If your benefit has been sanctioned then it is very important that you consider challenging this decision. Incorrect sanction decisions are extremely common and currently most people who challenge sanction decisions using all of the challenges available to them can expect to succeed.
The rules about sanctions will be slightly different depending on which benefit you are claiming. You can be sanctioned if you receive any of these benefits:
Job Seekers Allowance
Employment and Support Allowance
All of these benefits are paid on the basis that you meet certain conditions regarding attending work focused interviews, preparing for work or looking for or being available for work. Sanctions are applied by the DWP if they feel that you have breached these conditions without good cause and this will mean that they will reduce or stop your benefit for a period.
What to do if you are told your benefit is going to be sanctioned
Sometimes you will be told that the DWP are considering sanctioning your benefit and they may ask you to explain your actions before they make their decision. It is important that you use this decision to persuade them to not sanction you and you will need to act quickly as they usually give you only 5 working days to give your reasons. If you miss this deadline you should still send in your reasons late as this may persuade them to review the decision.
You cannot be sanctioned if the DWP consider that you have good cause for the action that you took. This may be because you were ill, you had a domestic emergency, you are homeless, you have caring responsibilities, you have language or literacy problems or failure to provide you with an interpretor, you had transport problems, you had another appointment to attend at the same time, you have had problems contacting DWP to rearrange your appointments or you may feel that you have been treated unreasonably or that the action that is being taken is not assisting you to find a job. Other examples are possible. The important thing is to consider how you felt at the time and the factors that influenced your decision and to put these across as clearly as possible adding any evidence you have to back up your case. DWP often fail to pay enough attention to any factors that make you vulnerable so you should ensure that you mention all of these. At this stage your benefit is likely to be suspended.
If they do not change the decision at this stage then your benefit will be sanctioned and you should receive a written decision to explain this.
The next stage in challenging the sanction decision is to request a mandatory reconsideration. You may be told by DWP that you need to request a statement of reasons for the decision. This is not a legal requirement and it is better at this stage to do a mandatory reconsideration as quickly as possible. It is always better to write a mandatory reconsideration letter rather than to request this over the phone as the record of the phone call may be lost. The Mandatory Reconsideration letter needs to explain why you feel you have good cause for the action you took (see above). You should list all of the reasons that made you take the action you took. It may also be that you feel that the DWP did not fully explain the rules to you and this could also be part of your argument.
If you have had any previous sanctions within the last 13 months you should also ask for these decisions to be reviewed at the same time as if these are successful you will get some benefits refunded and you may reduce the length of your current sanction even if the mandatory reconsideration is not successful. You can ask for all of your sanctions to be reviewed in one letter as long as you give details about all of the decisions you want to be reviewed.
If you need help to write the Mandatory Reconsideration letter you should seek advice. If you live in Coventry, Coventry Law Centre run a sanctions hotline on 02476 253160 Monday to Friday 11 to 2 who can help you through all stages of challenging a sanctions decision and also help you to access other financial help while the sanction is ongoing.
If the Mandatory Reconsideration is not successful you need to continue to dispute the decision as many decisions are not changed until the appeal stage. You should also remember that you will still not have seen the evidence against you and often this evidence can be very limited or there may be something obviously wrong with this evidence which you can point out when you see it. You will not get to see this evidence until the DWP produce their set of appeal papers.
If you have more than one sanction decision which has not been changed you can appeal all of these on one form as long as you mention all of the sanctions and address each one separately in the form. It is advisable to get help with lodging your appeal.
Once the appeal has been lodged, if you live in Coventry your case will be referred to the Law Centre so that we can provide representation.
If your appeal is successful you will get your sanctioned benefit returned to you minus any hardship payments if these have been made. If you are successful in appealing a Universal Credit sanction, you should also be refunded any repayments of the Hardship Payments that have been deducted from you and any outstanding repayments should be cancelled.
What else can you do?
If you have been sanctioned you can also ask for a Hardship Payment if you do not have enough money to live on while you are being sanctioned. In order to claim a Hardship Payment you need to phone the DWP and do the claim over the phone. The number to call is 0345 608 8545 for JSA, ESA and Income Support. If you are in receipt of Universal Credit you should call 0345 600 0723 to claim the Hardship Payment. If you are in receipt of Universal Credit you need to be aware that Hardship Payments are loans and that you will be expected to repay this at the end of your sanction period.
If you do not have enough money to live on you may also consider asking for a food bank voucher or claiming a Community Support Grant. Most advice services can arrange a referral to a food bank if necessary. A Community Support Grant is likely to only be considered if you are in exceptional circumstances. More information about claiming a Community Support Grant if you live in Coventry is available from Coventry Community Support Grant.
More information about claiming the local welfare provision in Birmingham if you live in Birmingham is available from Birmingham Local Welfare Provision
You may also consider changing the way that you make your claim for benefits or renegotiating the claimant commitment so that the conditions you are asked to satisfy in order to be entitled to benefits are reduced. More information about these possibilities is contained in the information about sanctions and the individual benefits.