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Arguments for challenging a sanction

This advice applies to England

If you’ve been warned that you might be sanctioned and you think the sanction would be unfair you should explain why and give your reasons and evidence if possible. You can use the arguments below to help you.

If you’ve been sanctioned, you can ask the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to rethink their decision to sanction you if you think they shouldn’t have sanctioned you. This is called ‘mandatory reconsideration’. If the DWP refuses to change their decision, you can then make an appeal.

The ‘sanction notification’

If you’ve been sanctioned, you should have got a ‘sanction notification’ which will tell you what you’ve been sanctioned for, eg not attending an interview or missing a training course. This information will be in a letter or, if you use the digital service, posted on your Universal Credit online account. If you’ve lost the letter, contact the Universal Credit Helpline and ask them to tell you the details or send you a copy of the letter.

Universal Credit Helpline
Telephone: 0345 600 0723
Textphone: 0345 600 0743
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Calls to this number can cost up to 9p a minute from a landline, or between 3p and 55p a minute from a mobile (your phone supplier can tell you how much you’ll pay) - you can call and ask them to call you back.

You can ask the DWP to reconsider their decision if any of the following apply to you.

Argument 1 - You did the activity that the DWP says you didn't do

If you did do the tasks that the DWP says you didn’t, you should ask the DWP to reconsider the decision to sanction you. You’ll have to give them evidence that you did the tasks. For example, a copy of your application form for a job, or a letter from a company confirming you attended training or work experience.

Argument 2 - You had a good reason for not doing the activity you've been sanctioned for

If you had a good reason for not being able to complete your work-related activities, you shouldn’t be sanctioned. If any of the following reasons applied to you, or if you have another good reason not listed below, talk to the DWP straight away and ask them to reconsider the sanction.

The DWP can use their own judgement about whether you have a good reason. However, they must be reasonable and take your circumstances into account.

Sickness, disability or ill-health

You might have a good reason for not meeting a work-related requirement if you're disabled, you’re in poor health or there's a risk to your physical or mental health.

If you’re disabled

If you can show that there’s a particular reason why your disability makes it difficult for you to meet a work-related requirement, you might not have to meet it. For example, you might be able to turn down an offer of a job because you use a wheelchair and there’s no wheelchair access to the building where the job is.

If you’re living with a mental health problem

You might have a good reason for not meeting a work-related requirement if you’re living with a mental health problem. They should consider whether or not you understood what was required of you and how the state of your mental health affected your ability to meet the requirement.

You might also have a good reason if the requirement puts your mental health at risk, or risks the mental health of other people. For example, the DWP might consider it reasonable for you to turn down a job if you have to deal with large numbers of people and you have a medical history of social anxiety.

 Examples of putting the health of other people at risk include:

  •  your mental health means you experience unprovoked violent episodes
  • your mental health means when you spend time with other people it could leave them feeling stressed

Risk of mental stress

You might have no previous history of mental health problems but experience a situation that causes you a lot of stress.

For example, if you were bullied at work, the DWP can agree it was reasonable for you to leave the job and that if you remain in a situation like this, your mental health might get worse.

You’ll have to give the DWP evidence of how you’ve been feeling and the impact the job or work-related activity is having on you. For example, this could be a letter from a doctor, colleague or friend outlining the impact of the activity or situation on your stress levels.

Significant risk of harm to your health

You might have a good reason for not meeting a work-related requirement if there's a significant risk of harm to your health. For example, if you had a job in a chemical factory and you developed a long-term respiratory illness.

The DWP will probably need to see evidence, usually a letter from your doctor, that meeting a work-related requirement would be harmful to you. In some cases, the DWP don't have to see medical evidence if it's obvious that the job or the workplace would be harmful to you. For example, you might not be expected to accept an offer of a job somewhere which has a dusty atmosphere if you have asthma.

Child care responsibilities

You might have a good reason for failing to meet a work-related requirement if you have an unexpected need to care for a child or young person at short notice.

