Housing Systems: Combating poverty and sustaining tenancies.

FOIs: Universal Credit - Conditionality and Sanctions
Below are a selection of FOIs we have, over the past few years, sent to the DWP with the answers
We hope you find these useful.

Just click on the FOI you are interested in to see the full question and the answer.

2. Please provide all *guidance and memos / training docs to enable work coaches and
decision makers to apply UC regulations 2013, reg 99 (5), (5A) and (5B)- Circumstances in
which requirements must not be imposed

3. As reg. 99(5), 5(A), and (5B) are discretionary decisions, please provide guidance used to ensure that Discretion is exercised reasonably, rationally and proportionately and in accordance with the s. 29 of the Equality Act 2010

With regards to the regulations you have quoted it is for work coaches to apply easements, or
not impose requirements. This is generally known as ‘switching off’ claimant commitment
requirements. If a work coach hasn’t done this and a referral is made to a Decision Maker (DM)
for a failure then the DM will determine that the easements should have applied, they will then
use the regulations and DM guidance.

Guidance - Discretion to switch off or lift
Requirements imposed on claimants must be reasonable given the claimant’s capability and
circumstances. There is discretion available to not impose requirements on claimants. These
claimants will be subject to a temporary circumstance, such that it would be unreasonable to
require them to comply with even limited work availability and / or work search requirements.

The work search and availability requirements can be lifted if the claimant has
• has temporary child care responsibilities
• a domestic emergency
• funeral arrangements to make
• other temporary circumstances

There is discretion to switch off work availability and / or work search requirements for a period
of time.

Examples of temporary, discretionary lifting of the work search and / or availability requirement
include instances where a claimant:
• is undertaking a work preparation requirement or voluntary work preparation requirement
(for example, undertaking certain training or education which will improve the claimant’s
prospects of moving into paid work more quickly)
• has an emergency or temporary responsibilities and it would be unreasonable to expect
the claimant to comply with the requirements for a short, temporary period of time

In the case of a temporary circumstance, it covers where a claimant suffers a change of
circumstances that is generally unexpected, and means the claimant cannot reasonably be
expected to meet even limited work search and availability requirements.
Work search and availability requirements should not be imposed for as long as considered
essential in order for the claimant to deal with what has happened.

Temporary circumstances in this regard mean up to one month.

Compulsory switch off
There are times where the claimant’s circumstances are such that work availability and work
search requirements must be switched off for a period of time. These include:
• claimants in the first 14 days of a period of sickness evidenced by self-certification and/or
a Statement of Fitness for Work
• claimants receiving or accompanying their child for medical treatment outside of Great
• claimants on Jury Service or attending court or a tribunal as a witness
• when the claimant is a prisoner
• claimants suffering bereavement following the death of partner, child or qualifying young
• claimants receiving treatment for drug and alcohol dependency
• claimants who have recently been a victim of domestic violence
• claimants who are main carers of a child in considerable distress
• claimants whom arrangements have been made for under section 82 of the Serious
Organised Crime and Police Act 2070 for a period of up to 3 months (witness protection)
• claimants engaged in public duties

Examples for switching off:

Drug and Alcohol Dependency
It is the Department's policy to support claimants with drug and / or alcohol dependency to
engage with structured treatment and recovery services as part of an active route way into

Whilst people are in structured treatment it is the role of drug and alcohol treatment providers to
provide a range of medical or psychological interventions, dependent on the needs of the

As part of the care planning process that takes place in treatment, people will be encouraged to
address the range of needs that are related to their substance misuse and agree goals,
including those related to education and employment.

Work availability and work search requirements can be switched off for up to 6 months from the
start date of treatment to enable to clamant to recover. A claimant may only have one such
period in any rolling 12 month period, calculated from the last day of any previous drug or
alcohol related switch off.

During the period for which requirements are switched off, claimants are still required to
participate in work search reviews. These have to be arranged in consultation with the
treatment provider to allow the claimant to participate.

The claimant’s requirements will be switched back on if they do not remain in treatment. Work
availability and work search requirements will be switched back on 6 months from the start date
of treatment.

Work availability and search requirements under this provision can only be switched off
following validated written evidence from the treatment provider.

Structured treatment
This is treatment in the community, with attendance at regular sessions, undertaken as part of a
care plan; prescribing, structured day programmes and structured psychosocial interventions
(counselling, therapy etc) provided by Public Health England (PHE) or the relevant body in
Scotland and Wales.

