Universal Credit: DWP confirm sanctions to resume from today – MP queries ‘untenable’ rule

Universal Credit has been a crucial lifeline for many in recent months as coronavirus forced the government to take action. To keep those struggling afloat, Rishi Sunak boosted Universal Credits payments and made operational changes to the assessment system.

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Certain sanctions were also suspended but the suspension in place is expected to end today.

Yesterday, ministers for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) took questions in parliament and Thérèse Coffey was questioned on extending the sanction rules, as Jonathan Reynolds asked: “It is important to recognise that the Universal Credit they have been processing in this crisis is a significantly different product to usual.

“And in particular all sanctions and conditionality have been temporarily suspended.

“That suspension, Mr Speaker, is due to end tomorrow.”

“And at a time when unemployment has risen sharply, when vacancies have dropped, when people are shielding and the schools haven’t yet gone back, threatening people with reducing their financial support if they don’t look for jobs is surely untenable.

“So will the secretary of state announce an immediate extension?”

In her response, Thérèse Coffey did not confirm that an extension would be forthcoming: “Well actually Mr Speaker that as the Job Centres fully reopen this week that we do reinstate the need for having a claimant commitment.

“It’s an essential part of the contract to help people start to reconsider the vacancies there may be.

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“But I know that I can trust the work coaches, my job centre managers who are empowered to act proactively with people.

“There will be some people right now, Mr Speaker, who’ve never had to look for a job the last 20 to 30 years and they will need careful support tailored in order to make sure that they can start to look for jobs that are available and I hope will become very soon available.”

The claimant commitment mentioned by Thérèse Coffey is usually drawn up by a work coach when they initially meet with a claimant.

This commitment will set out what the claimant has agreed to do to prepare for and look for work, or to increase earnings if they’re already working.

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It will be based on the claimant’s specific circumstances and is usually reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis.

Every time it is updated, the claimant will need to accept the new terms to continue receiving Universal Credit.

The commitment will clearly state what will happen if the claimants fail to meet their responsibilities.

In some cases a claimant may receive a reduction in benefit payments which is known as a sanction.

This has been suspended due to coronavirus but as it was confirmed yesterday, the suspension will likely end from today.

When a sanction is issued, how long it lasts will depend on what the claimant failed to do and how many times they failed to meet responsibilities.

A claimant will be expected to give a reason as to why they failed to meet their responsibilities.

Impartial guidance on Universal Credit can be sought from the likes of the Money Advice Service and Citizens Advice 

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