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Check if you can challenge a JSA sanction

This advice applies to Scotland

If you've been sanctioned and you think the decision was wrong, you might be able to challenge it.

To help you decide if you should challenge it, check if you have:

  • a good reason why you shouldn't be sanctioned
  • evidence to back up your reason

Your payments will be backdated to the date your JSA was stopped or reduced if your challenge is successful.

Before you start

What reasons you can use to challenge a sanction depends on the type of JSA you're getting.

There are 3 types of JSA:

  • income-based JSA
  • contribution-based JSA
  • new style JSA

New style JSA is part of the Universal Credit system. As Universal Credit rolls out, new style JSA is replacing 'old style' contribution-based JSA.

The way new style JSA works is different to contribution-based JSA - the rules are similar to the Universal Credit rules.

If you're claiming new style JSA you'll need to check if you can challenge your sanction under the Universal Credit system.

If you aren't sure which type of JSA you're getting, check your benefit letter or contact your local Jobcentre to find out.

You weren't given a chance to explain what happened

Your work coach should warn you before a sanction and let you explain what happened - this will usually be in your next Jobcentre appointment.

You can challenge the sanction if you weren't given this opportunity.

You did what you were meant to do

You can challenge a sanction if you did everything the Jobcentre or your jobseeker's agreement said you should do.

You should get together evidence to support this, for example:

  • a copy of a job application form
  • a letter from a company confirming you attended training

If you rearranged an appointment, explain why you missed it in the first place and when you rearranged it for.

You weren't told what to do

You can challenge the sanction if you can prove you weren't asked to do something, or that the instructions weren't clear.

If you didn't hear anything from the Jobcentre, ask your work coach for a copy of the letter, text or email they sent you. If they asked you face-to-face, they should have noted the conversation on their system.

If your work coach can't show you a copy of the message they sent you, get them to explain this in writing.

If they do have a copy of the message, you'll need to prove that you never got it - for example with a note from the post office saying they couldn't deliver a letter.

If you did get the message but the instructions weren't clear, keep a copy of it to use as evidence. To challenge the sanction you'll need to be able to explain why the instructions weren't clear.

You couldn't understand the instructions

You can challenge a sanction if you had a good reason for not understanding what the Jobcentre asked you to do - for example because you have:

  • a mental health condition
  • a learning difficulty
  • a lack of English language skills
  • difficulty with reading or writing

To challenge the sanction, you'll need to explain how your situation caused you to misunderstand the instructions.

You can write this explanation yourself, or ask someone else to do it for you - for example a health professional or Citizens Advice adviser.

You had a family or home emergency

You can challenge a sanction if you were affected by an emergency - for example if you missed an appointment because you:

  • were caring for an ill relative
  • needed to collect a sick child from school
  • recently had a death in the family
  • had a burst pipe in your house

To challenge the sanction you'll need to prove that the emergency stopped you doing or rearranging the activity the Jobcentre asked you to. It's best to try and get evidence with the date of the emergency, if you can. For example, you could use a:

  • statement from a care home or doctor
  • letter from nursery or school about your child being ill
  • bill from an emergency plumber
  • death certificate

Your health or disability stopped you from doing the activity

You can challenge a sanction if you missed the activity or appointment because of a health problem or disability - for example if you had the flu or had an accident.

You can also challenge the sanction if you missed the activity or appointment because your existing health problem got worse.

To challenge the sanction, you'll need to prove that your health or disability affected you around the same time as the appointment or activity you missed. For example, you could use a:

  • letter from a doctor or counsellor
  • hospital record that shows you went to A and E or a walk in centre - you can ask the hospital for this
  • copy of a prescription, for example for painkillers following an accident
  • statement from a close family member or friend

Example

"Aydin wasn't able to go to his work programme session because he was ill with flu. He was ill for 4 days, starting on the day of his work programme session. He was too ill to call the work programme provider and because he lived alone there was no one to call for him.

He went to the session the following week and explained his illness to the trainer."

You couldn't go because it would take too long to get there

You can challenge the sanction if you didn't go to an appointment or activity because getting there would take more than 90 minutes.

You'll need evidence that it would take longer than 90 minutes - for example a print out from Google Maps or the travel time from a public transport website.