Domestic Violence
When a claimant is or has been a victim of domestic violence all work related requirements
must be temporarily switched off for three months providing the:
• incident of domestic violence and abuse occurred within the previous 6 months
• incident meets the definition of domestic violence
• claimant is not living at the same address as the abuser
• claimant has not had requirements switched off as a result of previous domestic violence
within the last 12 months
• claimant provides written evidence within one month of attending the Work Focused
Interview at which the matter is discussed

The 3 months switch off period starts on the date the claimant attends the Work Focused

If the claimant is not eligible to have their work-related requirements switched off because of
domestic violence or abuse, they may be eligible to have their requirements switched off for a
maximum of four one month, periods because their child is in distress (in development).
If, after the switch off period has expired, the claimant finds themselves in a position where they
require a further easement from work search and availability requirements for reasons directly
or indirectly related to their experience of domestic violence then this should be considered.
If necessary this may be treated as a temporary circumstance in which work search and
availability requirements can be temporarily switched off for a further short period to allow the
claimant to deal with the immediate situation arising.

If the claimant has provided the relevant evidence for domestic violence and / or abuse and is
responsible for a child, children or qualifying young person(s), the switch off period is extended
to a total of 26 weeks from the date they attend the Work Focused Interview. The claimant can
attend voluntary Work Focused Interviews after the first 3 months of the switch off period.

The claimant must provide written evidence from a person acting in an official capacity showing
• the claimant's circumstances are consistent with those of a person who has had
domestic violence and abuse inflicted upon them, or threatened, during the 6 months
prior to the claimant notifying Universal Credit
• the claimant has made contact with the person acting in an official capacity in relation to
such an incident, which occurred during that period
A person ‘acting in an official capacity' means:
• a health care professional
• a police officer
• a registered social worker
• the claimant's employer or a representative of their trade union
• any public, voluntary or charitable body which has had direct contact with the claimant in
connection with domestic violence and abuse

Jury Service
All work-related requirements must be switched off for any period during which the claimant has
to attend court because of:
• jury service
• attending court or a tribunal as a party to any proceedings
• as a witness

Temporary absence for medical treatment
Work availability and work availability requirements must be switched off for a period not
exceeding six months if:
• a claimant is temporarily absent from Great Britain for medical treatment or
• the claimant is accompanying their partner, child or qualifying young person for whom
they are responsible, for medical treatment or convalescence

All work related requirements must be switched off for the period the claimant is in prison.
More detailed guidance on prisoners is in development.

All work related requirements must be switched off for the three assessment periods following
the death of:
• the claimant’s partner
• a child, where the claimant was the child's parent
• a child or qualifying young person for whom the claimant, or where the claimant is a
couple, the other member has caring responsibilities

The claimant must not be sanctioned for not meeting work availability or work search
requirements for a period 6 months following the date of death.
If the claimant’s child is in considerable distress the claimant may be eligible to have their
requirements switched off for a further 3 one month periods.
It is optional for a claimant suffering bereavement to look for work following the death of a
partner or child but sanctions can only apply after 6 months where relevant.

Carrying out a public duty
All work related activities must be switched off for any period during which a claimant is
engaged in public duties as a:
• volunteer fire fighter
• lifeboat crew member
• volunteer coastguard
• councillor
• United Kingdom Reserve Forces (including army reserves, Royal Navy and Royal
Marines reserves, Royal Auxiliary Air Force and Special Forces (reserves)
Work related activities can only be switched off where the claimant is undertaking activities
specific to the particular public duty and doing so stops them doing what has been accepted on
the Claimant Commitment.

Internal Guidance

Fail to attend (FTA) treat as straightforward

How to consider the evidence when a claimant in the All Work-Related Requirements group has
failed to attend an interview to determine if the sanctionable failure can be treated as

When a sanctionable failure has been raised on the Work Services Platform (WSP) for failure to
attend (claimants in the All Work-Related Requirements group only), an agent considers
whether Treat as Straightforward (TaS) can be applied.
Where the claimant has failed to attend a Work-Related Interview (WRI) or Work Search
Review (WSR) but provides information or evidence that counts as TaS, there is no need to
refer to a decision maker (DM).

