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Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill

Volume 744: debated on Monday 25 March 2013

Committee (and remaining stages)

Clause 1 : Regulations and notices requiring participation in a scheme

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 1, page 3, line 14, at end insert “; and such reconsiderations and appeals should be considered in a timely and efficient manner”

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 1 and 3 in this group. These are probing amendments, but I want to start by saying how much we deprecate the fact that we are having to debate this significant and retrospective piece of legislation at this hour and to complete all the stages before we draw stumps this evening.

It might be helpful if I set out from the start how we are approaching these matters. We accept from Second Reading that, whatever our fundamental concerns, the Bill will retrospectively make regulations lawful that the court has thus far considered to be unlawful and that notices that were inadequate are now to be treated as satisfactory. What we are seeking to probe by these amendments is whether individuals adversely affected by this will be in no worse a position as a result of this Bill than they would have been had the regulations and notices been lawful in the first place. This, in particular, requires focus on the reconsideration and appeal situations so that we are clear how they are to operate.

Where individuals have been sanctioned and are not part of the stockpile, they may have appealed already. Their appeal may have been stayed because of the High Court decision, may have been successful or may have been unsuccessful. Where such individuals have been successful in their appeal, it is presumed that the position would stand. Can the Minister please confirm this? Where appeals have been stayed, what is the position? If the appeal was based on the unlawfulness of the regulations or the notices—a defence that is no longer available—are appellants now able to bring forward new reasons that they thought unnecessary to explore before? This raises the question of those who have not hitherto appealed a sanction. It is understood that, under the rules, the time limit for an appeal is generally one month from the date of the recent decision, but this can be extended if the decision-maker does not object or if the First-tier Tribunal extends the time limit. Has any specific guidance been given to decision-makers on this matter or to those who have been sanctioned?

For those cases that have been stockpiled and will now proceed to be sanctioned, the key issue is how, in retrospect, the individual can now be assured of availing themselves of good cause provisions, the opportunities to mitigate and the hardship provisions. My noble friends Lady Sherlock and Lady Hollis will develop these themes in subsequent amendments, but it would be helpful if the Minister could set out for us what consideration has been given to this issue to ensure that there is fairness.

In so far as the stockpile of cases is concerned—those for which no decision to sanction has yet been made—it is understood that no sanctions will be pursued when someone is now in work. Can the Minister please expand on this? Does the individual need to be in full-time paid work for the purposes of being ineligible for JSA or is there another test? What if the individual has been in work since the failure to comply but has fallen out of work again? As was raised at Second Reading, there will be those whose employment is not very secure or whose hours, particularly with the proliferation of zero-hours contracts, will fluctuate. The point in time when a decision on sanctions for them will be made could determine whether or not they end up being sanctioned. How will this point be dealt with?

On a related point, again touched on at Second Reading, will the Minister say something about national insurance credits? Have the sanctions that have been imposed led to any national insurance credit restrictions? If so, will the Minister explain the technical linkage with JSA sanctions? Would those restrictions flow automatically or in some separate, if parallel, process?

These are just some of the questions that present themselves and we seek assurance from the Minister that these matters have been fully analysed and that no further detriment arises to claimants. In the time available, we have not explored all the interactions between requests for revision, supersession and appeals, nor all the nuances of appeals. As a general point, though, as well as dealing with the specifics of the above, it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that it is the Government’s intent that claimants should be in no worse a position in respect of these matters than if the regulations and notices had been valid in the first instance. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support my noble friend in his amendments. Timely and efficient appeals systems are always necessary and in these circumstances they are essential. The social security appeals system is under strain and that strain will be intensified as a result of what claimants will now be experiencing. What are those difficulties? The number of social security cases going to tribunals in general were 418,000 in 2010-11, 70% higher than just two years previously, while, as far as I can tell, this year’s statistics are up a further 14% or so, and appeals against sanctions as such are only a modest proportion of these.

Social security appeals represent half of all tribunal cases. The tribunals are receiving social security cases faster than they can clear them, so that although half of all cases take 14 weeks or less, one-quarter take between three and six months to be heard and 10% take between six months and a year, so only half of those cases meet the key performance indicator, the KPI, of 16 weeks laid down by the department. During that time—that extra long waiting period already experienced—claimants’ circumstances change, they lose oral evidence based on memory and above all they are left without any benefit, some of them for months, and suffer real hardship. Timeliness and efficiency, therefore, are key.

We need the Government to tell us what problems they will meet in unleashing the stockpile of sanctions cases into a system already under strain, with the inevitable appeals that will follow, and how they propose to resolve them. How many cases are currently outstanding? Do the Government have the capacity to increase sitting days beyond the 80,000 or so required at the moment to deal with the full backlog? How long does the Minister expect claimants to have to wait? How many, and what percentage, will be over the three-month KPI target?

The second issue is not about numbers but about verdicts and outcomes. Of those cases going to appeal, some 40% overall are won by the claimant. Former presidents’ reports on this are, frankly, an excoriating indictment of the DWP decision-making process and their findings over the years are confirmed by the recent November 2012 report analysing appeals. The main reason why appellants win is that they produce additional oral evidence not previously taken into account by DWP. However, the reports and the research have noted that tribunal judges were continually frustrated by the behaviour of decision-makers within DWP. In the latest statistics, about one-third of local decisions on sanctions were reconsidered by the decision-maker and, of those, half were in favour of the claimant. Of those not accepted by the decision-maker, just over one-third are going on to tribunal.

Why are those tribunal judges so continuously frustrated by decision-makers’ efforts within DWP? First, we are told by tribunal judges that decision-makers choose not to accept additional, usually oral, evidence without having any good reason for refusing it. That is because they have often failed properly to engage with the claimant. Something like 65% of all appeals come into this category. Secondly, there is little evidence that decision-makers reconsider cases at all. They were, the report said, reluctant to do so and did not bother to explore any discrepancies in evidence or to follow up requests for further information.

Thirdly, decision-makers did not weigh medical evidence at all appropriately, especially for mental health claimants, nor did they seek further information when dealing with a progressive condition. That applied to something like 15% of the appeals that went to tribunal. Most damning of all, they often made different decisions from the tribunal decision-makers on the basis of the same evidence presented to the tribunal, which meant that decision-makers got it wrong, according to law, in 30% of the cases lost by DWP. In other words, had the decision-makers within DWP done their job properly, these reports suggest that DWP would either not have had the appeal because the decision-maker would have rightly reversed the original decision, or at appeal the DWP would have won most of the appeals that it lost because the tribunals would have accepted that all the appropriate evidence had been properly assessed. That is a pretty searing judgment of the current system.

What are the implications for those caught by this Bill? The problem is clearly threefold. First, local offices are making flawed decisions, including on sanctions, and that is before we get on to the disgraceful area of targets. Secondly, decision-makers are not doing a proper job reviewing those local office decisions and are endorsing flawed decisions that they should have corrected. Thirdly, the tribunal service cannot keep up with the increased number of appeals coming its way. Of course, this will get far worse now that legal advice and support are withdrawn and, as a result and as we shall argue later, tribunal cases will take twice as long to process.

Will the Minister reduce the pressure on tribunals and better support claimants by requiring decision-makers to do a more conscientious review of the original decisions? It is clear that at the moment too many of them are not doing a professional job—bluntly, they need to brought face to face with the evidence. Are decision-makers informed of the tribunal’s findings and is their performance reviewed when their decisions are overturned by the tribunal? Could that perhaps be a KPI? What guidance and additional training will be made available to decision-makers to improve their performance? If the Minister is going to review any targets, could we please have a new performance indicator, a really useful target that reduces the number of successful appeals by claimants from the current 40% or so down to, say, 20% or even 15%? That would really transform decision-makers’ behaviour.

Given the trivial basis for sanctioning claimants uncovered by the Guardian, many of whom we can expect to appeal, thus increasing the backlog before eventually being overturned at appeal, as many of them will be, will the Minister ensure that cases going to appeal are pre-reviewed and re-reviewed by decision-makers to improve their own poor-quality decision-making? Will he also ensure that the number of tribunal sitting days is appropriately increased to meet the target of within 16 weeks, so that they are timely, and that—I am trespassing into a following amendment—sufficient advice is given to claimants, as my noble friend Lord Bach will argue, to reduce the number of unsuccessful appeals, given the delays? I hope that the Minister will be able to answer these questions and those of my noble friend tonight and in the process perhaps allay our very real concern for these claimants who are going to be caught up in an appeal system that is increasingly flawed and failing.

My Lords, the purpose of these amendments is to ensure that the reconsiderations and appeals arising from decisions relating to sanctions that are dealt with by the Bill are considered in a timely and efficient manner, and that appeals take into consideration the delay between the failure to participate and the issuing of the sanction.

