This page contains the latest sanctions project newsletter, with the most recent newsletter first.


Season’s greetings from PLP with our first Benefit Sanctioning Project Newsletter.

PLP Benefit Sanctioning Project Newsletter – December 2018

This newsletter has been produced by the Public Law Project as part of our Benefit Sanctioning Project. We plan to send out a newsletter approximately monthly. If you are receiving this e-mail you have expressed an interest in our project in some way, for example by requesting information, receiving training or being connected with it through advice or service delivery. You can unsubscribe from receiving these newsletters at any time by emailing

Our benefit sanctioning project aims to ensure that sanctions are imposed fairly, lawfully and in a non-discriminatory manner and that benefit claimants have effective access to appropriate and timely remedies when things go wrong. More information about our work on this project, including details of how to refer a case to our casework service, and our information leaflets, is available on our website at

If you have any queries regarding our benefit sanctions work, please email

The Work and Pensions Select Committee report on Benefit Sanctions published on 6.11.18 seems like a good place to start for PLP’s first benefit sanctions newsletter. PLP was amongst the organisations that submitted evidence to the enquiry. This update also covers the report by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

The Welfare Reform Act 2012 introduced Universal Credit (UC) and a harsher sanctioning regime, which was extended to include for the first time claimants with limited capability for work, lone parents and claimants in part-time work. Committee Chair Frank Field emphasised the “terrible and unnecessary hardship” suffered by many claimants. Whilst recognising that conditionality is an inevitable part of a modern welfare system, the Committee pointed to “unintended consequences” caused by “unfair and disproportionate application of the current sanctioning regime”.

Evidence considered by the Committee on the effectiveness of sanctions generally in achieving the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) stated policy aims, to motivate claimants to look for and enter work and to be fair to the tax payer, was described as “patchy”. Sanction rates were higher for UC than for legacy benefits. The new regime was not evaluated by the government prior to its introduction, and the DWP’s promises to evaluate the scheme since have not so far been kept, despite a call from the National Audit Office in November 2016 for a “wide ranging review of sanctions”.

In addition, there were disproportionate impacts on lone parents, care leavers and claimants with disabilities, and “only strongly causal relationships can justify these groups’ continued inclusion in the sanction regime”. The most compelling evidence related to people with disabilities and health conditions:It does not work. Worse, it is harmful and counterproductive”.

The Committee makes some welcome recommendations to mitigate the worst effects of the scheme.

  • The government should urgently evaluate the effectiveness of the new regime in achieving its stated policy aims to motivate claimants into looking for and entering work and to be fair to the tax payer – and in the meantime shorten sanctioning periods.
  • Sanctions should be ended immediately for the following groups: claimants with a valid fit note, including those awaiting a work capability assessment, and those assessed as having limited capability for work.
  • For in-work claimants, the DWP should focus on providing in work support and should not apply conditionality until Universal Credit is fully rolled out, and then “only on the basis of robust evidence that it will be effective at driving progress in work”.

Other recommendations include:

  • A standard set of questions for work coaches to ask claimants to identify relevant easements when agreeing the Claimant Commitment. Better information should be provided to claimants, and Jobcentres should co-locate with specialist support services who can assist on easements.

Note – PLP has developed leaflets for claimants to take to interviews to help negotiate claimant commitments, please see here.

  • Good reason” for failing should be defined in regulations following consultation with the voluntary sector.
  • With a reference for sanction, a work coach should include a recommendation as to whether a sanction should be imposed, based on their knowledge of the claimant’s circumstances and the likely impact on their financial and personal well-being.
  • Claimants should be able to challenge a decision to sanction before a sanction is imposed, a point PLP emphasised in its evidence to the Committee.
  • Sanctions should be cancelled when claimants’ circumstances change so they are no longer subject to the same requirement that gave rise to the sanction, i.e. they become sick or disabled or their condition worsens.
  • Deductions from UC should be postponed when a sanction is applied, to prevent the sanction eating into elements other than the standard allowance.
  • The recovery rate of hardship payments should be at a rate the claimant can afford, however low, the default being 5% of the standard allowance.

PLP comment; problems also include requiring claimants to make repeat claims, and draconian qualification conditions. The DWP has yet to publish statistics, so worryingly it is not clear if anyone actually gets these payments, intended to save claimants from destitution. The Select Committee has announced an enquiry into whether the UK’s welfare safety net effectively protects from hardship and deprivation, which may address some of these issues.

The Select Committee has been criticised for not going far enough, and see Michael Adler’s article Making the totally unacceptable slightly more palatable”. Michael Adler welcomes the recommendations to improve the decision making process, but questions the Select Committee’s reluctance to consider whether sanctions are actually necessary. In his recent book, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment? Benefit Sanctions in the UK (2018, Palgrave Socio-Legal Studies), Michael Adler critiques the sanctions regime.

The Universal Credit sanctions regime has been further condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who points to a lack of evidence that sanctions serve their intended purpose of getting claimants into employment and says;

Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the Special Rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time”.

The Special Rapporteur’s “extraordinary political language” was singled out for criticism by Amber Rudd on her recent appointment as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Her recognition that “there are problems with Universal Credit despite its good intentions”, may at least be an acknowledgement that things need to get better.

PLP’s Benefit Sanctions project is supported by a grant from the Baring Foundation.

Kind regards

Benefit Sanctioning Project Team

The Public Law Project

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