Sanctioned while waiting to be sanctioned

British one penny coins. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.

By Kate Belgrave

Yesterday, I spent god knows how long on the phone to the Department for Work and Pensions (a charged-for call, if you don’t mind), having the most ridiculous conversation that I (and probably anyone) has ever had with them.

I was calling on behalf of Sam, a 22-year-old who signs on at East Ham jobcentre in London. A week or so ago, Sam saw a different jobcentre adviser from her usual one. The adviser at that meeting decided that Sam’s jobsearch record for the fortnight wasn’t up to a standard that the adviser had in mind and that the jobcentre would think about imposing a sanction. Advisers told Sam that she’d have to wait a week or two for a decision-maker to decide whether or not the sanction would go ahead.

But in the meantime, to all intents and purposes, Sam has been sanctioned. I say this because she didn’t receive her benefit payment this week. As of Monday, she had 80p left in her bank account. Last week the jobcentre gave her a hardship payment application form, when advisers first started talking about imposing a sanction. She filled in the form and took it to the jobcentre this week with her bank statement showing the 80p.

But the jobcentre now told Sam that she couldn’t submit the hardship form until the jobcentre had made a formal decision about sanctioning her. Sam said she’d already been sanctioned, because her benefit had been stopped. That was a sanction as far as she was concerned. It certainly felt like a sanction. She had no money. Her benefit had been stopped. Still the jobcentre wouldn’t take the hardship form.

So we rang the DWP. The DWP confirmed that Sam’s benefit had been suspended. The DWP also confirmed that Sam couldn’t submit her application for a hardship payment until the jobcentre made a formal decision about the sanction. I said that Sam had surely already been sanctioned, because her benefit hadn’t been paid.

Certainly, as far as Sam was concerned, she had been sanctioned. Her benefit had been suspended and she had no money in her account. How else would anybody view that experience, except as a sanction? Was it a pre-sanction sanction? What was the DWP even talking about? The DWP said that it had to suspend Sam’s benefit payments while the jobcentre decided whether or not to sanction her. True story. That’s what they said.

I said again that Sam had no money in her account. The DWP said again that Sam couldn’t submit the hardship form until the jobcentre made the formal decision about the sanction. The DWP said it hoped the formal decision about the sanction would be made sometime this week. Sam very much hopes the same, as well she might. Her benefit has been stopped, she has no income and she can’t apply for hardship assistance until her benefit is “officially” stopped, even though her benefit has already been stopped anyway.

The DWP suggested that in the meantime, Sam goes to her local council and asks for crisis help there. I wonder how many other people will be in that queue. These people are not only being left completely without income – they’re not even being told how long they’ll have to go without income for.

Related stories:
More than 40,000 benefit sanctions dished out to families with children
Universal discredit – the workfare sector comes out against in-work sanctions

24 thoughts on “Sanctioned while waiting to be sanctioned

  1. In years to come, might not current administrative staff in the Benwfit Agency have to deny ever having worked for that organisation? In completing app forms for future employment might not Benefit Agency staff have to consult with criminals to discover how prisoners disguise the years they spent inside? Shame


    1. It’s intuitive that the brand of your employer affects your likelihood of re-employment. The brand of the public sector is low within the private sector generally and the brand of the civil service and the DWP in particular is problematic. An applicant seems sure to face prejudice from sifters and interviewers who themselves have had dealings with the welfare system or have relatives who’ve been in that situation. It’s worth bearing in mind that DWP staff have often been recruited from the unemployed side of the desk and are often asked by claimants about opportunities at their offices. I know that they are undertrained and have had their pay and pension reduced and their redundancy terms are threatened. They operate in a high stress situation and within a corporate culture of fear and intimidation. They are carrying out laws supported by the government and voted for by the electorate, whatever their own views on the effectiveness and morality of the measures (which are often at variance). So a reliable friend tells me. Of course, “only following orders” may not be considered an excuse but refer to the beginning of my comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Goes on the area your in some job centres will send u payments still till a answer is made some wont that’s the messed up part. hardship you can put in for it soon as your adviser tells u he/she going for a santion against you as chances are santions always givin as there only hear one side . but with hardship payments even when awarded you have to wait 4 weeks for a payment as there don’t pay for first 2 weeks, don’t think coucil would help if been santioned but should only take 2 days to get a payment if allowed . things need changing to make things simpler and fair

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Similarly when I was sanctioned on ESA – I had done nothing to deserve sanction, and DWP had accidentally sanctioned me twice (additional issue is that the system on appealing changed between sanction #1 and sanction #2 which made appealing VERY DIFFICULT). Furthermore sanction could only be lifted by Work Program, who were responsible for my sanction to begin with, but they refused to lift the sanction for 6-9 months.