I am happy to give a commitment to the House that DWP will process the stockpiled cases, and any reconsiderations and appeals that follow, in a timely manner. It is not in the department’s interest to procrastinate on these cases any longer than necessary. I also note that the department is already required by Article 6 of the ECHR to deal with social security disputes in a reasonable time, while the First-tier and Upper Tribunals are also bound to deal with appeals in a fair and efficient manner. When the Bill receives Royal Assent, I assure noble Lords that processing the stockpiled cases, including any appeals and reconsiderations, will be given a high priority. Purely from a business perspective, DWP will want to unwind these cases and any follow-up activity as quickly as possible so that it can utilise its resource in dealing with more current claims.

The associated amendment seeks to ensure that when the First-tier Tribunals and the Upper Tribunals are determining an appeal against a sanction decision issued in reliance on the provisions in the Bill, they have regard to the circumstances around the Reilly/Wilson case, particularly any delay resulting from the case. I understand, given the noble Lord’s statement at Second Reading, that he is concerned that, because there may have been longer than usual between the failure to participate and the issuing of a sanction, the claimant will be unable either to remember or to provide evidence of any good cause they had for the failure.

I will spend a moment describing the process that happens between a claimant failing to participate and the issuing of a sanction. When a claimant gets referred to a DWP decision-maker for a sanction decision, a letter is sent asking them to provide evidence of good cause. The letter says:

“Will you please contact me before”—

and then a date is inserted—

“to explain why you did not undertake this activity. You should note that unless you provide a good reason for not undertaking this activity, your benefit may be affected”.

So the stockpiled cases would, at the time of the failure, already have been asked once to provide good cause. The fact that we did not deal with these cases immediately will not have prevented these claimants from providing evidence of good cause at the time of the failure. The decision-makers will have all this evidence on the stockpiled cases already, so the risk that they have been unfairly treated is significantly minimised.

I know that not all claimants will have provided their evidence of good cause the first time they were asked for it, although this is of course entirely their fault. However, I reassure noble Lords that in these cases, where a claimant is attempting to argue that they had a good reason for a failure that occurred many months ago, decision-makers and First-tier Tribunals will make an objective decision based on the evidence before them. They would of course take into consideration any claimant’s argument that they had good cause, but that they cannot provide evidence because of the length of time since the failure. It would be up to those hearing the appeals to judge on a case-by-case basis whether they thought this argument was strong enough.

I also note that this amendment only seeks to ensure that the appeal, and neither the decision to issue the sanction nor the reconsideration, takes into account any time delay caused by the Reilly/Wilson case. I assume that this was not the intention of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. There is this oversight, and claimants in the stockpile would at the time have been asked for evidence of good cause. The tribunal is also already bound to have regard to all relevant matters.

Picking up the issues raised by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness on national insurance credits, prior to the changes to the jobseeker’s allowance sanctions regime from 22 October last year, national insurance credits were paid during the period of the sanction. National insurance credits are not paid when the benefit is sanctioned on or after 22 October. The Bill does not change these arrangements. The payment or not of national insurance credits with respect to stockpiled sanction decisions will therefore depend—

I wonder whether the Minister would reconsider the language habitually used by DWP. When he talks of a stockpile he is referring to human beings in very anxious circumstances who are waiting for their cases to be considered. Does not this language rather dehumanise them?

The noble Lord makes the same point as JRR Tolkien, who did not think that “growth” was the right way to refer to hobbits at Bilbo Baggins’s birthday party. If the noble Lord can think of a better word than stockpile, I will happily use it. I cannot think of one off the top of my head. If the noble Lord finds that offensive—

Yes, but there are six billion people around. I am trying to refer to a particular group. I hope that by the time we get to the next amendment I will have found a better word, so bear with me for a little while if I cannot work that one out on my feet.

On the point about people going into work: if a claimant has been off jobseeker’s allowance for longer than the length of their sanction then they will be deemed to have served their sanction, and therefore will face no penalty. I cannot go through the absolute detail of the proportionate amount but it is likely that we will do this proportionately for those who have been in work, so there will be a record of that.

On the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, a lot of the issues surrounding what the tribunals are doing are in ESA cases, while we are dealing here with JSA cases. We are talking about rather small numbers; I will go into more detail on them. This is a very small group of people, and the concerns about how quickly they may go through the tribunals, and the pressure they put on those tribunals, are to that extent much more manageable than if theirs were the more complicated ESA cases. Likewise, much of the concern around those cases has been around the medical area and that, of course, will not arise in this particular instance.

The decision-makers receive in-depth training, including on the importance of impartiality, what constitutes evidence, and the balance of probabilities. Clearly a large number of their decisions—three-quarters—are upheld. By putting decision-makers in between, for instance, the WCA and the tribunal, we were trying to weed out those areas where the DWP considered that the tribunal would find against, and thereby reduce the volume. That is what has been happening, and clearly we watch that very carefully. Having dealt, I hope, with all the issues raised, I beg the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

My Lords, I indicated at the start that these are probing amendments. That highlights part of the problem of having this truncated process: that we do not have the chance to take away and read the Minister’s comments. We have to try to absorb both what is said and what is not covered this evening.

In relation to deferred decisions, I will not use the term to which my colleagues objected. The Minister said that these would be dealt with in a timely manner. However, the thrust of the presentation made by my noble friend Lady Hollis was to ask whether there was the capacity to deal with this. Decision-makers are struggling under current arrangements, and adding this extra burden will make life more difficult.

On national insurance credits, I was trying to probe the point that when they are withheld because of sanctions, post October, in circumstances where the regulations that underpin the sanctions were originally found to be unlawful, the Bill switches lawfulness back on in respect of the sanctions component. Does that automatically run where national insurance credits have been withheld? What is the connection between the two? Does it automatically flow from whether a sanction has been levied, or does it require another process that authorises the withholding of the national insurance credit? If the original decision was based on an unlawful position in respect of the regulations, is the restoration of the lawfulness of those provisions under the Bill enough to authorise the withholding of national insurance credits? That was the point I was probing, perhaps not in sufficient detail.

On those cases that have been deferred where no decision has been made, I think that what the Minister said was a change from what we previously understood the position to be. I thought that the point had been made very clearly before that if somebody was in work, there would be no sanction. It seems that some nuances to that have been introduced by the Minister’s reply. Now it will depend on how long they have been in work in comparison to the length of the sanction that has been levied. That seems to be a new formulation, which we have not heard articulated before.

I did not hear from the Minister an assurance that we were seeking. Leaving aside the issue of making the regulations and notices retrospectively lawful, is it the Government’s intention that individuals should otherwise be in a worse position than they would have been had the regulations and notices been lawful ab initio? How does that interact with the appeals process? We have not unpicked all those issues this evening.

Having said all that, I do not think that we can get any further. I hope that the Minister will reflect on this discussion. If we could get something further in writing before we rise later this week, it might give us some reassurance. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: Clause 1, page 3, line 14, at end insert—

“( ) The Secretary of State will, within a month of this Act coming into force, lay a report before Parliament outlining whether in his view claimants affected by the introduction of this Act have access to adequate legal advice and support, taking into account the availability of legal aid for claimants appealing a sanction imposed under the 2011 Regulations or the Mandatory Work Activity Scheme Regulations after the coming into force of this Act.”

My Lords, Amendment 2 is in my name and those of my noble friends Lady Sherlock, Lady Hollis of Heigham and Lord McKenzie. My first point is that this is about as mild an amendment as could possibly be imagined. All that I am asking is that the Secretary of State should lay a report before Parliament within one month of the Act coming into force. The report would outline the Secretary of State’s view on whether claimants affected by the introduction of the Act would, in the crucial words,

“have access to adequate legal advice and support, taking into account the availability of legal aid for claimants appealing a sanction … under the 2011 Regulations or the Mandatory Work Activity Scheme Regulations”,

both of which were declared unlawful. It is a limited request, and one to which I hope the Government will listen sympathetically in the course of this short debate.

It goes without saying that every claimant has the right of appeal. It would be pretty shocking if they did not. However, what use is a right that cannot be enforced? That is where the problem arises. At present any claimant who has sanctions imposed can obtain legal advice as to an appeal, whether the appeal is in the form of a review to the department or to the First-tier Tribunal. If a claimant is eligible, they are, as we speak, entitled to legal aid. Therefore, in reality they can get the advice perhaps from a solicitor or, more probably, from a not-for-profit organisation such as a law centre, the CAB or an advice centre.

This advice is not expensive—about £150 for this sort of case. It does not make the lawyers rich. It is quality advice. It often tells the claimant that he or she has no chance in any review or appeal. On the other hand, it may tell the claimant that he or she has a proper legal appeal. Early advice of this sort stops people going to the First-tier Tribunal. It does not encourage them to do so. The advice does not extent to representation. What it does is give these citizens some limited access to justice, which a mere right of appeal does not do.

Of course, in a week’s time on 1 April, legal aid will no longer be available to a claimant in this kind of case however poor, disabled or marginalised he or she may be. It has been taken out of scope. The question arises: from where is the client who believes that he or she may have an appeal to get advice? Law centres, CABs and other advice centres rely on legal aid as a major part of their income. How will they survive? Will it all be done pro bono by other lawyers? I would argue it is not possible in the real world for that to happen. There is not the expertise in this field of law or the time for busy lawyers to do pro bono work to cover all these cases. All pro bono lawyers agree with that. There is no satisfactory answer to the question: where will these people go?

