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Stopping of benefits

Keith Parkins | 20.03.2008 12:53 | Repression | Social Struggles | Workers' Movements | Liverpool | Sheffield

Many claimants are finding their benefits are being stopped on entirely bogus grounds. The intention being to force them off benefits. If they appeal, they usually win and get their benefits reinstated, but at what cost in terms of stress and peace of mind?

Many claimants are finding their benefits are seemingly being stopped on a whim, possibly harassment, certainly the bottom of the barrel is being scraped to find pathetic excuses to stop benefits. The front line staff themselves are ignorant of the rules, and make contradictory statements to claimants.

Some people seem to be targetted.

In addition to stopping benefits and other threats, claimants are being pushed onto scam training courses where the only beneficiaries are those running the courses. Claimants cannot refuse, as the courses are mandatory and if you refuse, that in itself will be used as an excuse to stop benefits.

In most cases, all that is raised is a doubt. Not facts, no evidence, just a doubt.

Front line staff will raise a doubt. Until that doubt is resolved, benefits will be stopped, and the situation not resolved until a Tribunal hearing which may be many months away.

The claimant is put under a great deal of stress, often has to live with no money coming in, but with bills to be paid. A great deal of paperwork has to be dealt with, not just to deal with the original doubt, but also in preparation for the Tribunal hearing.

The next thing that happens is that Housing Benefit and Council Tax payments stop, putting your home at risk. More time has to be wasted, more stress.

If your bank account goes overdrawn, you get hit with unlawful bank charges.

A recent study showed that there are huge inequalities in health. The poorer you are, the worse will be your health. Those with the poorest health are those on benefit.

It is easy to see why. Stress caused by constant harassment, worry whether or not payments will be paid. If payments are stopped, with no money, no food, no heating. The payments themselves are inadequate, food and fuel inflation (on which the bulk of benefit is spent), is currently running much higher than the official inflation figures on which benefits are based.

Always appeal to a Tribunal, where you may, but not always, get a fair hearing.

If you do not know how to appeal, seek help. If you know how to appeal, help others with their appeal.

Figures provided by DWP and recently analysed, show that the majority of appeals are successful.

Variable sanctions

These can last for between 1 and 26 weeks. From April 2000 to July 2007, a total of 2 686 400 decisions were taken to impose a sanction of this type. In the vast majority of cases (2 665 710) no appeal was made. This is partly because upon reconsideration of the original decisions only 312 720 were upheld.

However, for the 20 690 appeals that were made, 17 920 were in favour of the claimant. This works out at 86%.

Fixed sanctions

A sanction of 2 weeks (4 weeks if repeated within 12 months, and 26 weeks if already received a 4 week sanction within last 12 months) are imposed for refusal, without good cause, to attend an employment programme or carry out a Jobseeker's Direction.

Of 500 790 sanctions only 38 890 were upheld on reconsideration. There was a total of 3500 appeals. Only 130 went against the claimant. That is a 96% strike rate!

Broken down into the reasons given for the sanction, cases in which claimants had given up a place on an employment training programme there were 260 appeals and only 10 went against the claimant.

Entitlement decisions

There were 1 623 630 decisions that people were not entitled to JSA. There were 6940 appeals. JSA claimants lost only 260 cases. For example, looking at the reasons given more closely of these appeals, benefits were stopped in 3350 cases for Failure to attend/ Failure to produce signed declaration. Only 80 decisions were upheld before the tribunal.

What these figures reinforce is the need to appeal. Very often DWP does not even bother to attend, as they know they do not have a case.

The rules for actively seeking work, a legal requirement to obtain Jobseeker's Allowance, are quite simple and easy to comply with. If you are in compliance, then you are entitled to receive JSA.

The relevant legislation is The Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations 1996 (Statutory Instrument 1996 No 207)

and in particular Section 18 - Steps to be taken by persons actively seeking employment

You are required in any one week to take more than one step (ie two) and the steps to be seen to be taking are laid down in law.