The reasons that can be accepted for TaS are:
• suffering a temporary period of sickness (for 2 periods of sickness in any 12 months –
the 2 periods cannot run consecutively)
• a domestic emergency (life event) – including serious illness, death, funeral or
emergency affecting a relative or close friend or death of someone the claimant is caring
• the claimant was detained in police custody for 96 hours or less, then released
• the claimant was required to attend court or tribunal
• the claimant has attended a job interview and can provide sufficient evidence, for
example, full details of the interview (time, date, location, job role) a letter from
employer/name of interviewer
• adverse weather conditions – consider if the local conditions are such that the claimant
could not reasonably be expected to attend
• the claimant has accessed the domestic violence conditionality easement within the past
12 months
• the claimant was at work or travelling to work

The agent should be satisfied that the reasons given apply to the above list and can be TaS.
However, if the reasons given meet the criteria above but the agent doubts validity, TaS cannot
be accepted and the case must be referred to the DM. See Referring a sanctionable failure to a
decision maker.

Some time ago (in 2013) in response to a FOI request DWP released a sample Claimant Commitment "Joanne Brown" which has been very useful. Has there been any change to this and is there an updated version you could publish?

Universal Credit do not have an example of a claimant commitment as we encourage claimants to apply and agree to their commitment on-line. We do have guidance for work coaches however, for when claimants prefer to make a claim and sign their commitment face to face. The guidance is attached as separate annexes – see below.
Annex 1: Commitment Pack
Annex 2: Creating a Commitment Pack
Click here for the Joanne Brown example - please note very out of date hence reason for FOI.

If a claimant is on UC he/she could be subject to full work related requirements (and face sanctions for failure to keep to them) if they are earning less than their individual "threshold" normally 35 hrs pw @ minimum wage.
What happens if someone is on a zero hours contract and doesn't know from day to day how many hours they will work? Will the DWP make an assumption that during that week there will be no work (and therefore a requirement to look for work for 35 hrs during that week) until such point as work arises? Or is there some other method of deciding?

We expect claimants to do all they reasonably can to look for and move into paid work. This is simpler under Universal Credit, which is payable in and out of work and ensures that entitlement will not end when earnings pass particular thresholds until a claimant is earning enough to leave Universal Credit altogether. This reduces the risks associated with a move into employment that exists in the current system.

As you have identified, a conditionality framework sets out the basic structure of policy “rules” that govern the application of work related requirements. The cornerstone of the conditionality framework is the conditionality group a claimant falls into (which applies to both in work and out of work claimants) and defines what requirements can be imposed based on individual circumstances.
Where a claimant has earnings below the conditionality earnings threshold they will fall into the All Work Related Requirements group and will normally be expected to meet requirements to look and be available for work. Any other work-related requirements can also be imposed.

A conditionality earnings threshold is in place to ensure that claimants earning above a certain level will not be asked to carry out work-related activity. This will normally be 35 hours x NMW). Claimants earning less than the conditionality earnings threshold may be asked to carry out relevant actions to increase their earnings (based on individual circumstances such as health, caring responsibilities etc.). An administrative earnings threshold has been introduced to ensure that only those claimants who would currently be eligible for the existing out of work benefits will fall into an active labour market regime. The threshold has been set at £330 a month for a single person and £525 a month for a couple (based on gross taxable pay).

Universal Credit is designed to be responsive to fluctuations in earnings and will reflect the amount earned by a claimant each month. Monthly reporting through Real Time Information allows Universal Credit to be adjusted on a monthly basis ensuring that if a claimant’s income falls, they will not have to wait several months for a rise in their award.
For conditionality, those claimants with variable earnings, or who move in and out of work, an assessment will be made of their future earnings over a sustained period. For the purposes of calculating the Universal Credit award a sustained period means:
- one month; or
- where a claimant’s earnings fluctuate over an identifiable cycle up to 12 months, the duration of one such cycle; or
- 3 months where a claimant’s earnings fluctuate, but not over an identifiable cycle.

Consideration will be given to whether it is reasonable to assume that the pattern will continue or that the claimant will be working over the coming period and evidence provided by the claimants. This could include contracts for future work and/or a review of past earnings.
We expect claimants to do all they reasonably can to look for and move into paid work. If a claimant turns down a particular vacancy (including zero hour contract jobs) a sanction may be applied but we will look into the circumstances of the case and consider whether they had a good reason.

Click here to see the original FOI.