Her Majesty’s Government’s more general assertion has been that welfare benefit law, under which these sanctions arise, is simple, not complicated, easy to understand and is not really law at all. One only has to state that point of view to know what rubbish it is. The thousands of pages of legal textbooks, the comments of tribunal judges from top to bottom and the experience of real life gives the lie to a trite and convenient lie. In this amendment, I invite the Government to live in the real world and do their proper duty to ensure adequate legal advice and support.

My remarks so far have concerned all claimants who face sanctions since the introduction of the new regulations on 12 February this year, following the Appeal Court judgment. However, there is a past and pressing problem for those claimants whose cases have been put on one side as a result of a Court of Appeal judgment. The decision to sanction those people will either not be made, or it will have been made under what were ruled to be unlawful regulations, their time for appeal not having run out by 12 February. In both cases, they would have a reasonable expectation of knowing their fate some time ago. Any decision to sanction them would, of course, have been subject to appeal. Of course, claimants are entitled now to get legal advice and, if eligible, entitled to legal aid for that advice. But in a week’s time, while still theoretically they are entitled to legal advice for an appeal, they will not be entitled to legal aid, which means in practice that many fewer than should will be able to get that advice. How can it be just that those people are put into a worse position by a delay that is absolutely no fault of their own but is, frankly, the responsibility on the other side—in this case, the department and the Government behind it? That is according to the Court of Appeal—in other words, as we stand now, the law of the land. It would be wrong for any of them to be deprived of their right to legal aid in those circumstances. Does the Minister agree? If not, why not?

My amendment asks the Secretary of State to take into account the availability of legal aid for claimants in that situation. In my view, the Government can do no less. It is a modest amendment to which the Government could give their blessing. I beg to move.

I support the amendment of my noble friend. I have to declare a sort of interest as a former Minister responsible in the DWP for the tribunal services before Leggatt centralised them. As a result, I would visit tribunals and, five minutes into the hearing, I could tell whether the claimant had or had not received legal advice and support or welfare advice and support before entering the appeal. Those who had presented a coherent account with the appropriate accompanying papers and evidence, were prepared for the questions asked of them. It kept the process simple and straightforward, and the cases that I saw took on average about 40 minutes to complete. In each case, the decision, usually up to half the time in favour of the claimant, was the right one.

Then there was the other sort of case that came to tribunal, people who came with their sheaf of papers in a carrier bag, which they shuffled through without any advice, unaware of what it was that the tribunal needed to know and what would count as relevant evidence. I recall one man, Indian or Pakistani, who was there with his wife; his eyes never left the floor, and he sat hunched over as he tried to explain in poor English and a low, faltering voice, why he was appealing against a refusal of DLA—and he could not. The superb chair, who we now call a judge, spent nearly two hours trying compassionately to coax his story and evidence out of him in some sort of order. It took more than twice as long as the previous case, and his appeal was upheld.

What lessons may we draw from the situation in which there is no prior legal help or support for advice? Social security decision-makers, as we argued on the previous amendment, frequently fail to review decisions properly. Unless the claimant is savvy enough to put his case in ways that fit guidance on reconsideration, we end up with an unnecessary tribunal case, and the tribunals handling such cases clear, as a result, two or three cases a day instead of five or six. I plead with the Minister to learn from this. I do not know whether he has sat in on any social security tribunals, but he would quickly see which claimants had had prior advice and which had not. Remove the advice and the need does not go away; it is merely displaced to the very much more expensive and time-consuming stage of the tribunal itself. Instead of advice being given in advance, the whole untangling of that mess has to be done by the tribunal judge in person. That seems to me key. The need does not go away; all you are doing is transferring it to the most expensive and laborious way of addressing it.

Legal advice, which we are told we cannot afford, is not a luxury; in my view, it is essential because social security is complex and most claimants, by definition, are probably poorly educated, not especially articulate, confused about what they are due and need help at the early stages. They are aggrieved. However, as my noble friend Lord Bach said, early advice may discourage people from pursuing unfunded and unfounded cases. Legal advice also helps ensure greater consistency and a common approach across regions. We are getting a lot of research evidence suggesting the unevenness of responses from decision-makers and tribunals trying their best to produce the consistency that local offices are not.

The Minister knows that we are seriously worried about what will happen when existing claimants are brought on to UC, which I very much want to work. I fear that the tribunal system will be completely overwhelmed unless there is legal aid and welfare advice available at the preliminary stage to screen out weak cases and to put into good order appropriate cases for the tribunal; otherwise, I believe that the system will buckle.

We are therefore deeply worried about the situation of claimants under the Bill who will not know what their rights are and whether the proposed sanction is valid. In some cases, they may have been stalled for many months. They do not have fresh evidence to bring to bear and can no longer rely on their memory to give a coherent account of what happened when. Did they have good cause? At the preliminary stage, legal or welfare rights advisers can perhaps help them find out, track hospital or school records, organise paperwork and explain to the claimant what will happen, why he has lost his benefit and whether the case against him is soundly based. If that welfare rights officer or the legal advice is not there to do that, the tribunal judge will have to, as I have seen with my own eyes. Can that individual stop the sanction? Is it possible for him to comply? Jobcentre staff cannot or will not now give that advice, especially given the evidence about targets. Claimants need the supportive, friendly, neutral, professional, cheap advice from outside the system. However, of course all this hinges on whether the department wants people to get the right benefits and the right outcome. Does it?

My Lords, is it not the case that every Government of the United Kingdom since 1948 have been committed to the principles and values articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Is it not also the case that Article 7 declares that all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law? If the Government deny legal aid in these cases, will they not repudiate that historic and fundamental commitment?

My Lords, in responding to this amendment, I should like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Bach, who has fought tirelessly on this subject for many months.

As we have heard, it is currently possible for a claimant who meets the eligibility criteria to get free legal advice and assistance to cover preparatory work for a hearing. Legal aid may also be available for higher tribunals and courts appeals on a point of law. However, from 1 April, all welfare benefits will be out of scope for legal aid. The context for this Bill makes this all the more complicated because, as we heard from the Minister, the law on sanctions has changed, so claimants may struggle to work out what applies to their case. Further, since there may often be significant delays between alleged breach and appeal, claimants may also struggle to work out what good cause or recompliance mean so long after the event, subjects to which we will return on a later amendment. This brings me to my questions for the Minister. First, will he clarify the position? If a claimant would have been entitled to legal aid to help prepare his case had he appealed within a month of a decision to sanction him, will he still be entitled to legal aid on the same basis should he appeal after 1 April? If the answer is yes, how will this happen? Who will provide the advice and who will pay for it? If the answer is no, given that the Courts and Tribunal Service is likely to be inundated with cases once the deferred decisions pile is unleashed, what assessment have the Government done of the likely delays and the consequent additional cost to the Courts and Tribunal Service of having so many unadvised appellants arriving at once?

If the Government are unable to give satisfactory answers to all these questions, I suggest that the Minister should accept this very mild amendment. If he does not, and my noble friend Lord Bach chooses to press it to a vote, we on these Benches will give him full support. The very least that the Government should do is provide a considered view—impossible beforehand, given the timetable—of the effect on access to legal advice and support of a group which Parliament never intended to be affected by the provisions of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. We are pleased to support this amendment.

My Lords, before I deal with this amendment, I ask the Committee to indulge me as I answer a couple of questions on the last round from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, which may be relevant.

On the question of what sanctions mean for national insurance, if the failure to participate was after 22 October 2012, national insurance is not credited but if it was before 22 October 2012 then it is. On going into work, no sanctions will be applied to people who no longer receive jobseeker’s allowance. That might save some writing.

On the point about national insurance credit, I am not sure that the Minister’s answer deals fully with the issue that I raised. Perhaps the noble Lord will look at the record tomorrow and write in due course.

Does the Minister not think that what has just taken place illustrates how wrong it was to bring this Bill in and try to fast-track it through? He is answering, on the hoof, important questions in relation to the entitlement, not of stockpiles but of people. We have this problem because the Bill is being fast-tracked through. The amendments so far have been admirably moved. In relation to Amendment 2, the Secretary of State will, within a month of the Act coming into force, do something which we would normally expect the Minister to tell us before the Bill is passed. Will the Minister kindly reflect on that and consider whether it is not an absolute disgrace that the Bill is being passed in this way, as the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, of which I am happy to be a member, said last week and other noble Lords made clear at Second Reading?

My Lords, I may be to blame for moving off the particular amendment. We are not having a Second Reading debate now: we are dealing with a set of amendments. Amendment 2 seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State will have to publish, within one month of the Act coming into force, a report on whether claimants would have sufficient access to legal advice and support including legal aid. After 1 April, claimants who appeal to the First-tier Tribunal in England and Wales on welfare benefit issues will not, as a matter of course, be able to claim legal aid. This will be the position for all claimants affected by the legislation where they have applied for legal aid after 1 April. I hope that clarifies the position for the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock. There will not be entitlement to legal aid after 1 April.

