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Sanctions could double under Universal Credit

This news post is almost 9 years old

​Roll-out of the new payments system will bring with it a harsher sanction regime, a think tank warns

Sanctions could double with the roll out of Universal Credit, a leading think tank has claimed.

A report by the New Policy Institute (NPI) warns that as Universal Credit carries increasing demands on claimants to which they must adhere – called conditionality - sanctions could realistically double by the time it is rolled out across the UK, by an extra 600,000.

Universal Credit is currently being launched in different areas across the UK. The system consolidates all benefits, including housing, into one payment for claimants.

The institute reported there were 686,000 benefit sanctions in the UK in 2014, down on the previous year, but that the fall was almost entirely due to the reduction in the number of Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimants, not the system becoming less harsh.

The sanctions system has not been administered well

Worryingly, because of the way Universal Credit works - tapering benefits depending on income - sanctions may not in future be confined to the unemployed.

For example employed people could suffer financially if they don't work enough hours.

The report says: “There is an unprecedented extension of conditionality in the social security system, carrying with that the administrative implications of the state dealing in greater depth with larger numbers of people.

“As the Resolution Foundation has noted, expanding conditionality to in-work claimants is especially questionable in an economy with still high levels of underemployment.”

Over a quarter of JSA sanctions were received by disabled people or lone parents - at the same time, Employment Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions have risen to their highest ever level in 2014.

The government’s controversial Work Programme and other back to work schemes are blamed for an emerging benefit sanctions culture among providers and Jobcentres, with sanctions resulting in an average loss of income of around £530 in 2013-14.

“According to the 2012 Impact Assessment, an additional one million claimants will be covered by conditionality,” says the report.

“Expanding massively the scope of conditionality and sanctions to new areas is an alarming prospect in light of this.”

Reasons for sanctions include failing to actively seek work, participate in training and employment schemes or attend interviews.

And the report adds: “The sanctions system has not been administered well – for example, the automatic referrals from Work Programme providers, or the high proportion of sanctions that are overturned on appeal, or the abiding reports of ‘expectations’ of reaching certain numbers for sanctions.”

An estimated 65,000 people in the UK are currently claiming Universal Credit, according to up-to-date DWP data.