Maximum period for high level sanctions cut from 3 years to 6 months
New Regulations, in force from 27 November 2019, will change the sanction period for a third or subsequent high level offence from 1095 days (3 years) to 182 days (6 months). The changes apply to both Universal Credit and Jobseeker’s Allowance.
The move follows Amber Rudd's announcement in May 2019, when she said that there would no longer be 3 year sanctions as she accepted they are unnecessarily long and do not help people get back into work.
The change affects higher level sanctions, which may be imposed on UC claimants in the all work related requirements conditionality group (or JSA claimants) if the claimant:
• fails for no good reason to apply for a specific vacancy, or
• fails for no good reason to take up an offer of a job, or
• through misconduct, or voluntarily and for no good reason, stops work, or loses pay.
For a first high level sanctionable offence, the sanction period is 91 days. If the claimant then commits another high level offence more than 2 weeks after but within a year of the first offence, the sanction period for the second offence is higher – it is 182 days.
Up to 26 November the existing Regulations say that a third or subsequent high level offence which is committed more than 2 weeks after and within one year of the previous offence will attract an even higher sanction period – 3 years. This is what is being changed – it will be 182 days instead.
What happens to claimants who have already received a 3 year sanction before the change?
This change also affects those who already have a 3 year sanction when the new Regulations come in.
This means that anyone who has already had their UC reduced for 6 months or more should find that their sanction deductions will end on 26 November 2019*.
If a claimant has not yet served 6 months of a 3 year sanction, their deductions will come to an end once they have had their benefit reduced for 6 months*.
*(Unless there is another sanction period waiting to start for another sanctionable failure!).
NOTE: Other deductions could have been suspended due to the sanction deductions – so some claimants could find that when the sanction drops off, debts start to be recovered instead, eg. DWP advances, third party deduction and recovery of overpayments.
Does this mean that no-one will have a sanction imposed for longer than 6 months?
Yes and No!
No individual sanction period can last for more than 6 months, however sanction periods run consecutively. So where a claimant has more than one sanction, the periods for each are added together to create a total sanction period.
The rule is that the total number of days outstanding in a claimant’s sanction period at any one time cannot be more than 1095 (3 years). The change from 27 November 2019 does NOT change the 3 year total sanction periods limit.
So, where a claimant recieves a high level sanction, the decision maker would need to check if the claimant is currently in a sanction period and how many days are left in the total outstanding sanction periods at that point in time. So it could be possible for a claimant to have received several 6 month sanctions. If their total outstanding sanction period is 1000 days, then the sanction period for the new offence could only be 95 days.
Is it worth challenging a sanction decision?
If the claimant can show they had a good reason for acting as they did, then it is worth challenging the sanction decision.
Also, if a claimant has not been properly notified of what they were expected to do, they cannot be sanctioned for their failure. The DWP is required to meet the ‘prior information requirement’ – ie ensure that what is expected of the claimant and their responsibilities, together with the consequences of not complying, is set out clearly in understandable terms.
If successful, getting a sanction decision overturned can make a big difference financially to the claimant. The sanction period will be cancelled for that offence, deductions already taken could be refunded and any hardship payments borrowed to manage during the sanction period would no longer count as a debt. Also, if there is a second sanctionable offence, that sanction period would be shorter or reduced as a result of the successful challenge to the first sanction.
NOTE: There is no time limit to challenge a sanction decision!
The claimant should request a Mandatory Reconsideration – normally via the UC journal - and then, if this is not successful, they should then appeal. More information here.