(1) For the purposes of section 7(1) (actively seeking employment) a person shall be expected to have to take more than one step on one occasion in any week unless taking one step on one occasion is all that it is reasonable for that person to do in that week.

(2) Steps which it is reasonable for a person to be expected to have to take in any week include —
(a) oral or written applications (or both) for employment made to persons-
(i) who have advertised the availability of employment; or
(ii) who appear to be in a position to offer employment;
(b) seeking information on the availability of employment from-
(i) advertisements;
(ii) persons who have placed advertisements which indicate the availability of employment;
(iii) employment agencies and employment businesses;
(iv) employers;
(c) registration with an employment agency or employment business;
(d) appointment of a third party to assist the person in question in finding employment;
(e) seeking specialist advice, following referral by an employment officer, on how to improve the prospects of securing employment having regard to that person's needs and in particular in relation to any mental or physical limitations of that person;
(f) drawing up a curriculum vitae;
(g) seeking a reference or testimonial from a previous employer;
(h) drawing up a list of employers who may be able to offer employment to him with a view to seeking information from them on the availability of employment;
(i) seeking information about employers who may be able to offer employment to him;
(j) seeking information on an occupation with a view to securing employment in that occupation.

If you have checked out a job advertisement in the local paper, inquired about a job at an employment agency, spoken with an employer, fiddled around with your CV, then you have more than met the requirement that week to be seen as actively seeking work.

I was before a Tribunal earlier this year. DWP failed to attend. When asked if I had anything to say, I simply said: The facts speak for themselves. The law is quite clear what steps have to be taken to look for work, the Jobseeker's Agreement states what steps have been agreed on by both sides (and this cannot be a coerced agreement else it is not valid in law), the steps taken exceeded both, the Job Centre staff were shown to have lied. The chairman accepted the validity of the argument as to the validity of the Jobseeker's Agreement if signed under duress, ie that your benefit will be stopped if you do not sign it.

It was an open-and-shut case and resolved in favour of the claimant, ie the doubt was removed.

The cost to the Public Purse is enormous, paperwork generated, time wasted, Tribunal costs.

The only reason it is being done is to harass claimants, to make their lives a misery in a crude attempt to force them off benefits.

Example of the bottom of the barrel being scraped: Claimant served an official notice for being late. The client was not late, the client checked the time on entering the building and was on time.

Example: Client told to contact a Job Agency re a job. Client speaks to Job Agency who say they think the job has gone. They say they will get back to the client but never do. Benefit stopped, claimed client failed to take advantage of or refused to accept the job opportunity offered!

Always appeal. If everyone appealed, even if they had not got a cat in hell's chance of a case, the system would collapse.

There are in many cases more than sufficient grounds to demand compensation for the stress caused, interest on late payments. There is probably more than sufficient grounds for a few test cases to be brought under the Human Rights Act.

What we are seeing is part and parcel of the harassment of the poorer and more vulnerable sectors of society.

Threats to bring everyone on disability into the Job Centre for an interview, to 'help' them into work.

Threats to force all Jobseekers onto scam training courses.

Threats to kick you out of your council house if you are unemployed.

As one comment notes elsewhere, Mussolini would be proud of the New Labour fascists.

The officials who stop benefits, persecute the poor and vulnerable, have missed their role in life. They should have served under the Nazis in occupied Europe. They would have been in their element sending undesirables to the extermination camps. As it is all they can now do is make people destitute and condemn them to a long, slow, drawn-out death.

The welfare system is being restructured to suit not those in need but to suit crony capitalism, be it those who require cheap unskilled low paid workers for their McShit jobs or those who run the scam training courses and back to work scams, and are currently bidding to take over the running of Job Centres and the entire welfare system. They will bid for a contract, to maximise profits, they will seek to force people off benefits, the less they pay out, the greater the net profit.

Keith Parkins


Display the following 4 comments

  1. Nothing's changed, then — Carol
  2. Claimants Reunited — Danny
  3. A good idea but has limitations — Carol
  4. Harassment — work-shy-scrounger