It is important to note that the change in legal aid in no way affects a claimant’s right to ask for reconsideration or appeal to the tribunal. This change in legal aid eligibility will have a limited impact on the claimants affected by sanction provisions in this Bill. Official statistics show that, of the 170,000 claimants sanctioned on ESE or MWA schemes, only around 5,000 appealed to the First-tier Tribunal. Based on these data, we therefore estimate that only between 1,500 and 2,000 claimants in the cases that have been stockpiled—cases, not people—will eventually appeal to the First-tier Tribunal. I also think that due to the nature of these cases it is likely that the vast majority of cases brought before the tribunal will be about a factual dispute where the claimant will need to present their case in plain language and will not require legal support. They will still be able to ask for support from, for example, a citizens advice bureau.

There is also a provision that in exceptional cases, where it can be shown that a failure to provide legal support would amount to a breach of an individual’s convention rights under the 1998 European Convention on Human Rights, legal support will be provided. Therefore, those who absolutely need it will obtain it. None the less, the amendment is unnecessary because it is likely that these issues will be picked up by the independent review into sanctions, as set out in Clause 2. The Bill specifically sets out that the report will look at the operation of,

“the provisions relating to the imposition of a penalty”.

My understanding of that phrase is that the review will as a matter of course look at how the appeals to the First-tier Tribunal operate and how claimants navigate the tribunals system.

Given that the numbers affected will be small and that we do not feel it necessary to legislate for this group, and that the independent review will look at how the appeal system will operate in relation to these penalties, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I thank other noble Lords who have spoken, all of them in favour of my amendment. I also thank noble Lords who have asked questions of the Minister in regard to this matter.

I have to say that I sometimes wonder whether the Government really understand how important these issues are. We enjoy a system of law that enjoys a reputation that is well deserved over many years. One of the jewels in the crown of the English legal system is that people, when they hear about it, know that it applies to everyone, not just to the rich and powerful but applies, sometimes to a limited extent, to those who are at the bottom of the pile. That is the glory of the legal system. What the Government do not seem to understand is that it does not matter whether there are 20 cases, 500 cases, or 5,000 cases; these are fellow citizens who should be entitled to the protection of the law like everybody else. Is the Minister really saying that if the numbers were much greater the Government would change their attitude? I do not think that that is what he is saying.

This measure is particularly unfair to those who, through no fault of their own, have been caught by the hiatus that has been caused by the Court of Appeal saying that the regulations put forward by the Government were unlawful.

Perhaps I may make absolutely clear the point about the numbers. There was a lot of comment from noble Lords opposite that the system would be overwhelmed by the numbers because people did not have legal advice and the system could not therefore cope. The point I am making is that that argument does not stand in the light of the rather small number of cases—between 1,500 and 2,000—that might come towards the First-tier Tribunal as a result of the Bill.

If I may intervene, approximately 500,000 sanctions were issued last year. Something like 3,500 or 4,000 of those cases went to appeal. That was last year, before this additional provision hits them. The Minister may wish to reconsider his statistics.

My Lords, perhaps I may go back for a moment to the hiatus caused by the Court of Appeal decision. It means that those who stood to have the protection of the law as it stood at the time that they were sanctioned or due to be sanctioned will, if the Minister is right, no longer have that protection, merely because of the passage of time and because something has intervened that is absolutely no fault of theirs, but is, I am afraid, the fault of the Government. That seems to be against any British sense of fair play. I beg to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 3 not moved.

Clause 1 agreed.

Clause 2 : Report

Amendment 4

Moved by

4: Clause 2, page 3, line 34, at end insert—

“( ) A report under subsection (1) will include, but not be limited to, information on the following—

(a) the number of penalties imposed, the type of failure for which they were imposed and the duration of such penalties;(b) the number of demands for reconsideration and the number of subsequent appeals;(c) the effectiveness of the appeals process;(d) the number of penalties imposed upon claimants in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance;(e) whether sanctions originate from a Work Programme Provider or JobCentre Plus;(f) the extent to which claimants understand the reasons for penalties being imposed upon them;(g) the extent to which sanctions are being promoted and whether targets are being applied in relation to penalties;(h) the support available for claimants upon whom a penalty has been imposed, and what additional support such claimants are seeking; (i) how penalties are being applied to those with a mental health or other fluctuating health condition;(j) the effectiveness of the hardship and mitigation provisions;(k) the effectiveness of sanctions in changing claimant behaviour; and(l) the application of the public sector equality duty.”

My Lords, in moving Amendment 4 I will speak also to Amendments 5A and 6. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend Lady Lister on Amendment 5 and what appears to be a very worthy extension of the scope of the promised review and report, which we can also support. Amendment 4 relates generally to the criteria for Clause 2, and Amendment 5A has been tabled with the strong support of the shadow Secretary of State following press revelations of the existence of sanctions targets and league tables operating in London. It insists that the review specifically report on this matter.

Clause 2 brings some redemption to what is otherwise a deeply unsatisfactory Bill. The clause exists because of the perseverance of my right honourable friends Stephen Timms and Liam Byrne in another place and gives us the hope that at least something positive may yet come from this débâcle. The clause requires the appointment of an independent person to prepare a report on the operations relating to the imposition of penalties. The sanctions which are in scope for the review are those imposed for failures in the period from June 2011, when the defective regulations were first introduced, until February 2013, when the Court of Appeal judgment was delivered. We are told that the sanctions involved amount to around 25% of all JSA sanctions, which is clearly a minority of such sanctions. For those both delivered and withheld, covering the ESE and MWA programme, this amounts to in excess of 300,000 sanctions, mostly relating to those assigned to the Work Programme. The huge growth in the number of sanctions and the amounts involved—on average some £600 for ESE sanctions and £800 for MWA sanctions—are real causes for concern. There are suggestions that the growth of sanctions is a significant cause of the proliferation of food banks.

Recent revelations about targets and league tables are deeply worrying and reinforce concerns that the sanctions regime is being used to control benefit expenditure rather than for its proper purpose of supporting conditionality and changing behaviour. Ministerial denials will cut no ice until these matters have been fully and speedily investigated. We would be appalled if the reports of the suggested behaviour were true, as they would demonstrate not only that a climate of fear is being created within jobcentres but that staff are being actively encouraged to refer customers for sanction, especially to fine customers that they can claim are not fully available for work if they make mention of looking after a grandparent or having informal arrangements sharing custody of children. Jobcentre Plus is supposed to support vulnerable people, not try to trip them up on technicalities.

The review should also cover what management statistics are routinely kept and what use these are put to. At what point of it all are statistics around appeals on reconsiderations subject to any comparison, either intra a Jobcentre Plus area or between areas? Are the data broken down into individual decision-makers and matched against appeal performance? Do these form part of any discussion at appraisal time for individuals? Noble Lords will recognise that it is not even necessary to have formal targets to create a culture where these issues are seen to matter.

At Second Reading the Minister said:

“I have heard today concern from Peers about how DWP issues sanctions to JSA claimants more generally. I would like to make it clear that the department will discuss with the Opposition the terms of reference of the sanctions review”.—[Official Report, 21/3/13; col. 756.]

This is to be welcomed. Can we take it from this that the review need not be limited just to those sanctions identified above? Of course, a discussion with the Opposition does not necessarily mean agreement, which is why we have particularised, in Amendment 4, specific questions posed by the right honourable Stephen Timms in another place. We have added to the list the important matter which my noble friend Lady Lister spoke to at Second Reading concerning the public sector equality duty. I am sure that my noble friend will pick up that issue shortly and expand on her telling intervention that the Government know that they are treading on thin ice on this matter. It is too late for this legislation to be able to benefit from the scrutiny of the JCHR, which makes it imperative that it is covered by the review.

The items included on the list are for the most part self-explanatory and have been discussed numerous times before. However, now is the time to have an independent assessment of what is actually happening in practice. These include how penalties are being applied to those with a mental health condition, or rather fluctuating health conditions, which has been a longstanding concern under this Government and, to be fair, under the previous one as well. As we need to know how in practice the sanction and hardship provisions are really affecting people’s ability to survive, it is important that the review and report are thorough and that sufficient time is available to do the job effectively. However, this should not preclude an interim report, which is what Amendment 6 suggests.

This is fast-track legislation which we now have very limited time to consider further. The independent review was an important consideration for us in our approach to this Bill and we need to nail this down as tightly as possible tonight. Paragraphs (a) to (l) of the amendment must be deliverable, and if the Government are approaching this in a spirit of co-operation it really should not present them with a problem. Will the Minister commit now to these being included in the terms of reference for the review?

Above all, however, we need to be certain that we get to the bottom of the alleged existence of targets and league tables, which is why Amendment 5A is essential. If the Government are committed to their mantra of low targets, they should have common cause with us in accepting this. If they want to tidy the wording for Report, then so be it. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 5 as well as in support of Amendment 4, moved by my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton. Amendment 5 complements and amplifies Amendment 4. The point behind it is that the sanctions in scope of the review established in Clause 2 of the Bill represent approximately only a quarter of all JSA sanctions imposed over the relevant period.

