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Changes to the sanction regime for Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants have been voted through in a parliamentary select committee, which will see the maximum sanction length for JSA claimants raised to three years from October 22nd. The shortest sanction length will also be increased from one to four weeks. ESA claimants see a new sanction regime come into force on December 3rd, with a maximum of four weeks sanction, and the amount being sanctioned raised to 70% of their ESA payments.

The new JSA regime changes how sanctions are applied with three different levels attracting different lengths of sanctions.  Lower level sanctions, including missing appointments at the job centre or workfare provider will see claimants left without money for four weeks in for the first offence and 13 weeks for the second. So if you are 9 minutes late for an appointment because a job interview ran long, you’ll have no money for one or three months.

Intermediate level sanctions also attract four then 13 week sanctions, but it is not detailed what this is for, except that they follow a period of disallowance.

Higher level sanctions are for the supposedly worst offences such as being unable take part in Mandatory Work Activity, or failing to apply for a job. The first will be 13 weeks, then 6 months and finally 3 years. If someone gets a job for 6 months, then any remaining sanction will be written off. So if you get an interview, and start MWA late so you can prepare for and attend it, you could find yourself sanctioned for 4 months, 6 months or 3 years.
The Social Security Advisory Committee has said that sanctions for MWA were already disproprtionate (PDF, section 4.16). Now they are being increased.

With half a million sanctions having been handed out in 2011, it is clear that many people will get sanctioned, leaving them without money for food or bills. The increase of the minimum sanction length to four weeks is as much of a concern as the new 3 year maximum, and will no doubt see more people needing the services of food banks to keep their children fed.

All of this is in preparation for the introduction of Universal Credit, which will also see part time and low income workers caught up in the sanction and conditionality regime, further increasing the scope for creating destitution and extreme poverty. It is not clear if the sanctions regime will change again when Universal Credit starts.

But the Tories say this is not a problem, because Hardship Loans (maximum £42/week) will be available for people sanctioned, which will be repayable from benefits, leaving people with even less money to live off after their sanction ended.

All this will see more people turning to legal loan sharks like Wonga, who have seen a 269% increase in their profits in the past year alone, leaving more and more people in positions of spiralling debts they cannot pay off.

There is also a problem with housing benefit, and whether people with longer sanctions will have problems with proving they are eligible if they have any problems with their claim. In Birmingham, Sifa Fireside, who work with homeless and vulnerably housed people, say “housing benefit is increasingly suspended if people are being sanctioned by Job Centre Plus“. This problem can only increase with longer sanctions in place, leaving people at even greater risk of homelessness.

These sanctions are not just punitive, they look to be about hounding people off benefits entirely, without regard for what happens to them. They will not help anyone to find work, nor create the jobs that would be needed for everyone to be able to get a job. They will however reduce the claimant count, allowing the government to claim unemployment is falling.

These are the details of the new sanctions regime, taken from DWP change implementation documents sent to us:


Sanction  level: Low Level

  • Failure to Attend any Mandatory Interview (this includes NJWFI, Flexible Intervention, Work Programme Referral interview)
  • Failure to undertake Work Related Activity

Sanction Length: Sanctions are unlimited, benefits will be restored when someone has “re-engaged” with the programme, and will then be followed by:

First sanction: 1 week; Second sanction is 2 weeks and further sanctions will be 4 weeks. The level of sanction will also increase to 70% of payments.

This comes into effect on December 3rd 2012.


Sanction Level: Lower

  • Failure to attend adviser interview
  • Failure to participate without good reason in Employment, Skills and Enterprise (ESE) Schemes
  • Failure to comply with Jobseeker Direction
  • Neglect to avail of place on programme or training course
  • Refuse, fail to attend or lose through misconduct a place on a programme or training course

First sanction is 4 weeks, second is 13 weeks.

Sanction Level: Intermediate

Only applied following a  new claim within a certain period

Follows disallowance for available/actively seeking work

First sanction: 4 weeks, second sanction: 13 weeks

Sanction Level: Higher

  • “Leaving a Job Voluntarily
  • Losing a Job Through Misconduct
  • Failure to participate without good reason in Mandatorw Work Activity Scheme
  • Negelct to avial of employment opportunity
  • Refuse or fail to apply for a job

First sanction: 13 weeks, Second sanction: 26 weeks, Third sanction 156 weeks (3 years).

Follows disallowance for available/actively seeking work


These are scans of the letters now being given to jobseeker’s informing them of the changes:

Source: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/jsa-maximum-sanction-increases-to-three-years-from-october-22nd/