Universal Credit payments can be stopped or reduced – what to do if you face sanction

Universal Credit: Jonathan Reynolds on Labour’s policy

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In order for someone to claim Universal Credit, a work coach will sit down with the claimant to set out what is required of them as part of a claimant agreement. A work coach helps guide people through their time on benefits and is designated to claimants by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), working directly for them. If claimants fail to meet the requirements set out by their previously arranged agreement without good cause, they may be subject to sanction by the DWP.

Sanctions are when Universal Credit payments are either stopped or reduced for a period of time depending on the behaviour of a claimant in the eyes of their work coach.

How long a sanction lasts depends on the level category that the sanction falls into and the number of previous failures that have taken place throughout the year.

Sanction levels

Currently, there are four different sanction levels issued by the DWP which could impact someone’s Universal Credit payments.

The lowest level of sanction is given to claimants who have failed to attend or take part in their work-focused interview.

This sanction usually lasts until the claimant attends or takes part in an interview, or finds another job. There are no work requirements attached to this sanction.

A low level sanction lasts until someone on Universal Credit does what they previously failed to do and were sanctioned for, such as failing to attend a training course.

Low level sanctions can also end when a requirement is no longer appropriate or an alternative compliance condition has been met.

Medium level sanctions usually last 28 days for the first sanction in any 12-month period. For a second medium level sanction, this time period is extended to approximately three months.

Commonly, these sanctions are enforced when claimants fail to attend an interview or start work after promising to meet certain work requirements as part of their agreement with their work coach.

The final sanction level, known as the high level, lasts for 91 days for the first sanction in any 12-month period and 182 days for any following sanction.

These sanctions can be imposed when a Universal Credit claimant refuses a job offer while receiving payments.

However, the length of high level sanctions can be reduced if the claimant is under the age of 18 and has good cause for rejecting a job offer.

What to do if sanctioned

The DWP’s decision making process to sanction someone follows a four step process, which offers many opportunities for people receiving payments to contest their work coach’s initial decision.

Firstly, a work coach refers the claimant’s case to be sanctioned and provides evidence that they have breached their agreement with the department.

After this, the original decision is weighed up against all the evidence presented by the work coach and the claimant to reducing or stopping Universal Credit payments.

Before going to the appeal process, a claimant can ask for a mandatory reconsideration by the department, however this must be done within one month of the original decision letter.

Finally, if all the previous steps are exhausted, claimants can request an appeal on their case, which is carried out by an independent tribunal.

According to Citizens Advice, Universal Credit claimants who have found their payments stopped or reduced can apply for a hardship payment for emergency supplies.

This can be done through the Universal Credit helping, but claimants must be 18 or over, struggling to pay essential bills and living costs, exhausted all over options, and must complete all work-related activities with the DWP at least seven days before receiving any hardship payments.

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