UNIVERSAL Credit can be stopped for a number of reasons, so it's good for anyone claiming to understand them.
Here we explain when you can be sanctioned and why – as well as how to appeal a decision to reduce or stop your benefits.
A three-month ban on Universal Credit sanctions was introduced by the government last year because of coronavirus.
But that ended on July 1, 2020 and that means these penalties can once more be handed down.
Still far fewer people are being sanctioned each month, compared to before the pandemic, according to the latest government figures.
But with millions of people claiming Universal Credit for the first time as a result of Covid, there are many that may not be clear on how and why benefits can be docked.
How much you can have taken from your Universal Credit claim depends on what you've done – or not done as the case may be.
In some cases the standard allowance of your benefits can be stopped altogether.
Sanctions only apply to this standard allowance of your claim. Any housing or childcare elements will still be paid.
There are four types of sanction: 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.
Not attending a work-related interview is the most common way of being sanctioned.
When can I be sanctioned?
Here are the reasons you can have some of your Universal Credit taken away, or stopped all together.
- failure to attend or take part in a work-focused interview
- failure to attend or take part in a work-focused interview, and a lowest sanction level does not apply
- failure to attend or take part in a training course
- failure to take a specific action to get paid work, or to increase your earnings from work
- You meet the work availability requirement, but failed to be available to attend an interview or start work
- You meet the work search requirement and fail to take all reasonable action to get paid work or increase your earnings from work
- You fail to apply for a job when told to
- You refuse a job offer
- You quit work or reduce your hours – either voluntarily or because of misconduct
Claimants in what's referred to as the "no work requirements regime with limited capability for work related activities" can't be sanctioned.
How long will I be sanctioned for?
The length of the sanction depends on the level and how many times you've been sanctioned.
The lowest level sanction is failing to attend or take part in a work-focused interview.
The sanction will end when you attend one or get a job, or until you get an exemption for attending an intereview.
This sanction will last until you to do whatever it is you've been sanctioned for, plus an additional seven days if it's your first sanction within a year period.
If it's a second sanction in that time, it will be 14 days on top and for a third sanction it will be 28 days after.
This sanction lasts 28 days for the first medium sanction in any 12 month period, and 91 days (approximately three months) for any subsequent medium level sanctions.
This sanction lasts for 96 days for the first high level sanction in any 12-month period, and 182 days (approximately six months) for a second or subsequent sanctions.
Can I appeal a sanction?
Yes, you can contact the DWP and ask for a "mandatory reconsideration" if you think it's made the wrong decision.
You have one month from when you were notified about the sanction to do so.
If you've been sanctioned unfairly, the first thing you must do is check the level of sanction and for how long your money has been reduced.
You'll then need to contact the DWP for a "mandatory reconsideration" if you think they've made the wrong decision.
Citizens Advice says you should have been told:
- Why you’ve received a sanction
- The level of sanction you’ve been given
- How long the sanction will last
- How much money will be taken away from your Universal Credit payment
- The date the sanction decision was made
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.
There are several ways you can apply for a "mandatory reconsideration" – just remember to include as much supporting evidence as possible.
If you have an online Universal Credit account, you can write a message to the DWP explaining why you disagree with the decision.
You can also print off and fill out the CRMR1 mandatory reconsideration request form on GOV.uk but remember to allow time for your letter to get to the DWP ahead of your deadline window.
You can also call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644.
Letters should be sent to DWP Complaints, Post Handling Site B, Wolverhampton, WV99 2GY.
Help if you're sanctioned
If you're struggling to cover your bills or buy food because you've been sanctioned you could get a hardship payment.
This emergency money designed to get your through , but it's a loan and you will have to pay it back.
The repayments are made usually through a deduction to your Universal Credit payments.
You can get up to 60% of the amount you've been sanctioned for.
To be eligible you need to be over 18 and struggling to meet your basic needs, so accommodation, heating, food or hygiene.
You also need to show that you've cut back on your non-essential spending and looked for other ways of getting money such as increasing hours worked and checking other benefits you can get, for example from the local council or a charity.
You also need to do whatever it is you've been sanctioned for not doing within the last seven days before applying.
You can apply by calling the Universal credit helpline on 0800 328 5644.
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