Extensive Tips on JSA and ESA sanction appeals and claiming Hardship Payments

53% of reconsideration requests and appeals against JSA sanctions are successful

Content

1) JSA or ESA claimant and sanctioned?
2) Mandatory reconsideration (Appeal first stage)
2.1) Reconsideration time frame
3) Written statement of reasons
3.1) Be wary of the telephone
4) Second opinion
5) Complain to your MP
6) Hardship payments
7) Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction/Benefit
8) Keep claiming
9) Jobcentre adviser is abusive?
Some other points

1) JSA or ESA claimant and sanctioned?

Are you a JSA/ESA claimant and have you been sanctioned? If so, it’s important to take effective action promptly. You have a right to appeal. Currently only one claimant in four appeals a sanction. This is far too few, because the statistics show that the success rate of appeals is currently over 50 per cent. In other words your chance of success is better than evens. In fact, everyone should appeal, because even where sanctions are legally justified, the penalties have become unreasonably harsh.

2) Mandatory reconsideration (Appeal first stage)

The process of appealing to the first stage, after the DWP has sent you their Decision Letter, is an internal ‘mandatory reconsideration’ by DWP. It is simple and doesn’t cost anything apart from telephone calls, stamps or fares.

https://www.gov.uk/appeal-benefit/decisions-made-on-after-28-october-2013quarter

2.1) Reconsideration time frame

You have to contact the DWP within 1 month of the Decision Letter to ask for mandatory reconsideration, or 1 month and 14 days if you also asked for written statement of reasons for the sanction. The DWP does not have to respond within any set period, but you should contact them if there is a delay of more than a month to make sure your request is being progressed.

3) Written statement of reasons

If the Jobcentre has not sent you a written statement of reasons for the sanction with your Decision Letter, then request it immediately. The DWP says you do not have to ask for a written statement before asking for reconsideration, but that looks like bad advice. It is difficult to see how you can draft an effective appeal without knowing for certain why you have been sanctioned. If you ask for a written statement, you get an extra two weeks (14 days) to lodge your appeal.

3.1) Be wary of the telephone

The DWP Decision Letter will contain a contact telephone number. But even if you discuss the issue over the phone, you should make sure that you submit any Mandatory Reconsideration appeal in writing, in order to have a clear record. Should the DWP telephone and ask you whether you are going to request reconsideration, you should state that you are considering appealing and you will only be responding in writing.

Giving your appeal reasons by telephone risks misinterpretation by the DWP or – worse – you might give the DWP information that appears to support its decision to sanction.

4) Second opinion

Don’t try to appeal without getting a second opinion from someone else as it is vital to say exactly the right things in your appeal statement. One of the best sources of advice is the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) as they are expert in this field and have an excellent record of fighting unreasonable sanctions. Currently, only one sanctioned claimant in a hundred seeks advice from them. If you can’t get to the CAB, then ask whoever you know who you think can help you the best.

5) Complain to your MP

If you have been treated unreasonably, then you should make a point of complaining to your MP (http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mps/) and insisting that they should fight your case on your behalf. There is no evidence on how many sanctioned claimants are going to their MP, but there is a lot of evidence that the DWP is very afraid of MPs and that once they are involved, it backs off imposing sanctions. The DWP is desperate to keep MPs’ support for the sanctions system. Making sure that your MP knows how unfairly sanctions are being applied is one of the best ways of helping your fellow claimants. The sooner Parliament faces up to the scale of abuse in the system, the sooner it will be reformed.

6) Hardship payments

Even if you are sanctioned, you may still be entitled to ‘hardship payments’. (http://refuted.org.uk/2013/11/20/severesuffering/) Make sure you get the information on these from the Jobcentre immediately and get your claim in on time, because there is no backdating. You will only get hardship payments if you continue to sign on for JSA or ESA.

7) Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction/Benefit

You must also contact your Housing Benefit/Council Tax Reduction office immediately you know you’ve been sanctioned. Even if you are sanctioned, you remain entitled to Housing Benefit/CTR, but you may need to make a new claim. There is lots of evidence that many sanctioned claimants are running up big rent arrears as a result of having their Housing Benefit cut off, and not being able to get it backdated. This is an extra penalty you simply don’t need and don’t deserve.

