Benefit sanctions and what to do about them

This page tells you what to do if your benefits have been stopped or cut due to a benefit sanction, including how to apply for a hardship payment and other help until your payments start again.

What is a benefit sanction?

Benefits including Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Universal Credit can be stopped or reduced (cut) if you don’t do the things you agreed to do in your claimant commitment or if you miss appointments or meetings. This is called a benefit sanction.

Which benefits can be sanctioned?

Did you know?

The most common reasons for having your benefits sanctioned are:

  • Not doing enough to look for work.
  • Being late for appointments or interviews
  • Not turning up to a meeting at the Jobcentre
  • Not taking part in an employment or training scheme

Your benefits can be sanctioned if you’re claiming:

  • Universal Credit
  • Income Support
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Employment and Support Allowance (and you’re in the work-related activity group)

If you’re claiming these benefits you will have signed a document called a claimant commitment.

This sets out all your responsibilities and what the sanctions will be if you fail to meet them.

If you don’t have a claimant commitment, your responsibilities will be recorded in your Job Seeker’s Agreement, your action plan or your appointment letter.

Find out more about the Universal Credit claimant commitment on the Advice Guide websiteopens in new window.

How benefit sanctions affect Housing Benefit and Council Tax reduction

If you’re already getting Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction you’re still entitled to get them if your benefits are sanctioned.

However, the Jobcentre will contact the council, who usually stop these benefits until you have confirmed your new income.

It’s really important to contact the ‘Revenues and Benefits’ department at your council as soon as you can.

Explain that your benefits have been sanctioned, and give them proof of your new income (or proof of no income) so that they can restart your claim.

Doing nothing might mean you end up with rent and Council Tax arrears.

How to manage while your benefits are sanctioned

Work out how much of your income will be cut. Make a list of the remaining money you have coming in.

Then list all your outgoings. How much money do you need to pay for the basics?

Is there any way of reducing what you’re spending? Are there any bills where you think you might be able to get a better deal which could help you save money now and in the longer term?

Use our online Budget planner to get to grips with your
income and outgoings.

Try to keep up with essential payments. These include:

  • Any money you must pay towards your Council Tax
  • Your rent - if you are responsible for paying it directly to your landlord
  • Your mortgage, gas and electricity bills

Read our guide how on how to save money on household bills

If you fall behind with payments

If you’re worried you’ll fall behind with essential payments while your benefits are sanctioned, talk to your:

  • Landlord,
  • Energy supplier, or
  • Mortgage lender

as soon as possible and work out a way to get back on track.

They will be able to suggest ways to help you if they know there’s a problem.

Call the Money Advice Service on Tel 0800 138 7777 and one of our advisers will be able to help you with your budget.

Find a free and impartial debt adviser who can help you find ways to deal with debts even if you think you have no money to pay them off. Get free debt advice now.

If you’re worried about losing your home, contact Shelter England, Shelter Scotland or Shelter Cymru.

You can also contact Citizens Advice England, Citizens Advice Scotland, or Citizens Advice Wales.

Hardship payments

A hardship payment is a reduced amount of benefit that you can apply for from the Jobcentre if your ESA or income-based JSA has been reduced or stopped because of a sanction.

To be eligible for a hardship payment:

  • You must be unable to pay for essentials, and
  • 100% of your JSA or ESA personal allowance, or all of your Universal Credit standard allowance, must have been cut

You can’t apply for a hardship payment if your Income Support has been cut.

You must be able to prove that you are likely to suffer hardship or you are vulnerable.

You are in a vulnerable group if, for example:

  • You or your partner are pregnant
  • You are caring for a severely disabled person
  • You are responsible for any dependent children
  • You or your partner are aged 16 or 17 and are in hardship
  • You or your partner have a chronic health condition or disability

To be eligible for a hardship payment, you must now be following the rules for getting your benefit.

How much is a hardship payment?

It normally pays 60% of your usual benefit payment.

If you or your partner are pregnant or seriously ill, you might be able to get 80% of your usual benefit payment.

How to apply for a hardship payment

To apply for a hardship payment, ask your Work Coach at the Jobcentre and they’ll help you fill out form JSA/ESA 10JP.

They should give you an appointment to do this on the same day or the next day.

You should receive a decision at the end of the interview.

If you qualify for a hardship payment, the money should be paid into your bank account immediately or on the date your next benefit payment is due.

Or call the DWP contact centre on 0345 608 8545 who will set up an appointment for later in the day or the next day at your local Jobcentre.

You’ll need to arrive 10 minutes early so that you can fill in the form.

Paying back a hardship payment

If you’re getting Employment and Support Allowance or Jobseeker’s Allowance, you don’t have to pay back a hardship payment.

However, this rule might change so always check before you apply.

If you’re getting Universal Credit you will have to pay back the hardship payment once the sanction comes to an end.

DWP will usually take repayments from your Universal Credit payment each month until it’s paid off.

Make sure you ask for repayments to be set at a rate you can afford to avoid getting into debt.

Apply to your local welfare scheme

If you need help with essential costs like heating or food bills you could apply to your local welfare scheme.

How to find your local food bank

If you are struggling to buy food, there might be a local food bank you can use.

Some food banks also give out fuel vouchers that you can use to top up pre-pay meters.

Find your nearest food bank on the Trussell Trust website.

How to appeal against a benefit sanction

You can ask the Jobcentre Plus to look again at their decision to sanction your benefits if you think:

  • They were wrong to sanction your benefits.
  • They have given you the wrong level of sanction.
  • They have deducted the wrong amount from your benefit.
  • They have reduced your benefit for the wrong length of time.

This is called a mandatory reconsideration and you must do this before you can make a formal appeal.

You must ask for the reconsideration within one month of the date on the decision letter.

If Jobcentre Plus refuses to change their decision, you can then appeal against it.

If you are appealing against a benefits sanction, it’s a good idea to get some help from an expert, for example, through Citizens Advice or your local Law Centre.

Read more about how to appeal a DWP benefits decision on the Citizens Advice website

How to avoid sanctions

The best way to avoid sanctions is to do all the things that are set out in your claimant commitment or agreement.

Here’s a checklist to help you:

  • Make sure you understand all your responsibilities
  • Ask your Work Coach or Jobcentre Adviser to explain anything that’s unclear
  • Let the Jobcentre know as soon as possible if there’s anything in your agreement that you can’t do, and explain your reasons
  • Keep track of all the dates when you have to go to the Jobcentre and any other meetings you have to attend
  • Keep a record of all your activities that relate to your benefit requirements. For example, make a note of the time you spend looking for work and any jobs you apply for
  • Keep a copy of anything the Jobcentre gives or sends you
  • If you can’t attend a meeting or interview, or you know you’re going to be late, make sure you give as much notice as possible

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