If we are to understand how the sanctions regime is working, the review needs to set the narrower group of sanctions in the scope of the Bill into the wider context of the operation of sanctions more generally. I have tried to make sense of the sanctions statistics, and it seems that there has been a massive increase since March 2010 in the number of fixed-length sanctions applied in relation to work-related programmes, and a smaller increase in other varied-length sanctions, albeit in both cases with some month-to-month fluctuations.

The review needs to help us understand what lies behind these statistics in the round. The sense that I am getting from voluntary organisations working in the field is that there is a growing concern about the general operation of sanctions. I am particularly grateful to CPAG and SPAN for the information they have sent me at very short notice.

I do not propose to pursue the question of whether or not jobcentre staff are being set sanction targets. My noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton has already addressed that point admirably. However, I want to say something about the wider culture that is giving rise to such claims. It has been brought to my attention that some jobcentres are pursuing a practice of “botherability”, which includes bringing in claimants at weekends. CPAG sent me the example of a client of the CAB in the north of England.

The client is a lone parent with two children aged eight and six. The eight year-old has reduced hearing and gets low-care DLA. The client is claiming JSA, housing benefit and council tax benefit. She received a letter at the start of March 2013 calling her into the jobcentre for a compliance meeting a few days later, at 9.30 am on a Sunday, which was Mother’s Day. She asked for a different date but was told that her benefit could be sanctioned. She decided to go to the interview as she could not afford not to, but her two little girls were very disappointed as they were planning a treat for her on Mother’s Day morning. She has been on JSA for six months and says that she has jumped through all the hoops. Last week she said that she had applied for 22 jobs. She does not understand what she has done or not done that has necessitated a compliance interview, especially on Mother’s Day. She says she is pretty disgusted with the way that claimants are treated—can your Lordships blame her? I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments on such practices. Is he aware of them? Does he condone them?

It seems to me that whether or not formal targets are operating, such practices are indicative of an oppressive culture that is aimed at punishing claimants rather than helping them to find work. The point has been made to me that in assessing the overall impact of sanctions we need to be looking at those cases not just where sanctions have been applied but where they have been threatened, sometimes inappropriately; in other words, when claimants have been led to believe that failing to do something is a sanctionable offence when it is not.

I wish to focus on the paragraphs of Amendment 4 that deal with mental health conditions, the effectiveness of hardship provisions and the application of the public sector equality duty. Mind has argued that the incentive structure represented by conditionality and sanctions in back-to-work support for people with mental health problems is a misplaced and counterproductive response to the barriers they face. It cites recent DWP research which found that some staff believe that conditionality and sanctions are not useful or appropriate for some groups of participants, including people with disabilities or addiction problems, and some staff acknowledge that the stress that can be caused can be counterproductive in terms of claimant engagement, which also has implications for paragraph (k), which concerns,

“the effectiveness of sanctions in changing claimant behaviour”.

Mind cites a number of service users who have been in contact. I will take just two examples. The first is:

“I got a nasty letter which said my benefit was at risk because I didn’t attend an appointment and I had to give a really good explanation within a week or my benefit would be cut. It quoted all these regulations I broke. I freaked out because I couldn’t understand what I hadn’t done … It turns out there was a mistake”.

Another example is:

“I was made very anxious and sleepless by what I perceived as threatening letters and terms from Jobcentre Plus and A4e. I became depressed because I could see that my hopes to return to work were being made unrealisable by this route”.

Let us put ourselves in the shoes of these people and imagine how stressful it must be for anyone, never mind someone with a mental health problem, to be treated in that way. Further examples can be found in evidence submitted by Citizens Advice Cymru to the ongoing Welsh Affairs Committee inquiry into the Work Programme. A number of them are where there was failure to take account of mental health problems as good cause for non-compliance—an issue to which we will return when debating Amendment 7.

A 20 year-old female sought advice from a CAB in south Wales. She had missed four appointments and was sanctioned. She suffers from periodic depression and memory problems and relies on her social services support worker to remind her of appointments. On these occasions, the support worker failed to do so. She could not apply for a crisis loan as she had been sanctioned, and she has no money at all. She is also worried that she will lose her accommodation.

Citizens Advice Cymru has also raised concerns about the effectiveness of hardship provisions once a claimant has been sanctioned. It observed that,

“according to our evidence, claimants are almost always financially destitute after a sanction and have very few choices in terms of financial support”.

In their experience,

“unless claimants are deemed particularly ‘vulnerable’, they will not usually get hardship support and will be left to rely on charitable support instead—such as food vouchers. Further, most food parcel providers have a limit on how many parcels they can distribute to … one person within a given timeframe, so this support is very limited”.

More generally, the word is that people are increasingly turning to food banks because of sanctions, but again those can do no more than provide a temporary sticking plaster.

When we debated the universal credit regulations, my noble friend Lady Hollis and I raised a number of concerns about the new hardship provisions, which are much more restrictive than those that have operated previously. I asked the Minister why hardship payments will now be recoverable, thereby potentially causing further hardship, and how claimants were going to be expected to prove that they had ceased to incur expenditure not deemed to be on essential and basic needs by the department, as they will now be required to do. In his helpful letter to my noble friend Lord McKenzie, in which he responded to questions he had been unable to answer in the debate, the Minister answered neither of those questions, so I would be grateful if he could do so now. It is pertinent to this discussion because he justified the new rule on what claimants would be allowed to spend their money on, on the grounds that it,

“ensures that there is protection in place for those who need it without undermining the deterrent effect of the sanction regime”.

As part of the review of the operation of sanctions under Clause 2, it would be helpful to have the evidence that hardship payments have been acting as such a deterrence.

I turn now to the final proposed subsection in Amendment 4, the application of the public sector equality duty. The importance of this issue was brought home to me by reading a report by Laura Dewar of SPAN. In it she observes:

“For single parents, and those organisations that represent their interests, it is unclear how DWP and Jobcentre Plus are complying with the new public sector equality duty. Jobcentre Plus have withdrawn the specialist help of Lone Parent Advisers to single parents, which was a provision that”,

the Equality and Human Rights Commission,

“originally cited as indicating Jobcentre Plus compliance with the gender equality duty”.

She also points to a lack of clarity as to how Work Programme providers are supposed to comply with the duty. The report goes on to argue:

“If the Work Programme is to address the needs of single parents and their children, as is required by the public sector equality duty, then there needs to be more consistent practice across providers. The monitoring and evaluation of the Work Programme needs to prioritise this. If not there is a danger that the Work Programme will not work for single parents and their disadvantage and inequality will be even more acute”.

For the same reasons, it is crucial that the review established under Clause 2 prioritises the application of the public sector equality duty. As it is a year since the report from which I quoted was written, I contacted Ms Dewar to see if she could update me. She replied immediately that she was very worried about sanctions. The briefing she wrote me, for which I am very grateful but to which I cannot do full justice, was disturbing. It does not purport to be a comprehensive study but the information she gives raises warning bells. In short, it concludes: that some lone parents are being sanctioned as a result of their caring responsibilities; that little account is being taken of the well-being of their children or of the application of the public sector equality duty; that threats of sanctions are not helping these parents move into work; that jobseekers’ agreements do not always take account of flexibilities, can be inconsistently applied and can be unrealistic and hard for parents to comply with; and that parents are too often denied the necessary flexibility in the work they are expected to obtain.

SPAN is hearing of unreasonable jobseekers’ agreements—for instance, one that states the lone parent must work from the moment she drops off her child at school to the moment she picks her up, or a number where lone parents of young children are being required to seek full-time work because of a lack of availability of part-time work. She cites a posting on SPAN’s online forum:

“I am a single mum to a 8 yr old who is doing well at school and he loves his life. I would never burst his bubble but I am on a work programme and under the threat of a sanction where I am to lose all JSA for a set number of weeks (I am to be notified by post) as I've sent a reply stating why I think it's unfair. I feel so useless and overwhelmed by the whole situation and my confidence packed its bag and upped and left. The sanction is over a missed Thursday 9 am appointment. My next appointment is 3 pm on a Monday. My advisor is well aware”—

My Lords, if I might intervene, there are several noble Lords in the Chamber who from a sedentary position keep saying that this is ridiculous. The only ridiculous part of the debate this evening is the fact that we are debating such a serious issue at 12.20 am, and we should be allowed to hear my noble friend in peace.

I thank my noble friend, particularly as I am quoting from a lone mother who is very upset. She says:

“The sanction is over a missed Thursday 9am appointment. My next appointment is 3pm on a Monday. My advisor is well aware that my son is at school for 8.50 am, it takes 25 minutes to get to WP, I collect my son at 3.15 pm yet I’m expected to attend at 3pm for 30 mins. So I’ll be taking him out of school at 2.30pm. I want to help him do well at school, attendance is a high priority of mine”.

Here we have the threat of sanctions demoralising a lone mother who is trying to do the right thing by her son. How making her feel useless and overwhelmed is going to help her in her jobseeking is a mystery to me.

