The previous post on UC Diary covered sanctions and the way that hardship payments are recovered, which leaves claimants on reduced income for a longer period than they might have expected.
Now to look at another villain of the piece: Open ended sanctions. An open ended sanction has a start date, but no end date. It happens when a claimant fails to attend (FTA) a mandatory appointment and does not make contact to arrange a new one.
When an appointment is missed, the work coach attempts to call the claimant. If that fails a note is left on their to-do list giving seven days to provide an explanation. After that period the FTA should be processed by a case manager in the back office.
There are three possible outcomes:
|Contact made and ‘good reason’ given
||No sanction imposed
|Contact made. Good reason not applicable
||Referred to a decision maker
|No contact made
||An open ended sanction is imposed. A notification is placed on the journal detailing the decision. The length of the sanction will increase for every day that a new appointment is not made.
Hint: When asked why you have not attended an appointment, don’t say that you forgot or mixed up the date. This will always result in a sanction. The good reasons that can be accepted are listed below, taken from the document that UC staff use for guidance.
Suffering a temporary period of sickness including a mental health condition.
Undergoing emergency medical or dental treatment.
Attending a funeral of a close friend or relative.
Detained in Police custody for 96 hours or less, then released.
Required to attend court or a tribunal.
A crew member on a lifeboat, part time fire fighter or working for the benefit of others.
At work or travelling to work.
Temporarily looking after a child because the usual carer is ill or unavailable.
Adverse weather conditions.
Claimant has attended a job interview and can provide evidence of this.
Claimant has a recorded mobility issue and there was an unforeseen issue with transportation.
Serious illness, death or emergency affecting a relative or close friend.
Death of someone for whom the claimant is caring.
National or local transport industrial action and it was unreasonable for the claimant to travel.
Check the to-do list on your account every day. This is where details of your next appointment will be.
If you are going to miss an appointment, ring and inform UC in advance if possible. Also put it in your journal.
If an open sanction is imposed, get in touch straight away to arrange a new appointment. This will limit the length of the sanction.
If you think the decision is wrong, ask for a mandatory reconsideration, preferably within one month of being informed. If this fails you can request an appeal. This will take some time.
It has been pointed out that sanctions exist on legacy benefits. This is true, but the cumbersome bureaucracy of Universal Credit increases the effect they have.
Processing of an FTA has low priority. The trigger approach to a case manager’s work was explained previously. Fail to attend is a trigger four. It could be days, or weeks before notification of a sanction, which might spur a claimant into action, is placed on their journal. Until then, they will still be paid but the sanction which will eventually be imposed increases in length every day.
On Live Service (the original version of Universal Credit) that problem was worse. The backlog of FTAs was such that a claimant could be paid for months, without going near a job centre. The resulting sanction when it was enforced, was crippling.
Another Twist of the Knife
On Live Service, only one open ended sanction could be in place at one time. If a claimant missed an appointment, made a new one, but missed that as well, the original sanction would remain, from the start date.
For Full Service (current UC) the law is interpreted differently. An additional sanction is imposed, running alongside the original one. In the example below the claimant has no sanctions for missing an appointment in the previous twelve months.
Appointment missed: 2nd April
New appointment missed : 10 April
Appointment made: 16th April. Interview attended
Length of sanction: 14 days plus 7 days = 21 days
Length of first sanction (starting 2nd April): 14 days plus 7 days = 21 days
Length of second sanction (starting 10th April): 6 days plus 7 days = 13 days
Total length of sanction = 34 days
The likelihood of this being challenged in court seems high.
Update: On 12th June 2019 sanctions on Universal Credit changed. From that date, only one open ended sanction can be in place at one time, which is as it was on live service. The section above has been left in place, as it demonstrates the malice and stupidity of the Department for Work and Pensions.
There is no evidence that suggests sanctions help anyone into work. The administrative cost exceeds the money saved on benefit payments.
Expecting someone who is able in body and mind to attend a job centre every fortnight to report the progress of their work search is not unreasonable. Neither is applying a penalty of some sort for those who fail to do so without good reason. But the current sanctions regime is ineffective, inflexible and extraordinarily harsh. It pushes claimants into a downward financial spiral from which some of them never recover. Urgent reform is needed.
Next up: The Dark Ways of Debt Management
The Sanctions Double Whammy – How sanctions are calculated and how the financial support available when you have one, comes back to bite later.
Universal Credit and The Big Journal Lie – Why you won’t get a quick answer to that journal query, and the ‘trigger approach.’