Benefit claimants who breach their job search requirements for the first time will be given “top-up” benefit cards and be asked to sign on daily as part of a new proposal to create a more compassionate but stricter sanctions regime.
Smarter Sanctions reveals that each year as many as 68,000 people on Jobseeker’s Allowance have their benefits taken away by mistake and face unnecessary hardship as a result. This figure refers to claimants who have failed, for example, to attend a Jobcentre interview for the first time, and receive a sanction which is appealed and later overturned. The report suggests that such financial penalties have contributed to the rise in the number of people using food banks.
Under the proposals, first time offenders would be issued with a benefits card credited with their weekly benefit as opposed to facing four weeks without funds as the system now stands. Benefits would be accessed via this card for a maximum of eight weeks. If the claimant continues to breach job search conditions, the card and benefits would be taken away. This system would provide a safety net, mitigating hardship whilst a sanction is appealed, forcing claimants to re-engage with Jobcentre staff and deterring non-compliance through the added inconvenience of daily sign on.
The paper also proposes more stringent penalties for people who are consistently breaking the terms of their job search requirements. According to the research between October 2012 and September 2013, there were 30,000 claimants on their third sanction or more for lower tier offences such as missing an interview with a Jobcentre adviser. Repeat offenders should have their benefits taken away for a longer period of time from 13 to 26 weeks for a third breach. For each offence, a further 13 weeks should be added.