8) Keep claiming

The statistics suggest that in recent months, unreasonable pressure from sanctions has been leading an increasing number of claimants to drop their JSA claims entirely. ‘Cancelled’ and ‘reserved’ sanctions decisions are those where a claimant has stopped claiming (or is not entitled to) JSA at the time the sanction referral was made, or whose claim has ended between the time of referral and the time of decision. They have increased hugely, from 150,000 in the last year before the Coalition, to 532,000 in the year to June 2013. But your responsibility is to get the benefits, and help with job search, that you are entitled to.

Another problem is that if you stop claiming but later need to claim again, the sanction will restart, unless you have completed 6 months of employment, of sufficient hours, in the meantime.

So normally, if you are unemployed, you should keep claiming. This means you must keep signing on, and meeting jobsearch requirements, even while you are not getting benefit due to a sanction. There is one possible exception to this, in that even while sanctioned you could be subject to another sanction for not meeting requirements. This would be serious as the Coalition has now introduced a more rapidly escalating scale of penalties for repeat ‘failures’. If you feel your Jobcentre adviser is abusive or cannot be trusted, you should therefore make a complaint about them straight away.

9) Jobcentre adviser is abusive?

If you feel that your Jobcentre adviser is abusive or cannot be trusted, then seek advice immediately from the CAB or your MP, who should help you to make a complaint and get transferred to another adviser.

10) Tribunal (Appeal second stage)

If you are unsuccessful at the ‘reconsideration’ stage, then you also have the right to make a further appeal, to an independent Tribunal. This is not as formal as a court of law, but it is more formal than the ‘reconsideration’ process. Currently, less than one sanctioned claimant in fifty is appealing to a Tribunal – around 1,200 a month. The success rate is lower than for ‘reconsideration’, but it has risen from 17 per cent to 42 per cent. There are no fees and you can claim expenses. So if you have a strong case and intervention by your MP has not worked, then you should definitely go on to the Tribunal stage. You will pretty certainly need advice from the CAB or other adviser about how to do it.

10.1) Appealing to the Tribunal

There are more details and application form at: https://www.gov.uk/social-security-child-support-tribunal/appeal-direct-tribunal

SOME OTHER POINTS

DWP Contractors & Requests for Personal Information held about you (Subject Access Requests)

If your sanction involves a DWP contractor you can also submit a request for personal information (Subject Access Request) for copies of any forms or information about you submitted by them to the Jobcentre. See https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-work-pensions/about/personal-information-charter

You can also request copies of any provider letters that notified mandatory activity. Support provided by refuted has more often than not shown these forms, letters and information contain significant mistakes or fail to follow DWP provider guidance or are simply confusing, which can lead to sanctions being overturned or process stopped. However, DWP only has to respond to a Subject Access Request within 40 calendar days. This means that it is not worth waiting for the result before submitting your request for mandatory reconsideration. Any information it reveals will have to be given to your MP or used at a Tribunal.

Jobseeker Directions/Jobseeker Agreements/Claimant Commitments

If your sanction is based upon alleged non compliance with any Jobseeker Directions/Jobseeker Agreements/Claimant Commitments, it is suggested you seek an independent opinion as to whether they are reasonable to your personal circumstances. They can also be formulated in ways that are contrary to DWP guidance or written in ways that are confusing. If they are found to be unreasonable, contrary to DWP guidance or simply confusing, this can lead to sanctions being overturned.

Complaints

There are a number of ways in which you can make a complaint about the DWP.

Complain about Jobcentre Plus https://www.gov.uk/complain-jobcentre-plus

Got a complaint about a DWP Work Programme Provider? http://refuted.org.uk/2013/10/13/providercomplaint/

However, you should bear in mind that all of these complaints procedures move very slowly and the amount of compensation, if any, that you eventually receive is likely to be small. You are likely to need help in making a complaint from your CAB. Therefore you should concentrate on making sure that you get your request for reconsideration in, and if necessary complain to your MP.

Notes: Welfare rights law and DWP guidance, in particular, changes frequently. You may find more recent information via http://refuted.org.uk/category/ or by using the website search facility (top right)

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