A new website has been launched to assist universal credit claimants avoid sanctions and to ensure that they are not being required to meet unrealistic requirements. The site, which is being run by the Public Law Project (PLP), comes after the government’s own social security advisers raised concerns over ‘inappropriate conditions’ and called for ‘urgent’ action to stop jobcentre staff forcing claimants to take medication in return for benefits.
The ‘claimant commitment’ is the document that is meant to set out individually-tailored requirements that must be met in return for universal credit payments and, if they are not, claimants risk sanctions. ‘Inappropriate conditions and ineffective support risks failing some benefit claimants and their families, and in some cases may cause harm,’ said Liz Sayce, interim chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee. The committee found the degree to which commitments were individually tailored was very mixed and claimants with physical and mental health problems more likely to report their commitment failed to meet their needs. The report follows concerns that that the sanctions regime under universal credit is punitive, ineffective at getting jobless people back to work and disproportionately affects the disabled (see here).
PLP has launched a microsite – www.claimantcommitments.org.uk– for claimants and advisers to help make sure that individual commitments are appropriate and do not impose unrealistic requirements. ‘The universal credit sanctioning regime has resulted in unnecessary hardship to some of the most vulnerable and marginalised in society, including care leavers, and claimants with disabilities,’ commented Sarah Clarke, a solicitor at PLP. ‘At its worst, the system is harmful and is counterproductive to its stated aims.’
Clarke pointed sanctions were ‘harsher and more frequent’ than under previous regimes. ‘Funding cuts to advice services including the legal aid cuts introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) mean that claimants can find it difficult or impossible to get the help they need to challenge decisions.’
The PLP site includes leaflets to prepare claimants for meeting their work coach or communicating via their journal. ‘This should help make sure that conditions are tailored to individual circumstances, so there are fewer sanctions for breach of inappropriate conditions,’ Clarke explained. The site’s content is customised for specific groups of claimants who may be more at risk of having a sanction imposed or who are likely to be particularly badly affected if they are sanctioned.
The following PLP leaflets available are through the new site:
- Universal Credit: General information
- Universal Credit: Domestic Abuse
- Universal Credit: Care leavers
- Universal Credit: Childcare
- Universal Credit: Homelessness
- Universal Credit: Mental health
- Universal Credit: Refugees