If the journey would take less than 90 minutes

You can still challenge the sanction if:

  • the journey would make your health condition worse
  • the journey was unreasonable because of your health condition or disability
  • the journey meant you couldn't care for your child or another relative

To challenge the sanction, you'll need to prove how long the journey would take, and that it would affect your health or make life especially difficult. For example, you could use a:

  • print-out from a website showing the travel time
  • letter from your child's nursery confirming the days and times your child is there
  • letter from a doctor
  • copy of the job description

Your beliefs meant you couldn't do it

You can challenge a sanction if you were asked to do something that goes against your beliefs. For example, if you were asked to work on a particular day of the week, or the job meant you had to handle certain food products.

To challenge the sanction, you'll need to have some evidence of your beliefs. For example, you could ask for a letter from your place of worship.

You'll also need to show that the terms of employment went against your beliefs. For example, that the employment contract said you had to work on a certain day.

You've experienced violence or abuse

Abuse isn't just about being hurt - it's still abuse if your partner is often angry or criticises you, or if they control what you do or which friends you see.

You can challenge the sanction if you were asked to do something that put you at risk of abuse, or would have caused you stress as a result of past abuse.
For example, if you were asked to go for a job interview where an abusive ex-partner worked.

To show that you were at risk of abuse, get together any evidence of past abuse, if you can. For example, a statement from a counsellor, health professional or support agency.

You resigned from your job

The DWP call this 'leaving work voluntarily' - you can challenge a sanction for resigning if you left your job for a good reason, for example if you:

  • took voluntary redundancy
  • weren't getting minimum wage
  • didn't feel safe working in the conditions because they didn't meet health and safety standards
  • didn't feel safe because you were bullied or harassed
  • had a zero-hour contract

You might also be able to challenge the sanction if you left the job during the 'trial period'. This is usually more than 5 weeks - but less than 13 weeks - after starting.

To challenge the sanction, you'll need to show that the reason you left work was valid. For example, you could get together:

  • messages between you and your employer or union about your resignation
  • photos of unsafe conditions at work
  • copies of payslips showing less than minimum wage

If you left because of childcare commitments

If you resigned from your previous job because the working hours made it impossible for you to look after your children, you should explain:

  • when you need to look after your children
  • why you couldn't use after school clubs or relatives to help you
  • requests you made to your employer to change your working hours
  • what your employer did or didn't do to change your working pattern

To challenge the sanction, you'll need to prove that the job clashed with your childcare commitments - you can use evidence like:

  • a letter from school or nursery
  • a copy of your contract
  • messages between you and your employer or union

You were dismissed from your job because of misconduct

The DWP call this 'losing employment through misconduct'. You can challenge this sanction if you can show you weren't guilty of misconduct.

For example, it doesn't count as misconduct if you were dismissed for:

  • poor performance
  • genuine sickness absence
  • not doing something you were asked to do - if it wasn't in your job description and wasn't reasonable or you had a good reason

Your employer can dismiss you for misconduct if you're careless or negligent at work - it doesn't need to be something you did deliberately.

To challenge the sanction, you'll need to show your employer was wrong to dismiss you for misconduct. If you can, ask your employer for a statement explaining why they dismissed you and write your own statement in reply.

You didn't take part in a skills or training scheme

You can challenge the sanction if you didn't take part in the scheme because the Jobcentre didn't give you enough information. You can only challenge the sanction this way if the scheme was one of the following:

  • The Work Programme
  • New Enterprise Allowance
  • The sector-based work academy
  • Skills Conditionality
  • Full time training flexibility
  • Day One Support for Young People
  • The Derbyshire Mandatory Youth Activity Programme

Before starting the scheme, you should've had a:

  • conversation with your work coach to decide on a programme
  • letter from your work coach with specific details about the programme
  • notification from the Jobcentre or scheme provider telling you what you had to do - this could have been a text or letter

Between them, the letter and notification should have covered:

  • that you needed to take part in the scheme
  • the day the scheme started and ended
  • what you had to do to take part
  • what would happen if you didn't take part

To challenge the sanction, you'll need copies of any messages so you can explain what information was missing. For example if it didn't include the date the scheme started, or what would happen if you didn't take part.

Challenging a sanction

If you think you have a good reason and the evidence to support it, you'll need to ask for ‘mandatory reconsideration’ - this means the DWP will look at your evidence and then reconsider their decision.

If you can't challenge a sanction

You might be able to get a 'hardship payment' for essentials like heating. This is extra money you don't have to pay back - check if you can get a hardship payment.

If you're worried you won't be able to afford food during the sanction, check if there's a foodbank or any other help in your area.

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