Benefit sanctions and what to do about them

When you get some benefits you have to agree to do certain things to keep getting them. But if you don’t do something you’ve agreed to do, such as applying for a job or going to an interview, they may be temporarily stopped or reduced. This is known as a sanction.

Who can be sanctioned?

Did you know?

The most common reasons for having your benefits sanctioned are:

  • not turning up to a meeting at the Jobcentre
  • not doing enough to look for work
  • not taking part in an employment or training scheme.

You can be sanctioned if you’re claiming:

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

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 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

How to challenge a sanction

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

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

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

Appealing against a benefit sanction

If you are sanctioned it’s a good idea to get some help from an expert, such as the Citizens Advice Service or your local Law Centre.

Check your Housing Benefit and Council Tax reduction

When your benefits are sanctioned, you are still entitled to get Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction. 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.

Check how much you have to live on

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?

When you’re working out which bills are essential, remember that things like your rent or mortgage, your Council Tax and your gas and electricity should be your top priority. Never be tempted to dip into your rent money for other things or you risk losing your home.

See if you can make any cutbacks

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?

Read our Money saving tips to see if there’s any savings you can make.

Apply for a hardship payment

A hardship payment is a reduced amount of benefit that you can apply for from the Jobcentre if your benefit has been reduced because of a sanction. It normally pays 60% of your benefit payment.

You can get one if:

  • 100% of your Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance personal allowance (or all of your Universal Credit standard allowance) has been cut, and
  • You can’t pay for essentials

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

You will have to pay back hardship payments of Universal Credit once the sanction comes to an end.

If you want to apply for a hardship payment, ask your Work Coach at the Jobcentre and they will help you fill out the form.

Find your local welfare scheme

If you need help with essential costs like heating or food bills there will be a local welfare scheme in place where you live.

Find details of your local welfare scheme via the Turn2us website.

Find your local food bank

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

Find your nearest food bank on the Trussell Trust websiteopens in new window.