Benefit sanctions

When claiming benefits you must follow certain rules, otherwise you may lose your benefits or have them reduced. This is known as a sanction. Find out about sanctions for Jobseeker’s Allowance, Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support.

Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions

If you don’t meet the Jobseeker’s Allowance rules, your benefit may be stopped for between four and 78 weeks (18 months). There are three sanction levels:

  • lower
  • intermediate
  • higher

The level and length of your sanction depends on:

  • the reason you’re claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance – for example, if you were dismissed for misconduct from your last job or left it without good reason
  • what you haven’t done to find work
  • whether you’ve already received a sanction in the last year or your claim has been ended, and the reason for this

Lower level sanctions

You may get a lower level sanction (four or 13 weeks) if:

  • you lose an employment scheme place through misconduct or without good reason
  • you don’t go to meetings on time with your adviser or work coach, or take part in interviews
  • you don’t do what your adviser or work coach tells you to do to find work, such as attend a training course or update your CV
  • you don’t take part in employment schemes (for example, Steps 2 Success) when your adviser or work coach tells you to
  • you don’t meet your employment scheme adviser on time or take actions they tell you to
  • you give up a place on a scheme voluntarily

Intermediate level sanctions

  • if you aren’t available for or actively seeking work, your claim may be ended.
  • if you make a new claim you may get an intermediate level sanction up to either four or 13 weeks.

Higher level sanctions

You may get a higher level sanction (13, 26 or 78 weeks) if:

  • you were dismissed for misconduct from your last job or without good reason
  • you left your last job
  • you don’t apply for suitable jobs your adviser, work coach or employment scheme adviser tells you about
  • you don’t take a job you are offered that your adviser, work coach or employment scheme adviser had told you about

How to avoid a Jobseeker’s Allowance sanction

  • go to meetings on time with your adviser, work coach or employment scheme adviser and take part in interviews (such as ‘work focussed interviews’). If you can’t go, contact them as soon as possible as they may be able to re-arrange
  • be available for work and agree to do the things in your Jobseeker’s Agreement
  • apply for suitable jobs your adviser or work coach tells you about
  • do everything your adviser, work coach or employment scheme adviser tells you to do to find work, such as going on a training course, updating your CV or completing a job search
  • take part in employment schemes when your adviser or work coach tells you to

Universal Credit sanctions

If you don’t meet the responsibilities you agreed in your Universal Credit ‘commitment ’, without good reason, your  payments may be reduced for up to 18 months.

Sanction levels

There are different sanctions depending on which ‘conditionality group’ you’re in.  If you’re not sure which conditionality group you are in, speak to your work coach.

Conditionality

Conditionality means work-related activities you have to do in order to get full entitlement to Universal Credit. You will be placed into one of four conditionality groups based on your capability and circumstances, these are:

1.  all work-related requirements

2.  work focused interview and work preparation requirements only

3.  work focused interview requirements only

4. no work-related activity requirements


The work-related activities that you will have to do will depend on your conditionality group.

Speak to your work coach to find out which conditionality group applies to you.

Lowest level sanctions

Lowest level sanctions apply if you are in the ‘work focused interview requirements’ conditionality group and you don’t go to or take part in a work-focused interview. These sanctions last until you take part in the interview.

Low level sanctions

Low level sanctions apply if you are in the ‘all work-related requirements’ or ‘work focused interview and work preparation requirements only’ conditionality groups.

You may get a low level sanction if you:

• don’t go to or take part in a work-focused interview (and a lowest level sanction does not apply)

• don’t go to or take part in a training course or employment scheme

• don’t take a specific action to get paid work or increase your earnings from work

These sanctions last until you do the activity you were sanctioned for, plus seven days for your first low level sanction in any 365 day period, 14 days for your second and 28 days for your third.

Medium level sanctions

Medium level sanctions apply if you are in the ‘all work-related requirements’ conditionality group.

You may get a medium level sanction if you:

• have to meet the ‘work search requirement’ but you don’t take all reasonable actions to find paid work or increase your earnings from work

• have to meet the ‘work availability requirement’ but you aren’t available to start work or go to interviews

You will be sanctioned for 28 days for your first medium level sanction in any 365 day period and 91 days for your second.

Higher level sanctions

Higher level sanctions apply if you are in the ‘all work-related requirements’ conditionality group.

You may get a higher level sanction if you:

• have to meet the ‘work search requirement’ and you don’t apply for a particular job when told to do so

• have to meet the ‘work availability requirement’ and you refuse a job offer

• leave work or reduce your hours of work, either voluntarily or due to misconduct, while claiming Universal Credit or just before you claim

You will be sanctioned for 91 days for your first higher level sanction in any 365 day period, 182 days for your second and 546 days for your third.

There are special rules for how long your sanction will last if it is for leaving work or failing to take up a job offer before you claimed Universal Credit.