As I have said, I have not been able to do full justice to the briefing that SPAN sent me. I therefore suggest that it be invited to submit evidence to the review established under Clause 2. Indeed, what provision will be made to enable outside organisations with experience of what is happening on the ground to feed evidence into the review?

Of course, the public sector equality duty is not just about lone parents. An international review of the evidence about the operation of sanctions within conditional benefit systems, conducted for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation a couple of years or so ago, warned that evidence suggests that the administration of sanctions is not rational and equitable. The studies conducted in the US have identified racial bias in the imposition of sanctions.

At Second Reading the Minister emphasised that,

“we are trying to design a much more flexible welfare system in which we individualise responses”.—[Official Report, 21/3/13; col. 753.]

It is difficult to quarrel with flexibility and individualisation, but the downside is that they leave greater scope for discrimination, in the negative sense of the term, and they can undermine rights. It is therefore all the more important that the sanctions review allows us to judge whether the administration of sanctions is indeed rational, equitable and consistent with the public sector equality duty.

The Government’s willingness to discuss the terms of reference of the sanctions review with the Opposition is, of course, welcome. I hope therefore that the Minister will accept Amendments 4 and 5, in the interests of ensuring that the review is as thorough and informative as it needs to be, and that the Government will express a willingness to take evidence from organisations on the ground.

My Lords, as far as I am concerned this is an important debate on an important amendment and, indeed, it is an important suggestion that we should have a review of the sanctions regime. Most colleagues already know this, but I am a non-executive, non-remunerated director of the Wise Group, an intermediate labour market provider in Glasgow that is subcontracted to the Work Programme, so I have had experience of some of these matters. There are difficulties that need to be ironed out and I hope that this review will take the opportunity to do just that.

I strongly urge my noble friend on the Front Bench to pay careful attention to what is being said, although I think that the amendment is a little ad longam to put in a Bill. I am with the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, in spirit, but I am not sure that the amendment is necessary. I think that we get the point that he is trying to make—I certainly do.

To the need for a review in this amendment I would add the question of the costs, which have been calculated as a maximum of £130 million. At the risk of being pedantic at this time of night—and I apologise to the House—I refer the Minister to page 6 of the impact assessment and Annexe A on the methodology of the calculation. Paragraph 18 describes the total value of the money allegedly at stake in this Bill. Frankly, I cannot understand it, but that may just be the hour of the morning. It states that the total value equals the number of sanctions multiplied by the number of weeks, although, in passing, I have to say that sanctions are variable in weeks—they are not all fixed-week sanctions, so I do not know quite how you can multiply by a number of weeks when they vary. That is multiplied by the percentage of cases of under-25s multiplied by the rate for under-25s and the percentage of cases of over-25s multiplied by the rate for over-25s. However, the final clause puzzles me, because that total value is,

“multiplied by reduction due to successful appeals and hardship”.

You have a multiplier multiplied by a reduction. Either my arithmetic is not good, which it is not, or the language in that paragraph is wrong. If the language in that paragraph is wrong, I would like to be told, because that is what we are being invited to consider as the potential cost to the taxpayer as a result of these changes. If the impact assessment has not got the methodology of the calculation correct, it would be good to know.

My other point is about recompliance. My experience in the Wise Group is that although many of these sanctions are originally set at, say, 26 weeks, the participant in the programme gets the message that they are going to lose out rather quickly and they come back into compliance. They are therefore reduced from a 26-week penalty to a four-week penalty as a matter of course. I do not know to what extent that is factored into the calculation of the total value. There are a number of methodological problems that I do not understand. One of the things that this report should do—I am not suggesting for a moment that we need answers to all these things this evening—is to look carefully at exactly what the total amount at stake in this Bill is. We look forward to getting that confirmed one way or the other.

Briefly, my view is that the Work Programme was introduced with indecent haste. The flexible New Deal programme was in the middle of its operation and in 2010, in a very short space of time, everything was changed. I understand the need to take away everything that went before, but everyone I now talk to tells me that the loss of corporate knowledge is a difficulty in working with the department. A lot of serious and expert people are no longer in the positions that they had. Bringing this programme in so early and losing such a lot of corporate knowledge over a short space of time is bound to lead to symptoms and consequences of this kind.

Part of the problem generated by these sanctions is that the notices that are given to participants in these programmes are often handled not by prime contractors but by subcontractors. I do not believe that some of them are authorised by the Secretary of State as they should be under the Jobseekers Act 1995, which is part of the reason why some of these notices are not detailed and informative. Therefore, it does not surprise me that the court took the view that it did. That is something that this review should be looking at as well.

Finally, one thing that I am clear about from my Wise Group experience is that a lot of participants in these courses do not appeal against sanctions because they cannot do without the benefit for the duration of the pending appeal—it is a serious loss of money to them. I hope that this will be investigated in the review, but we really need to look at whether the sanctions are being properly scrutinised in terms of the numbers who go to appeal. I think that people just throw in their hand because they cannot afford to do anything else.

In conclusion, there is a lot of important work to be done. I hope that the review will be serious in undertaking that work and making the results and conclusions available to the rest of us so that we can get this sanctions regime better adjusted for future use in the jobseeker’s allowance regime.

My Lords, I will address Amendments 4, 5, 5A and 6 together. The purpose of these amendments is to place in the Bill detailed requirements for the independent report set out in Clause 2.

I should be clear that Clause 2 provides for an independent review of the operation of provisions relating to the imposition of sanctions which would, without this legislation, be unlawful. The amendments could be seen to imply a much wider review; it is not a full review of the operation of sanctions, although clearly there could be wider relevance. At least one of the things covered in the amendment is not within the scope of the Bill: paragraph (d) asks about the number of penalties imposed upon claimants in receipt of employment and support allowance. I can answer that today, as the Bill is only concerned with JSA claimants.

The Government are happy to consider a wide range of areas for the review, but it would be unhelpful to lock down the terms of that review at this stage. Despite my earlier comments, the amendments list a number of areas the review could usefully consider. I am happy to confirm what I said on Thursday, and give a commitment that we will discuss further with the Opposition the scope of the review. Within that process, we can look at the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on provision for outsiders.

Amendment 5A would ensure that the independent reviewer makes an assessment of the extent to which senior managers in Jobcentre Plus have used targets in the operation of sanctions. This amendment is completely unnecessary. There are no targets for sanction referrals. The Government have made a point of removing the vast majority of targets within Jobcentre Plus. It is regrettable that loose drafting of an internal e-mail suggested otherwise. If noble Lords look at sanctions, there is no clear trend in the proportion of the caseload who receives them. Prior to 2007, the rate was running at around 4%; since then it has fluctuated between 3% and 5%. There is not the clear trend in the growth of sanctions which some people have been claiming.

My Lords, I do not doubt the Minister’s honesty and integrity in his statements about targets at all. However, the staff clearly do not believe him. It is clear from the evidence that we have seen—the leaked e-mails and all sorts of other examples coming to Members of Parliament and so on—that the staff in local offices believe, because they are told by their managers, that they have to increase the number of sanctions. In the e-mail, the manager of the particular jobcentre was criticised and told that she would be subject to first-stage disciplinary hearings because that office was something like 93rd out of 101 in sanction production; they should have been producing something like 25 a week and were only producing four or six a week. Therefore: “Guys, we should raise our game”.

The e-mail was not loosely drafted. It was very precisely drafted; we have all seen copies of it. That e-mail, from someone senior in the office to their staff, made it very clear that if they did not increase a number of sanctions, they, too, would be involved in a disciplinary process. That is believed by those staff and by staff across the country. I do not doubt the Minister’s word, or that he does not intend that to be the case. What is he going to do, therefore, to ensure that local offices no longer behave in this way?

My Lords, let me make very clear the difference between having targets, having business or management information, and doing something with that information. Clearly, you collect these data not just to answer parliamentary questions but to run the business. It is used to look at where there are outliers and peculiarities, and what the norms are. When a particular jobcentre may be well outside the norm on either side, you might want to ask it why that was the case. Was it justifiable, and what were the dynamics of that? In some cases you are clearly looking at particular parts of the operation that are not operating in line with the norms. That is not having a target culture. A target culture—as the noble Lords opposite will know, because they were running one in many parts of the public services—is where you incentivise and drive performance based on particular targets. We do not do that. We do not have targets. We do, however, have management information and, as I say, we need to understand why outliers exist.

My Lords, will the Minister explain why this senior staff member—the manager of the office—told the staff underneath her that unless they increased the number of sanctions she would be subject to the first stage of a disciplinary procedure, and that that, in turn, would mean that she would have to discipline them? How does he explain that?

My Lords, I am not going to pick up a particular case because I do not have the detail on it. It would not be appropriate for me to hazard a guess on what was behind a particular e-mail or a particular concern.

My Lords, I hear what the Minister has said, and he is held in high regard across the House. In view of what my noble friend Lady Hollis has said, will he therefore initiate an investigation into how this memo came about? Will he come back to the House to explain what action the Government are taking on this? Somebody is clearly acting against government policy, and it should be stopped.

