In a sitting of The Public Accounts Committee shocking evidence has emerged, that according to a survey by Housing Charity Crisis, a third of people surveyed lost their housing benefit when being sanctioned, despite assurances from Sir Robert Devereux that “The sanction is applied to the JSA and not to the housing benefit.”
The PAC has also found that recommendations made in 2014 concerning the inappropriate use of benefit sanctions have still not been implemented.
Meg Hillier who chairs the committee, said “It is an article of faith for the Department for Work and Pensions that sanctions encourage people into work. The reality is far more complex and the potential consequences severe.”
Pat Harrington, general secretary of Solidarity Trade Union, said “Clearly there is a postcode lottery in the way that benefit claimants are treated. The confusion causing claimants to wrongly have their housing benefits stopped is entirely unacceptable.”
We reproduce below an abbreviated summary of the findings of the committee.
Summary of findings (Abbreviated - Copyright UK Parliament)
Benefit sanctions affect a large number of people, sometimes leading to hardship and undermining efforts to find work.
Recommendation: The Department for Work and Pensions should undertake a trial of warnings (rather than sanctions) for first sanctionable offences
Sanctions are imposed inconsistently on claimants by different jobcentres and providers. Recommendation: The Department should monitor variation in sanction referrals and assess reasons for the differences across jobcentres.
The Department’s data systems are not yet good enough for it to routinely understand what effect sanctions have on claimant's’ employment prospects.
Recommendation: The Department should report back to us by the end of 2017 on its progress in improving data systems
The Department does not understand the wider effects of sanctions.
Recommendation: The Department should work with the rest of government to estimate the impacts of sanctions on claimants and their wider costs to government/
The impacts of sanctions can be worse for people with housing-related barriers to employment.
Recommendation: The Department should work to better understand the relationship between sanctions and the housing-related barriers to employment that some people face. It should set out what more it will do to assure itself that Housing Benefit is not being stopped in error due to sanctions.
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