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Work programme providers put ESA claimants lives at risk by not doing costly pre-sanction home visits

Work programme providers have been putting lives at risk by failing to carry out costly home visits before referring vulnerable employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants for sanctions. The situation has got so bad that the DWP have written an entire new chapter on the subject in the guidance to providers and warned them they will not be paid if they do not follow it.

folw chart for ESA sanctionsVulnerable claimants
Under the rules, no claimant who has been identified as vulnerable should ever be referred for a sanction unless they have had a face-to-face meeting with work programme staff. The meeting is to ensure that they understood what it was they were obliged to do and also understood that failure could lead to their benefit being sanctioned.

This particularly applies to claimants with mental health conditions or learning difficulties, but vulnerable claimants may also include people who have conditions which affect their communication or cognition. So, for example, a claimant with severe fatigue might have difficulty taking in information and remembering it afterwards.

Where there has been no face-to-face interview the provider should never refer the claimant to the DWP for a decision on whether they should be sanctioned.

However, a face-to-face meeting may involve the provider making a time consuming and costly visit to the claimant’s home, if the claimant fails to attend appointments at their office. It could mean a member of staff, or possibly even two if there are health and safety concerns, being out of the office and not earning fees for the company for half a day or more.

Unfair sanctions
It is now clear that sanctions have been routinely imposed on vulnerable claimants without this meeting happening. However, the DWP claim that rather than cost considerations, this is because guidance was unclear, leading to “an inconsistent approach to the safeguarding these participants”.

New guidance now sets out exactly what steps providers must take to ascertain whether a claimant is vulnerable and how to attempt a face-to-face meeting prior to referring them for a sanction.

Sadly, more than half of all ESA sanctions have already been imposed on claimants with mental health conditions, many of whom will not have been subject to proper ‘safeguarding’ checks. We know that for some claimants, unfair sanctions have caused a dramatic deterioration in their health and sometimes even resulted in their death.  We also know that in many cases claimants had no idea they were going to be sanctioned until their payments were cut.

For them, it is now much too late to begin applying the rules correctly.

You can download a copy of the new guidance from this link.


#7 PaulusBilla 2015-06-05 23:00
Quoting Bill24chev:

A 'fair' sanction does not exist. We accept people starving is right, when it is always wrong. For all who are sanctioned.

Universal Credit will bring about permanent sanctions when nationally rolled out.

I wrote and suggested a fairer way for sanctions some time ago to my own MP who passed it on to IDS.

I suggested that they could be more in the form of a 'fine' BUT issued only by a tribunal not a 'decision maker' who may or may not have targets to meet. I even suggested a format as an example based on the current system.

A four week sanction currently means NO money and often no housing or council tax benefit for four weeks. My idea is as follows and I welcome comments on it.

Four weeks income for a single person = (approx) £73 x 4 = £292. Currently this plus any HB or CT is removed. A better, fairer way when sanctions are absolutely unavoidable would be it is applied as a fine. So instead of absolutely nothing there is a reduction in payment of the benefit instead. As an example £73 - £5 = £68 until the 'fine' is paid off. For those with multiple sanctions a maximum of two such 'fines' at a time so income doesn't drop too low. As an extra incentive to find work if they start a permanent job and not needing to reclaim within a year (example) then they could write off the outstanding 'fine' so if and when another claim is required they start with a clean slate. If they are getting a small amount of tax credits, HB etc then that should also be exempt from sanctioning.
#6 PaulusBilla 2015-06-05 22:31
The DWP themselves should undertake more of these as well when there is the chance of sanctioning a potentially vulnerable person not just the programme providers. It is easy to pass the buck, but it should be remembered the provider is acting as an agent of the DWP with whom the blame should lay if they do not make sure guidance is clear and they also fail to make checks. Although for this actually looking at the original claim should give some pointers. I would also look at other areas of law/regulations as well though. It would be daft if one section of population is considered potentially vulnerable by law in one area of law but not another.

Under the Taking Control of Goods Regulations which came into force last year people considered as vulnerable includes single parent families and the unemployed (I guess this is because they are permanently/cur rently) on lower incomes.

For this then they should consider as well among others (in my opinion) 1) that most claimants almost certainly have no savings to fall back on. Who can really afford savings on £73 a week? 2) the type of electricity and gas meters they have. Will taking their income away mean they can't cook, clean and maintain a healthy 'normal' life? 3) do they own their home, or rent it? Often HB is withdrawn as well so they become even more vulnerable as they get into debt with rent and then also face eviction. These are just a few points that the DWP should have to consider as well before issuing a sanction maybe others can come up with more.