Will the Minister also, therefore, ensure that all DWP local offices receive the same information—that this is to be deplored?

My Lords, I must repeat what I have just said. Clearly, we have internal management information. It is vital that we keep it, and we publish a lot of it. We need to understand why some areas, some jobcentres, have higher rates than others and why some have lower rates. Some may have very good reasons for having lower or higher rates, while others may not. We therefore need this information to correct the anomalies, and that is normal business practice. It may be that in particular cases a jobcentre manager is told, “You are running very high or very low figures, and you cannot justify the reason for that, so you need to get more into line”. It may happen. I have not got the particular details.

The noble Lords opposite know exactly how targets operate because they operated a target regime. Targets are when people are incentivised to perform to particular figures.

They are usually incentivised to reach targets, and we do not run a target regime. The no-targets message has gone out repeatedly.

My Lords, I fail to understand the Minister. Surely if someone is asked to regulate their business, as he calls it, in order to get to the norm, what is the difference between that and a target?

The difference is that where someone is not performing in line with the rest of the business for no good reason—in other words, where there is nothing different in the underlying constituency of the business—they are not operating the business in line with the standards that we have. That is entirely different from having targets, because it is understood that no figures are going out with instructions to achieve something. The message that there are no targets goes out repeatedly to jobcentre managers; there has been a reminder from the Work Services Directorate that there are no targets; and we will investigate if people have misunderstood that approach.

It is Committee, but the Companion guides us by stating that, during any stages:

“Lengthy or frequent interventions should not be made, even with the consent of the member speaking”.

My noble friend is very tolerant and I know that he will keep responding to interventions. However, the hour is late and there have been several interventions.

My Lords, this is Committee. Many of us are deeply distressed about the Bill. To seek to curtail a discussion where clearly the Minister is saying that people will be asked to comply with a norm if they have no good excuse not to, is to my mind—and, I suspect, to the minds of other noble Lords—little different from a target.

My Lords, I have answered the question. I will re-emphasise that we do not have targets, we have management information. I may not have convinced noble Lords on the other side, but they should be very familiar with running targets because that is how they tried to run the economy. We do not run targets because they create perverse behaviours. We collect information in this area, not least because it is required for public purposes. Furthermore, we need to run a business and we need to understand what different areas are doing in order to do that.

Referrals for sanctions are made on the merits of each case. Decisions on sanctions are based on evidence presented that is independently reviewed by decision- makers. The fact that only three-quarters of decisions made are upheld by these decision-makers proves the robustness of the process. Furthermore, there is an independent appeals process against decisions, so even if a target regime were in place, which it is not, claimants who were wrongly sanctioned could successfully appeal.

The flexible business model means that managers need to understand the reason for outliers. While differences can be for good reasons such as local labour market conditions, senior managers need to monitor the overall situation in order to spot and correct anomalies.

Given what I have said, it would be odd to require the independent report to cover a sanctions target that does not exist. However, we are happy to give reassurances that we will make clear the position in respect of targets and league tables. I have done my best today, but clearly more may need to be done for some noble Lords.

At the risk of upsetting the Whip, I have a question. The Minister does not seem to have addressed one of the examples given by my noble friend. Will he give a personal guarantee that no office will open and call people in on Easter Sunday? How many offices are opening on Sundays? Are they in England, Wales and Scotland? What is the policy of offices opening on Sundays to call in people in the way we heard in the example earlier on? He must address that because this is obviously something quite new.

My Lords, I do not have the information on Sundays, particularly Easter Sunday. The underlying issue is compliance checks using different days for attending the jobcentre, which are an important element of Jobcentre Plus’s toolkit to combat benefit fraud and confirm conditions of entitlement to benefit. That can include asking claimants to attend a jobcentre on a day other than their normal signing day. That is not something that is different under this Government.

I am sorry to intervene, but does the Minister think it is reasonable to ask a mother to come in on Mothering Sunday?

My Lords, clearly, I cannot talk about examples when I am not familiar with the particular example. It may have been a strategy. As I said, there is a general strategy to prevent non-compliance by using the device of asking people to come in on different days. Sometimes people are asked to come in on every day of the week. The example I am thinking of is the five workings days, but I have seen examples of that. I saw that example under the previous Government to be honest. I do not know why noble Lords opposite are looking aghast as this was absolutely standard procedure under the previous Government and nothing has changed. It was standard procedure and has been maintained because it works in areas where we are concerned about benefit fraud.

On Amendment 4, it is worth noting that for sanctions more broadly much of the information that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, sets out in his amendment is already published by the department. For example, we have published, and will publish every six months, tables setting out the number of sanctions issued and the number of reconsiderations and appeals. The latest figures published for employment, skills and enterprise schemes and mandatory work activity show that up to October 2012 around 170,000 sanctions were issued. There were just over 50,000 reconsiderations, with claimants being successful in just over half of them. Following this there were about 5,000 appeals to the First-tier Tribunal, with claimants being successful in around a quarter of them. I hope that gives enough reassurance to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that the independent review will be comprehensive and in the spirit of Clause 2. I therefore urge them to reconsider the position and not press their amendments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, raised a point on hardship and the new hardship regime. The new hardship regime will not apply to these jobseeker allowance claimants. It will come into effect only when universal credit is in place. The lone parent’s caring responsibilities are taken into account when setting work search requirements. In the example used by the noble Baroness, they can be used in citing a good reason for non-compliance.

I turn now to the linked Amendment 6, the purpose of which is to ensure that there is an interim report on the operation of the provisions relating to the imposition of a penalty, as well as the report after 12 months that the Bill already requires. I am as keen as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, that the review is expedited and we will endeavour to complete it as quickly as possible. However, it may help if I set out why an interim report would be unhelpful in providing a complete picture. A claimant who has a sanction imposed on them has 13 months to bring an appeal against that sanction, so by imposing a six-month deadline for an interim report we would miss those appeals made at a later point. That could then give a misleading view of the overall picture in a way that could be unhelpful. As I said earlier, we are committed to producing a report as soon as is reasonably practicable and it would be far better to wait for the full annual report. I hope that the noble Lord will reconsider the position and not press that amendment.

My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend Lady Lister for her support for this amendment. I believe that my noble friend made a powerful contribution and painted what I think we would all agree is a very troublesome picture of what is happening on the ground in too many instances. She specifically asked whether the review would receive evidence from outside bodies, and I do not think that the Minister has addressed that point. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, too, for his support, at least in spirit. I believe that he is absolutely right that the projected cost of £130 million is excessive. Of course, from the Government’s point of view, the higher that figure, the greater the weight given to the opportunity of retrospective legislation. But I think that the noble Lord’s analysis is right.

The Minister’s response was desperately disappointing generally. On the question of targets, let me be clear about what Amendment 5A says. It seeks a report that,

“will include an assessment of the extent to which jobcentre managers have applied targets on the issue of sanctions”.

I accept the Minister’s words—he would not wish to mislead us—on whether Ministers have targets, but the question is whether as a practical matter targets are being applied within certain Jobcentre Plus premises. The noble Lord says that it is about business information and that it is necessary to spot outliers, but the one document that we have as an example is worth reading. It says:

“I have until 15 February, along with other area managers, to show an improvement, and then it is a performance improvement plan for me”.

A PIP is the first stage of the disciplinary process, as my noble friend Lady Hollis identified. It goes on to say that,

“if I am on a PIP to improve my team’s Stricter Benefit Regime referral rate I will not have a choice but to consider implementing PIPs for those individuals who are clearly not delivering SBR within the team”.

It seems to me that there is an awful lot of pressure there, whether you label it as pressure driven by targets or by some other means. It is pressure, and it is changing the culture of the organisation. What does it lead to? It leads to advice like,

“listen for telltale phrases ‘I pick up the kids’, ‘I look after my neighbour’s children/my grandchildren’ or just ‘I am busy’—all of which suggest that the customer may not be fully available for work, even cases where a parent shares custody can be considered if the arrangement is informal. Not that I am suggesting you go there, but you need to consider each case individually”.

Is not the Minister troubled to understand that those sorts of memos are floating around within Jobcentre Plus? Is that not entirely contrary to what he himself has asserted? I cannot believe that he would feel comfortable about that happening. That is the purpose of the amendment—to find out what is happening or has happened in Jobcentre Plus generally. It is not a question of whether the Minister has set down a particular target but what is happening within those Jobcentre Plus premises and the impact that it is having on people being referred for sanctions.

Again, the hour is late, and I will withdraw the amendment, although when it is called I propose to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 5A, which is the key issue dealing with the sanctions and the revelations that the press have identified, because there is a pressing and clear need for that to be addressed.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.

Amendment 5 not moved.

Amendment 5A

Moved by

5A: Clause 2, page 3, line 34, at end insert—

“( ) A report under subsection (1) will include an assessment of the extent to which jobcentre managers have applied targets on the issue of sanctions.”

Amendment 6 not moved.

Clause 2 agreed.

