Benefit sanctions ‘pot luck’ slammed by MPs after scathing report

Some 'welfare-to-work' providers twice as tough for the same referrals

Photo: Damian Green, Work and Pensions Secretary

MPs tore into benefit sanctions today as a scathing report finds some ‘welfare-to-work’ programmes are twice as tough as others in handing out penalties.

The report by the National Audit Office accused the Department of Work and Pensions of doing too little to find out how sanctions are affecting claimants, while penalties are causing hardship, hunger and depression – with little evidence they do any good.

Some ‘work programme providers’, who offer paid work to job centre claimants, are making more than double the sanction referrals as others for similar people in the same area, the report said.

Meg Hillier, Labour MP and chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“Benefit sanctions punish some of the poorest people in the country. But despite the anxiety and misery they cause, it seems to be pot luck who gets sanctioned.”

She added that while some studies suggest sanctions encourage people back to work, others stop claiming but don’t find work, and the DwP has no record of them. ‘If vulnerable people fall through the safety net, what happens to them?’ she said.

Nearly a quarter of all Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants were sanctioned at least once between 2010 and 2015.

Many are being sanctioned by mistake, with more than a quarter of work programme sanctions overturned last year, compared to 11 per cent of job centre penalties, the report said.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the report shows ‘a failing department is trying to prop up a discredited system’.

“The DWP have turned this system in a postcode lottery and means that someone could be sanctioned in one place and not in another for the same thing,’ he added.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said the government must do more to reduce the number of mistaken sanctions, and the ‘notable differences in sanctions applications between comparable localities’.

Child Poverty Action Group chief executive Alison Garnham said:

“As today’s NAO report makes clear, the DWP has little idea what impact sanctions have on individuals and, with some areas imposing twice as many sanctions as others, appears to have little concern for consistency.”

A DWP spokesman said: ‘The number of sanctions has fallen, and they are only ever used as a last resort after people fail to do what is asked of them in return for benefits.’ They added the NAO recommendations will be considered and responded to.

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