One last point, this has been going on for YEARS so far. Why has it taken this long to issue guidance especially considering the deaths attributed to such things. Or is this a first step as they know they will shortly have to publish the figures to reveal the size of the problem and hope to limit the impact.
+3 #5 Chris 2015-06-02 01:05

To sanctions someone on benefit before they have a wage, stops them getting that wage altogether. No money for food, soap, bus fares to get to interviews, stationery and stamps, money for mobile phone credits, etc.

Sanctions are done to even heavily pregnant women causing premature birth and by hunger the lady cannot breast feed (her milk dries up).

Foodbanks show someone going a week in hunger before can get the voucher for the foodbank.

But the foodbank is not the daily soup kitchens of old that MPs believe they are, but a restricted voucher system of only a bit of food and then no more.

Unlike Belgium and France, there is no UK law compelling supermarkets to give ALL surplus food to food charities.
This is the petition to bring that law to UK:

Unlike the EU, the UK does not have the 7 day a week free cafes providing a free hot cooked meal and hot drink to the working poor, poor pensioners and the unemployed.

Costa coffee shops have no policy - unlike pret a Manger and Greggs Bakers - to make sure all surplus food goes to food charities, but just throws the still edible food away to landfill.
This is the petition to Costa coffee firm to donate surplus food to the starving:

Sanctions are many months long, yet we medically know someone starves to death on average within one month. In history it has taken but a fortnight.

A 'fair' sanction does not exist. We accept people starving is right, when it is always wrong. For all who are sanctioned.

Universal Credit will bring about permanent sanctions when nationally rolled out.
+3 #4 carruthers 2015-06-01 22:59
Quoting Drizzle:
At least the DWP have laid down the law about this.

I believe they laid down the law about targets for sanctioning as well. As Bill (#2) said, if the claimants don't know that they should not be sanctioned, then who is going to stop the WPs sending a DMA, and the JCP issuing a sanction anyway?

Try facing down someone in power who just says, "I am not aware of any such rule." They will not accept any evidence or listen to any argument, but will do what they want to do. Only the threat of formal appeals procedures will make any difference.

And you need good information and stamina for that. I know of at least two friends who gave up on money they were entitled to because the nature of the forms and the prospect of an appeal left them too distressed to continue.

The DWP and Work Programme providers are counting on that.
+3 #3 Paul Richards 2015-06-01 21:46
Hi Drizzle,
So do I also - is this a total change in procedure? I as myself (in Military Parlance) would call this a 'DASA' or 'Ditch & Start Again'!!
This bodes well for what may be happening in the future.

Also (and separately) I have been watching 'Benefits Street' this evening - what total and utter propaganda. For the so called 'working families' who are paying for their 'childcare' for 3-4 year olds (from September 2017) they must be over the moon over what is being shown on the TV this evening. The 'scroungers' taking all that 'they' are paying for 'living at the total expense of the hardworking taxpayers' of the UK.
How on earth can these 'Benefits Street' people so degrade themselves. Do Channel 4 pay them God knows how much to 'lower 'themselves into the gutter'? These people 'basta**ise themselves.
WHAT message is this sending out to the 'hard-working families' of Britain? We are 'working' and you are all lazy sods who will not get up out of your 'scratcher' beds in the morning (MOD parlance also!!)

We on here are all 'genuine' claimants. My own wife is very ill and I am her carer and I am fully aware of the so many genuine people on here who are continually suffering - both through physical and also mental illness problems.Our present political parties do not care - either Tory or Labour (or LibDem for that matter)
All that we can hope for now (and I am sure that this will happen!) is that the present Tory Government will split apart and through their own total arrogance - will fall.
+3 #2 Bill24chev 2015-06-01 20:00
Yes it is good on the face of it. BUT how many vulnerable claimants know about these rules. The cynic in me wonders if the vulnerable don't know they are entitled to a Face to Face interview and the Provider still refers to DWP for sanctions stating that a F to F had taken place they probably wont seek advice and accept the sanction.

It would be interesting to know how many previous sanctions should not have been made because of this rule not being applied.

Probably to late for a MR/Appeal but possibility of Judicial Review perhaps.
+1 #1 Drizzle 2015-06-01 17:22
At least the DWP have laid down the law about this. I find that somewhat cheering! :-)

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