If you care for a child aged 5-13, you might have a good reason for leaving a job or not accepting a job if it doesn't fit in with your child's school hours.

If you care for a child over the age of 13 or who isn't at school, you'll have to show that your caring responsibilities make it unreasonable for you to accept the job.

Examples of where you might have a good reason include working at night or away from home. It also includes situations where the child needs to be looked after and you can't find alternative childcare arrangements. You must be able to show you've made every effort to find alternative arrangements.

Personal crisis

You might have a good reason for failing to meet a work-related requirement if you experienced an unexpected personal crisis. For example:

  • family break-up
  • the need to care for an older person or someone who’s sick at short notice
  • an emergency at home such as flooding or burglary
  • a family bereavement
  • homelessness

If you can, try to provide some evidence of this to the DWP. For example, photos of damage at home or a death certificate or letter from a funeral home if you’ve had a family bereavement.

Domestic violence

 You might have a good reason for failing to meet a work-related requirement if carrying out your work related activity would have put you at risk of domestic violence.

Learning difficulty or are poor at reading, writing, or maths

You might have a good reason for failing to meet a work-related requirement if you have a learning difficulty or are poor at reading, writing, or maths - you’ll have to show that you don’t understand or can’t do what’s being asked of you.

You might have a good reason for failing to meet a work-related requirement if there’s a legal reason, eg failing a CRB check.

Religious or conscientious beliefs

You might have a good reason for failing to meet a work-related requirement if the work-related activity clashes with your religious or conscientious beliefs. You need to provide evidence that your beliefs are sincere and show how they clash with the type of work you've been offered.

Providing evidence of your reasons

In most cases, you’ll have to provide evidence of why you couldn't meet a work-related requirement. If possible, you should provide evidence as soon as possible in writing and keep a copy of it. If you’re not sure what type of evidence you should provide, ask the Universal Credit Helpline.

Universal Credit Helpline
Telephone: 0345 600 0723
Textphone: 0345 600 0743
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Calls to this number can cost up to 9p a minute from a landline, or between 8p and 40p a minute from a mobile (your phone supplier can tell you how much you’ll pay) - you can call and ask them to call you back.

Argument 3 - You've been sanctioned for something that wasn't in your claimant commitment

If you’ve been sanctioned for not doing something that your work coach didn't include in your claimant commitment, you should challenge their decision and argue that you didn't have to carry out that activity.

Argument 4 - Your original claimant commitment was inappropriate for your circumstances

Adjustments should be made for those with a long-term physical disability or mental health problem

If you have a long-term physical disability, illness or mental health problem, your claimant commitment should have been adjusted to account for this. For example, your work coach should have talked to you about what was manageable for you in your circumstances. If you don’t feel this happened, or you were pressured into agreeing to carry out activities that weren’t realistic for you, you could have been discriminated against. You can make a complaint and appeal the sanction. You can go to your local Citizens Advice for help with this.

Claimant commitment wasn’t right for you from the start

If you think you failed to carry out your work-related activity because the claimant commitment wasn’t realistic or achievable from the start, you could argue this with the DWP. However, you’d have to explain why you previously accepted and signed the claimant commitment. It might be hard to argue this point. If you’d like some help with it, contact your local Citizens Advice.

Asking to change your claimant commitment

Argument 5 - If you've been sanctioned for not taking a job, stopping work or losing pay

Usually, if you refuse to take a job, voluntarily stop work or accept lower wages, you can be given a higher level sanction.

However, there are some situations in which the DWP must not give you a sanction for not taking a job, stopping work, or accepting lower pay. If you're in one of the following situations and they sanction you, you can challenge their decision.

The vacancy was only offered to you because of a strike

If a vacancy was only offered to you because of a strike, and you didn’t apply for the job or accept the job offer, you can't be given a sanction.

You voluntarily stopped work or lost pay because of a strike

The DWP must not sanction you if you voluntarily stop work or lose pay because of a strike.

