is provided for information purposes only.
More useful links