The Universal Credit sanctions system has resumed, following a three-month pause during the UK lockdown earlier this year. With some aspects of the lockdown now easing in different ways across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, now, Universal Credit claimants will need to ensure they actively look for work or make themselves available to work, the government has said, otherwise they could face a sanction.
During Work and Pension Questions in the House of Commons on Monday June 29, Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey was asked about the possibility of extending the sanction rules.
Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Jonathan Reynolds said: “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.
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“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?”
Responding, Ms Coffey did not confirm that an extension would take place.
She said: “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.
“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.”
So, what is the claimant commitment and how can it affect payments?
The claimant commitment is usually drawn up during a meeting between the work coach and the claimant.
It sets out what the claimant has agreed to do, and this is usually reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
In order to continue receiving Universal Credit, the claimant needs to accept and meet the new terms.
Failing to meet the specified responsibilities or doing what a person has agreed in their claimant commitment could mean the recipient sees their Universal Credit payment is stopped or reduced.
This is what is known as a sanction, and there are different levels of sanctions.
The level that’s applied is based on what a person has or hasn’t done, and how often.
Claimants should also be aware that they need to report changes to their circumstances.
Failing to do so straight away could mean their claim is stopped or reduced.
GOV.UK states: “Changes can include:
- Finding or finishing a job
- Having a child
- Moving in with your partner
- Starting to care for a child or disabled person
- Moving to a new address
- Changing your bank details
- Your rent going up or down
- Changes to your health condition
- Becoming too ill to work or meet your work coach
- Changes to your earnings (only if you’re self-employed).”