It has been a long-standing policy of successive Governments that claimants on work-related benefits are generally expected to undertake certain activities in return for financial support through the benefit system. This system of “conditionality” can lead to sanctions, which deduct benefit from claimants when they fail, without good reason, to meet a conditionality requirement, such as failing to attend a jobcentre interview or failing to search for work. This ensures a fair, proportionate and effective use of public money, in support of employment and wider outcomes for society.
Today, we are publishing the jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) sanctions early warning trial’s final evaluation report (“JSA Sanctions Early Warning Trial Evaluation - Final report”) and qualitative research (“Jobseekers Allowance: Sanctions Early Warning Trial”).
In October 2015, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that it would be trialling a new process for JSA sanctions in response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s recommendations to review the JSA sanction process.
The trial was delivered between April and September 2016 and involved 6,500 claimants. It tested an approach of adding an additional step into the sanction decision-making process, by informing claimants through a “sanction warning letter” that, on the basis of information available, the decision maker intended to apply a sanction. Claimants were then given a further 14 days (on top of the standard seven days they already receive before the decision is initially considered) to submit evidence of good reason for not meeting their conditionality.
The aim of the trial was to consider whether such an approach would have an effect on:
The volume of claimants that provide reasons for not meeting their conditionality requirements.
The volume of claimants sanctioned who request a mandatory reconsideration of the initial sanction decision.
The service received by the claimant and whether this represented value for money.
The effectiveness of the process as perceived by decision makers.
The key findings of the trial were:
13% of those receiving a “sanction warning letter” responded to it during the additional 14 days and provided evidence. In around half of these cases the evidence provided did not contain a good reason for the labour market decision maker to change their decision and the sanction was applied.
There were some indications that the trial had an impact on reducing the proportion of cases where a decision review or mandatory reconsideration was carried out. However, as these findings are based on low volumes, they are indicative only.
The qualitative evaluation concluded that given the additional burden placed on the departmental resources and marginal gains achieved, the trial did not appear to be an effective use of the Department’s resource.
Results from the qualitative evaluation showed that there was support from staff for the intentions underpinning the trial, however evidence from interviews with staff suggested that in practice the trial appeared to make little difference to the outcomes of claimants.
Given the low proportion of cases in which claimants provided further evidence and the even lower proportion of cases where decision outcomes were changed, we do not consider that the benefits of the approach are sufficient to justify the extra time and cost it adds to the process.
We are now exploring the feasibility of an alternative process to give claimants written warnings, instead of a sanction, for a first sanctionable failure to attend a work search review. The aim will be to conduct a small-scale proof of concept to obtain qualitative feedback from staff on this new process, followed by any subsequent tests. More details will be made available once we have progressed with the design work.