Six reasons you could have your benefits stopped and how long it could last explained

MILLIONS of Brits rely on the benefits system to help with living costs, such as household bills, rent and childcard support.

But claimants who fail to find work or turn up to interviews may be sanctioned, which will see your benefits docked.

How much you'll have taken off your claim depends on the offence, and in some cases the standard element of your benefits can be stopped altogether.

Sanctions only apply to this standard element of your claim. Any housing or childcare elements will still be paid.

Sanctions are split into four categories; lowest level, low level, medium level, and high level.

How long your sanction lasts depends on these categories as well as the number of previous failures within a year. We explain in the box below.

We explain six reasons why you could be sanctioned and how to appeal the decision if you believe it to be unfair.

1. Not doing enough to look for work

In order to be able to claim benefits, you'll need to agree to a Claim Commitment.

This is a list of things you promised to do in exchange for financial support.

Part of the commitment includes spending 35 hours a week looking for work, which you will need to keep a record of doing to show your work coach.

What type of Universal Credit sanctions are there?

YOU can check if you've been sanctioned correctly using this Citizens Advice link.

  • Lowest level – These apply only to those still in the work focused interview group.
  • Low level – This type of sanction lasts until you complete whatever you failed to do, plus a further seven, 14 or 28 day fixed period.
  • Medium level – Your first medium level sanction will see your money sanctioned for 28 days if its your first punishment of this sort in 364 days, or 91 days for your second.
  • Higher level – The most severe sanction level, your payments will be capped or stopped for 91 days for your first higher level sanction in 364 days, or 182 days for your second.

These four levels only apply to Universal Credit, as other benefits have their own sanction levels – we've listed some below.

The timings of the below sanctions are also different to the levels mentioned for Universal Credit.

For example, a low-level sanction for JSA is fixed at either four or 13 weeks.

You should be told how long your sanction will last when you receive notification of your payments being reduced or stopped.

  • Job Seeker’s Allowance (three levels: low, intermediate and high)
  • Employment and Support Allowance (one level: low)
  • Income Support (one level: lowest-level)
  • New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance (three levels: low, medium, high)
  • New Style Employment and Support Allowance (one level: low)

If you think you've been sanctioned unfairly, or disagree with a decision about your payment, you can ask for a mandatory reconsideration.

If your Jobcentre work coach doesn't feel you're doing enough to get back into work you can be sanctioned.

Your benefits may also be stopped if you keep applying for jobs that you're not qualified to do, or you have no means of attending.

2. Not applying for work

If you aren't even bothering to apply for work despite claiming unemployment support, you may have your benefits cut.

This is because under the commitments you will have agreed to apply to jobs to get you back into work.

3. Refusing a job offer

If you've been offered a job, Universal Credit claimants are expected to accept it as long as it's withing reason.

This is because the benefit system will support you while you're out of work and help you find a job again.

Refusing a job offer just because you don't want to will see you sanctioned at the highest level.

4. Being late for Jobcentre appointments and interviews

Often, you'll be required to attend interviews and appointments with the Jobcentre, such as to update them on your commitments to find work.

Normally, they're held face to face but at the moment they could be done over the phone or via video chat.

If there's a good reason why you can't attend a meeting then you should let the Jobcentre know immediately.

Claimants who fail to turn up to a meeting will be sanctioned until they attend another review.

If they've repeatedly missed meetings the sanctions may be stricter and last longer.

5. Failing to update your information

The amount of Universal Credit you are entitled to depends on many factors surrounding your individual circumstances, such as how many hours your work and how many children you have.

Failing to report a change in circumstances, such as moving house or getting a new job, could see you sanctions.

In the worst cases, you may be committing benefit fraud and could even face legal action.

6. You quit work without good reason

Employees on a low income can get help with living costs through Universal Credit.

But if you quit work without a good reason you may see your benefits reduced.

There's no set definition of what a good reason is, but it might include unaffordable childcare costs.

How to appeal a benefit sanction

If you think you've been sanctioned unfairly, or disagree with a decision about your payment, you can ask for a mandatory reconsideration.

Not all benefits can be sanctioned, but you can use a mandatory reconsideration to dispute a sanction or if you disagree with a decision about your benefits.

How do I apply for Universal Credit?

HERE’S all you need to know about applying for Universal Credit.

You'll need to apply to the new welfare system via the gov.uk website, starting by setting up an online account.

To make an account, you'll need an email address and a phone number.

After that, you'll need to answer a set of questions about your current circumstances, known as your "to do list".

These include things like when you last received payment for a job, what your household income is and how many people depend on you financially.

If you've lost your job, Citizens Advice recommends that you don't apply until you've received your final wages or any final holiday pay.

This is because any money you receive after you've applied for Universal Credit will count as income and mean that you're entitled to less in your first payment.

You will then need to confirm your identity online.

In certain circumstances, you'll be able to apply over the phone, such as those who don't have regular access to the internet, are visually impaired, or have a physical condition that stops you from using a computer or smartphone.

To do this, you will need to contact the Universal Credit helpline to ask if you can apply by phone or arrange a home visit.

In this case, someone can call them on your behalf if you can't do it yourself.

To start the process for a mandatory reconsideration, you'll need to contact the benefits office that gives you your payments.

You can contact them by:

  • Phone
  • Letter
  • Filling in and returning a CRMR1 form

You should include as much supporting evidence as possible to support your claim.

This could include new medical evidence, reports from specialists, or bank statements and payslips.

As well as explaining why you think you've been sanction incorrectly, you'll need to provide the date of the benefit decision, your name and address, date of birth and your National Insurance number.

For most benefits, you have one month from when you were notified about the sanction to apply for a mandatory reconsideration.

However, it is still worth applying for one should you have missed the deadline for a good reason, such as being in hospital.

Benefits where a mandatory sanction can be used include:

  • Attendance Allowance
  • Bereavement Allowance
  • Carer’s Allowance
  • Carer’s Credit
  • child maintenance (sometimes known as ‘child support’)
  • Compensation Recovery Scheme (including NHS recovery claims)
  • Diffuse Mesotheliomia Payment Scheme
  • Disability Living Allowance
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Funeral Expenses Payment
  • Income Support
  • Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Maternity Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
  • Sure Start Maternity Grant
  • Universal Credit (including advance payments)
  • Winter Fuel Payment

There’s a different process for Child Benefit, Tax-Free Childcare, Guardian’s Allowance, Tax Credits, Housing Benefit and Vaccine Damage Payment.

There's no set time on how long it will take the DWP to look into your complaint.

The Government has said that most cases take around 14 days but it can take longer than this.

What happens if I'm not happy with the outcome?

If you disagree with the decision of your mandatory reconsideration you can appeal to a First-Tier tribunal.

Claimants have one month to do this, although this is extended to 13 months for exceptional circumstances.

You'll need to download and fill in the SSCS1 form from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service website.

The form will ask for you:

  • Name and contact details
  • National Insurance number
  • Reasons for appealing

Send this, along with the outcome of your mandatory reconsideration of which you should have received two copies, to:
HMCTS Appeals Centre, PO Box 1203, Bradford, BD1 9WP.

The DWP will be asked to respond to your appeal within 28 days.

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