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New figures from Citizens Advice show “appalling human cost” of sanctions

25 October 2013

System designed to encourage work sometimes penalises jobseekers for attending job interviews

Citizens Advice has called on ministers to urgently rethink how they apply sanctions to jobseekers as the charity’s national figures show a rise of 64% in the number of problems with sanctions compared to this period last year. From July to September this year, Citizens Advice Bureaux across the country dealt with 3,895 issues with sanctions for Jobseekers Allowance.

The latest figures, which the national charity’s Chief Executive labels “appalling”, come as a new survey, undertaken by Greater Manchester Citizens Advice Bureaux, highlights some of the difficulties that the current rules are causing for the individuals and families affected by withdrawal of support through sanctions.

Sanctions, starting at a minimum of four weeks, are given to people claiming support, such as Jobseekers Allowance, when they miss an appointment or are thought to be not doing enough to find work.  The charity's national Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, says "it's only fair" that people receiving support must do as much as they can to get work, but says that "too often the sanctions regime is excessively harsh and badly implemented".

The sanctioning system was made significantly tougher in 2012, with some claimants now facing the removal of financial support for up to three years, and a minimum of four weeks, while they look for work. The charity today warns that many people have no idea why their support is withdrawn whilst others have been punished for attending a job interview rather than visiting a Jobcentre.  

Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:

"Today we see the appalling human cost of this tough new sanctions regime.  The huge 64% increase in cases since this time last year shows that in too many cases, people working hard to get a job face unnecessary and harmful extra barriers imposed by the Government.  

"It's only fair that people receiving taxpayers' money should be required to do as much as they can to get work but it is overwhelmingly the case that our clients are desperate to get back into employment.  In the current climate, finding work is a huge challenge. People looking for work need strong, targeted support to help them back into employment and in many cases sanctioning them can be harmful and counter-productive.

"Too often the sanctions regime is excessively harsh and badly implemented. Every detail of the support system should be geared towards getting those that can work back into a job.

“A minimum four week sanction for even the smallest mistake can move people further and further away from the job market.  It cannot be right that we have a system of support for jobseekers which actually docks their support for attending a job interview. Ministers must urgently address the glaring problems in this system."

A new survey, led by Manchester Citizens Advice Bureaux, asked people affected by sanctions for their experience of the system.

Many respondents said that they were not well informed about why their support had been stopped, whilst others had been punished for not attending an appointment at a Jobcentre when they had failed to do so because of a job interview.

Citizens Advice

Notes to editors

    • In the period from July to September 2012 Citizens Advice Bureaux gave advice on 2,381 issues related to JSA sanctions. In the period from July to September 2013 Citizens Advice Bureaux gave advice on 3,895 issues related to JSA sanctions, representing a year-on-year increase of 64%.
    • The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
    • The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
    • You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06 or 08454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
    • Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 6.6 million problems from April 2012 to March 2013. For full 2012/2013 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
    • Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 22,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.