Stopping work or losing pay in a trial period

The Jobcentre can put you on a 56 day trial period in which you try out paid work or try working more hours than normal. You may have agreed with your work coach to work a certain number of hours per week in the trial period. If this is the case, and you temporarily work over the agreed hours, but then drop your hours back to the agreed level, the DWP must not give you a sanction for stopping work or losing pay. 

Your trial period starts on the 29th day of the new work or extra hours, and ends on the 84th day of it. 

If you work in the armed forces or reserve forces

The DWP must not sanction you for voluntarily stopping work or losing pay in the armed forces or reserve forces.

You stopped work or accepted lower pay before you claimed Universal Credit

You can sometimes get a higher level sanction if you did one of the following before you claimed Universal Credit:

You can be sanctioned if you did one of the following before you claimed Universal Credit:

  • you refused a job offer without good reason

  • you stopped paid work voluntarily without good reason or because of misconduct

  • you accepted lower wages voluntarily without good reason

However, you can only be sanctioned in these cases if the length of the sanction would be longer than the period between the day after the day on which you did these things and the date of your claim for Universal Credit.

Higher level sanctions are normally 91 days long (14 days if you’re under 18).

There is no firm definition of a ‘good reason’ but DWP must consider what was reasonable for you to do in your circumstances. For example, a good reason for quitting your job could be because you were bullied at work.

 Example

On 4th June you voluntarily quit your job because you weren’t enjoying it any more. You spent 4 weeks trying to find another job but couldn’t. So on 6th July you made a claim for Universal Credit. The time between the day after quitting your job and the date of your claim was 31 days. As 31 days is less than the typical length of a higher level sanction (91 days), the DWP could sanction you for voluntarily quitting your job.

If, however, you spent 12 weeks trying to find another job and claimed Universal Credit on 6th September, the number of days between the day after you quit your job and the date of your claim would be 93 days. As that’s over the typical length of a higher level sanction, the DWP couldn’t sanction you for voluntarily quitting your job.

If you came off Universal Credit and started getting it again within 6 months

If you started getting Universal Credit again within 6 months of your last payment, the DWP can’t give you a sanction for misconduct that took place before you started getting Universal Credit again.

If you’ve been made redundant, laid off or told to take reduced hours

The DWP must not give you a higher level sanction for voluntarily stopping work if you’re in any of the following situations:

  • you voluntarily took redundancy

  • you've been told by your employer to take some unpaid time off because they don’t have enough work for you at the moment. This is called being ‘laid off’

  • you’ve been told by your employer that you have to take reduced hours for a short time because they haven’t got enough work. This is called ‘short-time working’

If you’re in any of these situations the rules are complicated, so get advice from your nearest Citizens Advice before challenging a sanction on these grounds.

If your earnings stay above a certain level

The DWP must not sanction you if you meet all the following conditions:

  •  you've stopped work or lost pay (even if this was due to misconduct or voluntarily without good reason)
  • the DWP decides your earnings (or your joint earnings if you're a couple) are still so high that you don't have to meet the work search requirement or the work availability requirement

If you’re in the all work related requirements group, you shouldn’t be sanctioned for not doing something in your work search requirement and work availability requirement if you:

  •  had to go to court as a witness or defendant
  • were sent to prison

  • were temporarily away from Great Britain

  • suffered a bereavement or have to arrange a funeral

  • are getting alcohol or drug treatment

  • are being protected by the police or another organisation

  • are doing a government-approved public duty, for example you’re a volunteer firefighter

  • are unfit for work for a short period as a result of illness or injury

  • need time to prepare for work

  • have childcare responsibilities

  • are dealing with an emergency at home

  • are working and your earnings are high enough

  • are a victim of domestic violence

  • have a child who has been affected by a death or violence

If these apply to you and you’ve been sanctioned for not doing something in your work search or work availability requirement, you could ask for the sanction decision to be changed.

 

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