- Back in August 2015, there were 103 cases of sanctions in Birmingham during that month, but as more people move on to Universal Credit, numbers of penalties have gone up too.
- By August 2016, there were 461 sanctions being applied in Birmingham and a year later there were 917 people being sanctioned in the cty.
- By August 2019 – the latest data we have on sanctions – there were 1,550 people being sanctioned in Birmingham. It had peaked at more than 1,700 in April the same year.
So how exactly does it all work?
What responsibilities come with Universal Credit?
When you claim Universal Credit there are a number of activities you must carry out in order to receive your payment.
These activities are:
- completing work search activities for up to 35 hours per week
- completing a ‘tailored commitment’ with your work coach
- paying your own rent and other housing costs
- reporting changes in circumstances through your online account
- manage your payments and budget on a monthly basis. You may be able to get an advance to help you manage until your first payment.
- Working part-time and able to earn more? You’re required to seek additional work and increase your earnings
When you claim Universal Credit you will need to complete and accept what is called a tailored commitment. This is the DWP’s name for an agreement between you and the work coach that is based on your individual situation. It states what you will need to do in order to receive your Universal Credit.
In most cases, this will be drawn up during a conversation between you and your work coach at your local jobcentre. It sets out what you have agreed to do to prepare for and look for work, or to increase your earnings if you are already working.
It is based on your personal circumstances and will be reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis. The DWP says that each time it is updated, you will need to accept a new commitment to keep receiving Universal Credit.
Are there any specific variations?
Yes, the DWP has different rules depending if you are claiming Universal Credit as a couple, or have health problems, or are a carer for a disabled person or for children. These are explained below:
If you claim Universal Credit as a couple, both of you will need to accept an individual commitment. Your commitment may be affected if your partner starts work or their circumstances change.
If you are earning as much as your current circumstances allow, you won’t be asked to increase your wages. If you are able and available to work, the DWP expects you to do everything you reasonably can to give yourself the best chance of finding work.
It says “preparing for and getting a job must be your full time focus.” If you currently have limited capability for work, because of a short-term disability or health condition, you must prepare to get a job when your situation improves.
If your health problems are long-term or permanent and prevent you from working, you aren’t expected to try to get a job. If you care for a severely disabled person for at least 35 hours per week you will not be required to work and will be supported through Universal Credit. If you are the main carer for a child, the DWP will provide Universal Credit with conditions based on the age of the youngest child in your household.
So what happens if you don’t do all this?
Your commitment will clearly state what will happen if you fail to meet one or more of your responsibilities.
You will receive reduced payments, known as a sanction, if you fail to meet one or more of your responsibilities and can’t give a good reason.
The DWP says it tells claimants how long the sanctions last. If they ask you to complete an activity to limit the length of a sanction, how long the sanction lasts will depend on how quickly you do what they have asked.
What are the sanctions?
There are four sanction levels: higher, medium, low and lowest. The period of reduction will increase if you fail to meet requirements multiple times in each level.
A higher level sanction means you will suffer a reduction in your benefit for 91 days (13 weeks) for your ‘first offence’ and 182 days (26 weeks) for your second and each subsequent higher level sanction in any 364 day period if you:
- have to meet the ‘work search requirement’ and fail to 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, whether voluntarily or due to misconduct (while claiming Universal Credit or just before your claim)
There are special rules for how long your sanction will last if it is for leaving work before you claimed Universal Credit.
You will be sanctioned for 28 days for your first medium level sanction in any 364 day period, or 91 days for your second if you have to meet either the:
- work search requirement – and you fail to take all reasonable actions to find paid work or increase your earnings from work
- work availability requirement – and you are not available to start work or attend interviews
A low level sanction lasts until you do whatever you were sanctioned for failing to do, plus 7 days for your first low level sanction in any 364 day period, 14 days for your second, or 28 days for your third if you fail to:
- attend or take part in a work-focused interview, and a lowest sanction level does not apply
- attend or take part in a training course
- take a specific action to get paid work, or to increase your earnings from work
These apply if you only have to meet the work-focused interview requirement, and you fail to attend or take part in a work-focused interview, they last until you take part in one.
How much is taken off your benefits?
Sanctions reduce the amount of Universal Credit standard allowance. The standard allowance is the amount of Universal Credit that does not include extra money for things like children and housing costs.
It’s cut by up to 100 per cent (meaning you get zero cash) for a single claimant or up to 50 per cent for each member of a couple. No other deductions will be made, except to pay back arrears of service charges, rent, gas or electricity.
The rate of the sanction will be reduced to 40 per cent of this amount if:
- You are aged 16 or 17
- You are the carer of a child under one
- You are pregnant and have less than 11 weeks before the baby is due
- You have had a baby in the last 15 weeks (including if the baby was stillborn)
- You have had an adopted child placed with you in the last 52 weeks
- Your claimant commitment requires you to only attend work focused interviews
As a guide, based on the standard allowances of Universal Credit that are typically paid, these sanctions mean:
A cut in UC of £8.20 per day for the period of the sanction, if you are single and under 25 (and therefore usually receive £251.77 a month before any deductions)
A cut in UC of £10.40 per day for the period of the sanction, if you are single and over 25 (and therefore usually receive £317.82 a month before any deductions)
A cut in UC of £6.40 per day for the period of the sanction, if you are in a couple and both aged under 25 but only one of you has been sanctioned (and therefore usually receive £395.20 as a couple before any deductions)
A cut in UC of £8.20 per day for the period of the sanction, if you are in a couple and one or both of you is over 25 but only one of you has been sanctioned (and therefore usually receive £498.89 as a couple before any deductions)
What if you think the sanction is wrong?
If you don’t think you should have been sanctioned, call the DWP using the number on your documents and ask for the decision to be looked at again. This is called a mandatory reconsideration. You can also ask for this online.
It usually has to be done within a month of the original decision. If the DWP doesn’t come to a different decision, you can then go to an independent tribunal. condition in Birmingham Children’s Hospital
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