    Luckily I managed to get sanction #2 cancelled and appeal the sanction just in the nick of time, but not before going two months without income. I was told crisis loans no longer existed and because I was technically still on ESA I wasn’t going to be able to get access to hardship or be referred to a foodbank (!?!). CAB ended-up calling a local church who were nice enough to put a food parcel together for me, if not for them I’d have starved.


  4. I’d say this about sums up most of my dealings with the DWP and about half my dealings with the local council over the years. Impenetrable Byzantine systems in place, with no one wanting to take responsibility for anything and nobody appearing to know any salient details…


  5. I doubt this young lady has found the experience to be ‘a welcome jolt’ to quote Neil Couling, or indeed the two fake DWP claimants ‘Zack’ and ‘Sarah’, of recent memory.
    Piece by piece, an unfair and completely arbitrary sanction system has now been put in place. Designed to put pressure on the unemployed to get off benefits, one way or another.
    With absolute destitution as the ultimate sanction.


  6. Kafkaesque……bizarre, illogical and downright cruel. When will those who implement these vile policies be held to account for the misery – both mental and and physical – they visit on those who have little or no say over their own lives?


    1. Then we need to travel even further back in history to a peasants revolt. This will not happen, of course now that even working people who require assistance from the state become tied in to the UC conditionality and sanctions regime. Fear of homelessness and starvation the great suit of armour worn by the state against dissent. Straighten up or starve.


  7. No such thing as a DM, its JC+ staff that make a group or joint decision on the sanction and make it as long and hard as possible to access benefits.

    There is no date reference for this article so it could be 2 or more years old.


  8. The job centre tried to stop my benefit in November 2104 as the advisor didnt think I had done enough to find work. I demanded to see the manager and when she arrived showed her my job search plus all the previous twenty job searches. I said how can twenty other times be allowed but all of a sudden its not when they are completed the exact same way. She agreed and overruled the advisor and my benefit was paid. Therefore it DOESN’T have to go to an independent decision maker.
    I never had the advisor again until the following February when she did exactly the same thing even criticising me because the job offer had been withdrawn by the employer. Again I demanded to see the manager and they told me there wasn’t one and I would have to return the following day. I did that and was told it was going to a decision maker and I could apply for a hardship loan but only when a decision had been made. I asked for a food bank voucher and was told to return the following day. When I did I was told the person who signs for them was away till the following Monday. Panicing, I bumped into a friend who asked some church friends for advice. One of them went out and bought a bag of shopping for me to tide me over the weekend. She arranged to meet me on Saturday to give me some bags of shopping to last the fortnight. She also suggested I try the council hardship fund which I did. They gave me a £20 tesco voucher as it was half 4 on a Friday night. I thanked the church lady and said that as I had £20 she should give the big bags to someone else. On the Monday ii returned to the job centre and asked for a food bank voucher when they refused to even consider it until a decision had been confirmed. I got my local MP involved and on the Thursday the job centre informed me they had recalled the claim from the decision maker.
    They offer no help whatsoever and go out of their way to cheat their own system. Now I make written notes at every fortnightly meeting and the manager is always doing observation assessments on my personal work coach on the two occasions she has seen me in the last year and a half.


  9. Reblogged this on THE SOUTH ESSEX HECKLER and commented:
    A first hand account of dealing with the unthinking, unfeeling Kafkaesque world of the Department of Work & Pensions when helping someone who has been ‘sanctioned’ by them…


  10. Easy –

    Phone them up (record it) and tell them that if they don’t reinstate Sam’s benefits immediately then you will call the police.

    Also email the same thing to… … quoting Ref: Sam’s national insurance number in the ‘subject’ line.

    In both quote –
    Fraud Act 2006 – (up to ten years in prison)
    specifically –
    Fraud by abuse of position –
    (1)A person is in breach of this section if he—
    (a)occupies a position in which he is expected to safeguard, or not to act against, the financial interests of another person,
    (b)dishonestly abuses that position, and
    (c)intends, by means of the abuse of that position—
    (i)to make a gain for himself or another, or
    (ii)to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.
    (2)A person may be regarded as having abused his position even though his conduct consisted of an omission rather than an act.

    and –
    Misconduct in Public Office – (up to life in prison)
    “Examples of behaviour that have in the past fallen within the offence include:
    ****wilful excesses of official authority;****
    ****’malicious’ exercises of official authority;****
    wilful neglect of a public duty;
    intentional infliction of bodily harm, imprisonment, or other injury upon a person;
    ****frauds and deceits.”****

    You could also point out that deliberately attempting to starve someone to death is called ‘Attempted Murder’ –

    Criminal Attempts Act 1981 –

    You could also CC the email directly to your MP (and their bosses) and to your local police, their chief constable and their police and crime commissioner.
    … and point out to them that they all have ‘Public Duties’ and if they do nothing then that is called – Misconduct in Public Office – wilful neglect of a public duty.

    Hopefully all those sick criminals will just crawl back under their rocks.


Leave a Reply to Jay Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s