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Benefits: Breach of Community Orders

Volume 708: debated on Friday 27 February 2009


My right honourable friend the Minister of State (David Hanson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 2 April 2001 my honourable friend the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the Member for Wallasey, debated the Social Security (Breach of Community Order) Regulations 2001. These were subsequently approved by the House of Commons on 4 April 2001 (Official Report, Commons, col. 479). My noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, also successfully moved (Official Report, Commons, col. 639) that the draft order laid before both Houses on 20 March, to enable the establishment of the benefit sanctions pilots for offenders in breach of their community order, be agreed. Following this, the pilots in four areas, by which social security benefit would be withdrawn for offenders in breach of community orders imposed by the courts, were commenced. The pilots covered Derbyshire, Hertfordshire, Teesside and West Midlands. They involved joint working between the Department for Work and Pensions and the Home Office/Ministry of Justice. This Statement announces that, subject to Parliament's approval, we now intend to end these pilots and explain the reasons why.

The original objective of the pilots was to link the receipt of benefit more closely to the fulfilment of responsibilities to society and to encourage greater compliance with community sentences.

Initial evaluation research showed a modest 1.8 per cent improvement in compliance by sanctioned offenders directly attributable to the impact of the policy. However, over a longer period, research has not shown the advantages expected. Overall, when the administrative costs for the scheme were balanced against the likely savings, the pilots have not been found to provide sufficient value for money to justify their continuation. Improvements in compliance of 5 per cent could be expected to deliver savings in the pilot areas of about £9,500 a year. However, once all costs had been factored in, the overall sum for continuing the scheme would be in the region of £652,000, or £5.60p for every £1 of savings made under the scheme.

In consultation with the DWP, we plan to end the benefit sanction pilots subject to parliamentary approval. The regulations to end the pilots will be laid shortly.

The decision has been made following evaluation that showed the pilots did not provide sufficient value for money to justify their continuation.

It remains the Government's intention to continue to take a rigorous approach to sentencing for breach of a community order. With the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 measures on compliance and enforcement have been strengthened. Courts must now respond to a breach either by amending the order to make it more demanding or by revoking it altogether and dealing with the offence afresh, which includes the power to send the offender to prison for up to 51 weeks. Courts must hold offenders to account in all cases where they do not comply with their order.

The Probation Service now has a strong record of enforcing orders promptly. In 90 per cent of cases, offender managers take enforcement action for breaches of community orders within 10 days. Compliance with community orders is at a record level and increasing, with 75 per cent of cases reaching the six-month stage of an order without the need for breach action.

The learning from the pilots will be carried forward into the DWP’s benefits sanctions initiative for drugs misusers who fail to attend employment interviews. These will combine sanction with support in a carefully constructed package designed to improve compliance. They will be monitored and evaluated throughout to ensure value for money and effectiveness in meeting their original aim of getting more drugs misusers into employment or training. We remain committed to the principle that entitlement must be balanced against a responsible attitude to obligations. The public should have every right to feel confident in tough, effective and visible community sentences that are rigorously enforced.