'Early warning system' trialled for jobseekers facing benefit sanctions

Early warning system trialled for jobseekers facing benefit sanctions
Early warning system trialled for jobseekers facing benefit sanctions

Jobseekers are to be given 14 days' notice before facing benefit sanctions under a new scheme being trialled next year, the Government has announced.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said in a written statement that sanctions were a "necessary part of the system", which were kept under review.

He said that in response to a report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, a system of warning before a sanction is imposed will be trialled.

"We will trial arrangements whereby claimants are given a warning of our intention to sanction and a 14-day period to provide evidence of good reason before the decision to sanction is made.

"During this time claimants will have another opportunity to provide further evidence to explain their non-compliance."

Claimants face sanctions for issues such as failing to turn up for job interviews or meetings with job advisers.

Labour said the minister's response to the select committee was "desperately inadequate".

Shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith asked Speaker John Bercow for guidance about how the House could question Mr Duncan Smith, claiming that the written statement had been "snuck out" and that it "doesn't appear to address any of the principal recommendations".

He said: "In particular it doesn't address the recommendation as to whether there should be an independent review into those people who have died while subject to benefit sanctions.

"It is an extraordinarily shoddy way for the Government to behave."

Mr Bercow told Mr Smith he knows "perfectly well what the opportunities are to air matters in this House".

"I have a hunch that he simply wanted a prime-time opportunity to tweak the Government's tail," the Speaker said.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "The vast majority of jobseekers do everything expected of them in return for their benefits, and accept the support on offer to move into work. There are now record levels of employment in the UK, and unemployment is back to pre-recession levels. The Jobcentre regime, of which sanctions are a part, has played an important role in this.

"We keep the system under constant review and will be trialling a new 'early warning' system which will give people who are about to be sanctioned an extra opportunity to put their side of the story. As well as focusing claimants on their job search, it will further ensure the system is fair to both them and to hard-working taxpayers."

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association, said: "We welcome the recognition by the Secretary of State that the sanctions system is in need of reform, but are concerned that the changes today don't go far enough.

"For some jobseekers, receiving a sanction can act as a wake-up call. However, for the majority the sanction system is more likely to hinder the journey to employment. Jobseekers move into work quickest when they feel positive about work and thus sanctions should only be used as a last resort."

Iain Duncan Smith on Universal Credit
Iain Duncan Smith on Universal Credit