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What to do if you’ve been sanctioned while on ESA

This advice applies to Scotland

Sanctions are when the DWP reduces the amount of money you get because they believe you haven’t kept to the rules that you need to.

Check you’ve been sanctioned correctly

What you can be sanctioned for

You can’t be sanctioned if you’re in the ESA support group. Only people in the work-related activity group can be sanctioned.

While you’re in the work-related activity group, the DWP can sanction you if:

  • you don’t go to a work-focused interview
  • you go, but don’t take part in your interview
  • you don’t take part in a compulsory work-related activity that you’ve been asked to 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 letter from a company confirming you attended training or work experience.

If you’ve been sanctioned for not doing something that you hadn’t agreed to do, you should challenge their decision and argue that you didn't have to carry out that activity.

If you’re not sure what you’ve been sanctioned for, check your ‘sanction notification’ letter from DWP. This should tell you what you’ve been sanctioned for, eg not attending an interview or missing a training course. If you’ve lost the letter, contact the ESA helpline and ask them to tell you the details or send you a copy of the letter.

ESA helpline
Telephone: 0800 055 6688
Textphone: 0800 023 4888
Welsh language telephone: 0800 012 1888
Open Monday to Friday from 8.00am to 6.00pm

If you had a good reason for not doing the activity

If you had a good reason for missing an interview or work-related activity, you shouldn’t be sanctioned. There’s no set definition of what counts as a good reason - the DWP will use their own judgement about whether you have one. However, they must be reasonable and take all your circumstances into account.

Examples of good reasons are:

  • a medical appointment that you couldn’t rearrange
  • a death in the family
  • your health or disability stopped you from going

If you think you have a good reason for missing an interview or work-related activity, you must tell your adviser this within 5 working days of the date you’re notified that you had failed to take part in the appointment or activity you missed, otherwise you could still get sanctioned.

Was the activity appropriate for someone with your disability or health condition?

If you have a long-term physical disability, illness or mental health problem, the activities you’re expected to do should be adjusted to account for this - these are called ‘reasonable adjustments’.

Your personal adviser should have talked to you about what was manageable for you in your circumstances, eg if you’re a wheelchair user you might only be able to attend training venues that have wheelchair access. This should have made your work-related activities more manageable for you.

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.

How long a sanction should last

The sanction should last until you go to and take part in the interview or activity that you missed. They also add on extra time, depending on whether it’s the first time you’ve missed something, or if it’s happened before:

Your situation:Extra time added to your sanction:
This is the first time you’ve been sanctioned 1 week
You’ve been sanctioned before, within the last year 2 weeks
You’ve been sanctioned more than once before, within the last year 4 weeks

If you think you shouldn’t have been sanctioned

If you’ve been sanctioned and you think you shouldn’t have been, you can ask for this to be looked at again. This is called ‘mandatory reconsideration’ and you have to go through this step with the DWP before you can appeal.

You must do this within one month of the date the sanction decision was sent to you. The date will be on the decision notice.

Challenge a DWP decision about your ESA.

Hardship payments - money if you’re struggling

If you’ve been sanctioned and are struggling for money, you can ask the Jobcentre for a hardship payment. This is money to help you pay for essentials like food, clothing and heating.

It's always a good idea to check your claiming all the benefits you're entitled to. Find out what benefits and extra help you could get by using an online tool on the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk

In Scotland, you can apply to your local authority for a crisis grant to help with living costs if you have no other source of income.

How to avoid another sanction

Keeping appointments

If you need to miss an interview or activity for a good reason (for example, you’re very sick or are in hospital) tell your adviser as soon as you can. Keep a note of the date and time of the call, who you speak to and what was said.

If you need help with the cost of traveling to appointments, ask the Jobcentre what support is available.

Keep a diary each week of what interviews or work-related activity you’ve done. For example, the date you went on a training course and where the course was held. If there’s something you haven’t been able to do, be prepared to explain why. If there’s a reason, try and get evidence of it to show your adviser. For example, if you were ill, get a note from the doctor.

Reporting changes in circumstances

Make sure you tell the ESA helpline of any changes in your personal circumstances straight away. For example, if your health or condition gets worse or you get pregnant or have a child. This could mean you get switched to the Support Group or you’ll be expected to do fewer work-related activities.

ESA helpline

Telephone: 0800 055 6688
Textphone: 0800 023 4888
Welsh language telephone: 0800 012 1888
Open Monday to Friday from 8.00am to 6.00pm

If you have a long-term physical disability, illness or mental health problem, the activities you could be expected to do should be adjusted to account for this - these are called ‘reasonable adjustments’. Talk to your personal adviser about what is manageable for you in your circumstances, eg if you’re a wheelchair user you might only be able to attend training venues that have wheelchair access. This should make your work-related activities more manageable for you and reduce the chance of you being sanctioned.

If you ask for a reasonable adjustment to be made and it doesn't happen, this could be discrimination and you may be able to complain. If you need help with a discrimination issue, contact your local Citizens Advice.

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