Actually agree with the motion (see below), but the instances of sanctions can be reduced by our raising awareness amongst local claimants as to why sanctions occur and how they can be mitigated, in essence:
Turn up to appointments
Keep evidence of job search activity
Most claimants are sanctioned because of:
Failing to show at an interview with the Job Centre or a Work Programme provider without giving “good reason.”
Failing to demonstrate that they have carried out sufficient job search activity to meet the requirements to actively seek work.
So our front-line staff should emphasise in their dealings with claimants that:
- They should never ignore letters from the Job Centre.
- They should always go to appointments on time.
- And if they cannot, they should let the Job Centre or Work Programme Provider know beforehand why they cannot go or contact them as soon as possible thereafter with their “good reason” for failing to attend.
- They should keep any evidence relating to why they haven’t got to appointments.
- Where claimants are struggling with job search or keeping insufficient evidence of job search they should be encouraged to
- Book support sessions with a Work Coach at the Job Centre
- Attend a work club or more than one regularly to get the help they need
We should build additional support for vulnerable claimants who are more likely to be sanctioned.
This is why the Liberal Democrats have been working with DWP to introduce additional safeguards for vulnerable claimants.
These are defined as claimants with “mental health conditions or learning disabilities or any conditions affecting communication and/or cognition”.
Problems experienced negotiating the benefit system can result in them ending up destitute.
Many of these people only find out they have been sanctioned when they have checked their bank balance and found out they don’t have any money. The number of disability claimants who have had their benefits sanctioned is soaring.
This is why we want to see the safeguarding model for vulnerable claimants in Oldham work and Oldham Council needs to be pressing and co-operating with DWP staff to make it work.
Vulnerable claimants would be encouraged to nominate a health or social worker to act on their behalf as an advocate or contact person with whom Job Centre staff will work before a sanction is considered, proactively identifying customers who may need safeguarding preventing them getting into rent arrears.
Our motion in March called for this initiative to be actively promoted by the Council and for front-line staff in a range of agencies to receive training so that they understand how they can best support these clients.
We also called for a Vulnerability Guide to be created as a ready source of information for these workers and for a liaison group to be established with representatives from all of the relevant agencies to ensure that the initiative works.
These suggestions are NOT solutions or panaceas to Universal Credit – we support the objectives of the motion – but they are practical measures that we can adopt as a Council with our social partners to reduce the incidents of sanctions amongst UC claimants in our Borough.
Labour’s Motion is below:
This Council notes that Universal Credit (UC) is a single monthly payment which replaces six working age benefits (known as legacy benefits).These are Housing Benefit (HB), Income Support (IS), Working Tax Credits (WTC), Child Tax Credit (CTC), Employment and Support Allowance (Income-related) and Job Seekers Allowance (Income-related). It supports residents on low incomes who are both in and out of work.
Oldham has been a pathfinder for Universal Credit since 2013. However, the numbers of residents moving onto Universal Credit from 2013 have been restricted to new claimants and straightforward cases. The roll out of the full service of Universal Credit which commenced in Oldham on 26 April 2017 is a new entirely online-based system and claimants must apply for and manage their claim online. It also brings in a wider range of claimants including more complex cases. It affects claimants when they make a claim for the first time or have a change in circumstances that means their existing claim for one of the legacy benefits has to be cancelled.
Oldham is one of the early boroughs subject to the rollout of Universal Credit full service. The delivery of the new service has been an area of particular concern across the country and was subject in the last parliament to an investigation by the Work and Pensions Select Committee.
As a result, and while the DWP and Job Centre Plus are the agency responsible for managing the change, the Council is committed to pro-active and continued work with key stakeholders and partners to ensure that as much support is provided to residents as possible to help achieve a smooth transition to the new service.
However, this Council has a number of concerns about Universal Credit
- The wait times between the date of application and date of assessment. There is a built in waiting period of 6 weeks before Universal Credit is awarded and this creates hardship for residents. Any delay in DWP processing times exacerbates this hardship still further.
- The level of deductions applied to monthly payments to clawback advance payments and sanctions can be high leaving residents with little money to cover basic income needs for their families for the weeks ahead.
- The high number of Universal Credit claimants that have been subject to sanctions in Oldham
- That the provision of housing costs support for short term temporary accommodation for Oldham’s homeless population is not an appropriate fit for Universal Credit and should be returned to and covered by Housing Benefit at the earliest opportunity
This Council resolves to:
Instruct the Chief Executive to write to the following to register these issues and request that solutions are explored which would improve the design and delivery of Universal Credit which would mitigate impacts for low- income, working age residents in the borough;
- The Rt. Hon David Gauke MP Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
- Debbie Abrahams MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, Jim McMahon MP for Oldham West and Royton and Angela Rayner MP for Ashton Under -Lyne, Droylsden and Failsworth
- The Local Government Association (LGA)