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Sanctions and Hardship

If you do not follow the rules of the benefit you are getting such as going to an interview or medical examination you could lose benefit – these are called sanctions. If losing benefits means you are in severe need, hardship payments for JSA do not have to be paid back. New sanctions and hardship payments may come into effect with the introduction of the Welfare Reform Bill.

Steps towards employment

If you get Jobseekers’ Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or Employment Support Allowance, and in the future Universal Credit, 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.

Work preparation

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?

There are already rules in the benefit system that mean you lose benefit if, for example, you leave your job for no reason or do not 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.

It is important that people getting benefits take the steps they are capable of taking to get employment to support themselves financially. The proposed Welfare Reform Bill includes new rules on sanctions. The new rules will be the same across different benefits and clear so that people understand what the result of their actions will be.

How sanctions will work

There will be three levels of financial sanctions. 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 will 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.

Your reasons will be taken into account before any sanctions are taken against you. You will 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.

Hardship payments

Along with the new rules about sanctions there are also new rules that make sure that people do not suffer as a result of loss of benefit. Anyone who loses benefit due to a sanction will be able to apply for a hardship payment. 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.