How to avoid a Universal Credit sanction

 • do the activities that you have agreed to do in your Universal Credit Commitment

 • go to meetings on time with your work coach and take part in interviews (such as work focused Interviews) – if for any reason you can’t attend contact your work coach as soon as possible as they may be able to re-arrange

 • do everything you have agreed with your work coach to do to find work, such as attending a training course, updating your CV or completing a job search

• take part in employment schemes (such as Steps 2 Success) when your work coach advises you to

• meet your Steps 2 Success adviser on time and do the activities they agree with you to help you find work. If for any reason you can’t attend contact your Steps 2 Success adviser as soon as possible as they may be able to re-arrange

In addition, if you are in the 'all work-related requirements' conditionality group you should also:

• remain available for work and

• apply for suitable jobs your work coach tells you about

If you have a joint claim

For each sanctioned person in a joint claim a high, medium, low or lowest level sanction could apply if you don’t meet the responsibilities you agreed in your Universal Credit ‘commitment ’:

  • for high, medium and low level sanctions , the standard sanction reduction is 50 per cent of the Universal Credit standard allowance for the couple
  • for lowest level sanctions the standard sanction reduction is 20 per cent n of the Universal Credit standard allowance for the couple

How Universal Credit sanctions are applied

You won’t have two sanctions at once but sanctions can run back-to-back. When you are sanctioned, it is usually your next Universal Credit payment or series of future payments that are affected.

Sanction reductions are applied after taking your earnings and unearned income into account. If there isn’t enough of your Universal Credit left to take the full sanction amount, your Universal Credit payment will be reduced to nil and the sanction is treated as having been made in full.

You will still be entitled to Universal Credit, so you’ll still get ‘passported’ benefits such as free school meals.

16 and 17 year olds

If you are aged 16 or 17, any sanctions you receive are 40% of your standard allowance, and do not last as long.

Employment and Support Allowance sanctions

Employment and Support Allowance sanctions only apply if you are in the ‘work-related activity group’.

In this group your adviser or work coach will help you plan how and when to do work-related activities, while taking into account your illness, disability or health condition.

If you don’t do these things and don’t have a good reason, you will get a sanction and your payment will be reduced. The sanction may continue for up to four weeks after you re-start your work-related interviews or activity.

Income Support sanctions

If you don’t meet the rules of your Income Support, for example taking part in work-focused interviews and work-related activity, you will get a sanction. Work focused interviews and work related activity does not mean you have to apply for jobs or undertake work.

If you’re sanctioned, your Income Support will be reduced £14.62 per week. The sanction may continue until you meet the rules of your Income Support claim.

How to avoid a sanction

There are steps you can take to avoid a sanction.

Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit

To avoid a Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit sanction:

  • go to meetings on time with your adviser, work coach or employment scheme adviser and take part in interviews (such as ‘work focused interviews’) - if you can’t go,  contact them as soon as possible as they may be able to re-arrange
  • be available for work and agree to do the things in your Jobseeker’s Agreement
  • apply for suitable jobs your adviser or work coach tells you about
  • do everything have agreed with your adviser, work coach or employment scheme adviser to find work, such as going on a training course, updating your CV or completing a job search
  • take part in employment schemes when your adviser or work coach tells you to

If you get Universal Credit, you should also:

  • complete the activities you have agreed in your ‘Commitment’
  • be available for work and apply for suitable jobs your work coach tells you about (if you are in the ‘all work-related requirements’ conditionality group)

Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support

Take the following steps to avoid an Employment and Support Allowance sanction.

Talk to your adviser or work coach

It’s important your adviser or work coach gets to know your circumstances and the support you need. Tell them about anything that affects:

  • your preparation for work
  • your participation in work-related activities
  • you participation in meetings

This can include:

  • more details about your personal circumstances, for example, illness, health condition or disability
  • if you’re living with addiction or alcohol problems
  • if you’re a carer
  • if you’re homeless
  • if you have transport problems
  • if you need help with reading, writing or speaking
  • if you’re a lone parent (for Income Support only)

Tell your adviser or work coach about your circumstances, even if you’re not sure they need to know.

Keep a record

Keep a record of what you do to prepare for work as your adviser or work coach may ask to see what you have been doing.

It’s a good idea to:

  • keep a note of everything you do to prepare for work or do work-related activity, including the time and date you did them and how long you spent doing each thing
  • make a note of your meetings at the Jobs and Benefits office and any training you have
  • keep all letters and emails from the Department for Communities or your employment programme provider, such as Steps 2 Success

If you can’t meet your advisor or do work-related activity

There may be times you’re not able to do the things you have been asked to do. For example if:

  • you have a hospital appointment at the same time as a meeting with your adviser or work coach
  • you are unexpectedly ill and cannot do a work-related activity on your plan
  • a domestic emergency means you can’t go to a work-focused interview

If this happens, contact your adviser or work coach straight away to tell them why.

If it’s decided you had a good reason, your payments won’t change. If it’s decided you didn’t have a good reason, you will get a sanction.

If you get a sanction

If you get a sanction:

  • your payment will be reduced
  • you will get a letter telling you how much your payment is reduced by

You can ask your adviser or work coach to tell you what this means for you.

Appealing a sanction

If you disagree with a sanction decision, you must first ask for it to be reviewed by the office that issued the decision before you can appeal the decision. 

This is known as ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’.

You can ask for a Mandatory Reconsideration of your Universal Credit sanction within month of the date of a decision.  You can do this by putting a note in your online journal, over the phone, face to face or in writing.

For further information on this process, see Appeal a benefits decision.

Financial hardship

If you suffer financial hardship because of a sanction you may be entitled to a hardship payment. For more details, contact your local Jobs and Benefits office, your adviser or work coach.

Help and advice

The independent Welfare Changes Helpline provides help and advice about changes to the welfare system.

More useful links

 

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