Amendment 7

Moved by

7: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—


Within a month of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State will issue guidance on the way in which claimants may be entitled to mitigate any penalty imposed upon them under the 2011 Regulations or the Mandatory Work Activity Regulations following the coming into force of this Act.”

My Lords, the amendment would require the Secretary of State to prepare guidance on how claimants might mitigate any penalty. This is necessary because there are some serious questions for the Government to answer about how the sanction system will work in practice after a delay of many months, potentially longer, and how a claimant is able to limit the effects in the way in which Parliament envisaged when it passed the legislation.

I want to turn briefly to the question of recompliance raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope. The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise) Regulations 2011—the regulations that were found to be at fault by the Court of Appeal—explain the consequences of failure to participate in the scheme covered by those provisions. Regulations 8(4) to 8(6) provide that a claimant who fails to participate in an activity may face a loss or reduction of benefit for a period of two, four or 26 weeks. Regulation 8(7) provides that if someone has been sanctioned for 26 weeks but has recomplied, the period for which benefit is stopped is reduced to four weeks—a point explained by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. Recompliance is defined in Regulation 8(8), which refers to the claimant as “C”. It states:

“C will be taken to have re-complied where”,

on the same date, before or,

“after the date on which the Secretary of State determines that C has failed to participate in the Scheme, C complies with … (a) the requirement as to participation in the Scheme to which the determination relates, or (b) such other requirement as to participation as may be made by the Secretary of State and notified to C in accordance with regulation 4”.

Here come the questions, and I apologise that they are not very exciting. Can the Minister tell the Committee how this will work some months after the event? Let us say that a claimant with a fluctuating health problem has failed to turn up for a training course imposed as part of skills conditionality and has been sanctioned for 26 weeks. The course ended last September. Had he been sanctioned at once, he could perhaps have attended the remaining days of the course and had the sanction reduced from 26 weeks to four weeks. Can the Minister explain how that person could now show compliance? It is obviously too late for him to recomply under Regulation 8(8)(a), but perhaps he could recomply under sub-paragraph (b). If so, can the Minister explain how that will work? If the person has been given any subsequent direction and has complied with it in any way at all, will that count as recompliance; does the recompliance have to be specific to the particular scheme that he was put on; or does it have to be specific to the requirement made of him at the time—that is, that training course? Presumably, the Government would want to make sure that this person was not treated any less fairly than he would have been had the Government’s regulations and notices not been found to be unlawful, but how would the Minister do that? If he is not in a position to explain to the Committee in detail now, I would press him to accept the amendment, which simply asks that he issues guidance explaining to jobcentre staff how they should act in order to put the claimant in the position in which they would have been but for the delay caused by the failure of the regulations to be accepted by the Court of Appeal as lawful.

My second question relates to the question of good cause, which the Minister referred to at an earlier stage. If a claimant fails to participate in the scheme, they are notified by the DWP and will be sanctioned unless they show what is known as “good cause” for their failure to participate within five working days.

Let me give another example. I am interested in exploring how good cause works in this time-delayed world. Let us imagine a single mother who was due to attend a course but missed the registration on the first morning because her 13 year-old son was up all night vomiting and she could not take him to school. She could not leave a sick 13 year-old at home alone the next day, so she phoned up the course and explained what had happened and that she would not be in that day. She talked to the receptionist who took a message and said that it would be passed on. The message was not passed on and when she turned up the next day she was told that she could not join the course because she failed to be there for the start. I should say that I have heard of real cases where precisely these things have taken place, and I am sure that the Minister has as well. Can the Minister help us to understand what would happen in that circumstance?

I understood from what the Minister said early on that that lone parent would have been written to at the time that this alleged breach took place, asking if she had any good cause for failing to turn up for the course. So what happened then? Presumably the decision-maker did not make a decision at that stage, so perhaps this would be sat on from that point, say the previous September, until it got around to being processed from the pile of deferred decisions. Would she at this stage have to explain more about what happened? For example, if there were not enough information in the explanation, did the decision-maker go back at the point at which this happened last September to say, “Tell me more”, or will that happen, say, the following April or May? If so, will she be expected to recall precisely what happened with this child’s bout of sickness last September, when it is now potentially April or May? Will she be asked for evidence for a bout of sickness that may not have required a medical appointment if the child was recovered within 24 hours? If she did give all the information but she was then deemed not to have good cause, presumably she could now appeal. If so, can the Minister explain to the Committee how the normal standards of evidence will be relaxed, if at all, given the serious time delay, to deal with the evidential problems and the possible recall problems that come with that?

Finally, can the Minister explain which set of regulations will apply to someone who committed the alleged breach under the old sanctions regime? Will he or she be sanctioned using the provisions that applied at the time of the alleged failing, because of course the ability to reduce the sanction by recomplying has since disappeared? Can the Minister reassure us that in fact someone will be able to reduce a sanction period by recompliance even if such an option no longer exists under the current regulations?

I apologise for having to go into such detail at this stage, but I did not choose to be conducting a Committee stage at quarter past one in the morning. I do think, if we are going to be asked to fast-track a Bill of this complexity and importance, that it is very important that the Committee is given every opportunity to understand precisely what the Government are trying to do to these people. I beg to move.

My Lords, I must inform your Lordships that the result of Division 3 on Amendment 5A should have been Contents 35, Not-Contents 139—not 137 as announced.

My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend by saying that I am mortified about the additional numbers on the other side as the result of our strenuous debate. I thought that we might have persuaded a few more to abstain.

I hope that the Minister can agree to this amendment. There are three broad reasons why we need new guidance and clarity on the sanctions regime: the issue of targets/norms, good cause and compliance. The Joseph Rowntree research that came out in December 2010 shows that claimants have a low level of awareness of sanctions and that the more disadvantaged they are, the higher the risk of sanctions and the less knowledge they have about them. This applies to young claimants, those with a disability, those with a poor education, those with large families and those from an ethnic minority. The research shows that they are not out to flout the system but that they have poor information or non-intentional behaviour such as forgetfulness. In that context, I want us to support my noble friend’s amendment.

I turn first to the issue of targets. The Minister was at some pains to explain to us earlier that “targets” is a relevant word only where you are rewarding behaviour, but when you are punishing it, that is a “norm”. We know that if you exceed, you get a target, and that if you underachieve, that is a norm. It is clear that targets or norms, whatever we want to call them, are the enemy of mitigation. Using them to allow the Secretary of State to claim clean hands while the staff do the dirty work under pressure from above is completely unacceptable. We need clear evidence, guidance and clarity from the Minister on the sanctions regime to ensure that targets do not stand in the way of mitigation. If people are allowed to mitigate and sanctions numbers therefore reduce, so will the targets, and staff will obviously have an incentive to fail to ensure that claimants follow good procedure and appropriate behaviour because they themselves face disciplinary action. That is a moral, or immoral, position, into which they should not be put.

Secondly, we need this guidance to ensure that claimants are aware that they may be able to mitigate sanctions by establishing good cause. My noble friend gave the example of the lone parent unable to attend an interview. Every parent in this House has had a child who has been sick and they may have missed an interview as a result. There is no doctor’s evidence because, by the next day, the child is well. Certainly that happened to me on numerous occasions. However, in this new, suspicious, look-for-any-benefit-cutting-excuse, hunt-them-down culture, of course we all now assume that any lone parent will keep her child at home and away from school simply to avoid an inconvenient interview. She says that the child was poorly, but why believe her? As she can provide no evidence, the office has got her and another tick is put on the whiteboard.

The third reason for needing guidance on mitigation is that, as the courts have indicated, claimants need to know and have a right to know how they may end their sanction by complying with jobcentre requirements. This issue marks the crucial line as to whether we are using sanctions to reduce the benefit bill or whether we are using them to change behaviour. If it is the first, giving little information or hope for people to find their way back into the system, then the Minister risks creating a growing underclass without income, without much hope and without any help. But people, as Carlyle pointed out 150 years ago, will not starve quietly. Some may have families to help them, and they will be the relatively lucky ones. Some may beg, while others will cross the line into thieving, drug selling and semi-criminal behaviour. This is what the Rowntree trust warns us of. They will come to regard social security laws, in so far as they understand them, and increasingly other laws, as not applicable to them. We will all then pay a high price. If it is the second—that instead of simply trying to cut the benefit bill on any hook we can find, we want people to change their behaviour and sanctions are part of the tough love regime, as I believe they should be—then we absolutely must encourage people to end sanctions by complying with what they are expected to do. When they do so, we should rejoice, even though it means fewer ticks on the whiteboard of targets to be met.

Research evidence shows up that up to two-thirds of those sanctioned do not know the whys or wherefores, or what they can do about it. The Minister, whose integrity we totally respect, accepted at Second Reading that that was indeed the case and that therefore the issue of sanctions had to be revisited. If the issue has to be revisited, he should now accept my noble friend’s amendment, because it amplifies what he himself has already agreed. Mitigation means ending the culture of targets and, incidentally, protecting any whistleblowers in the process. It means ensuring that people have the help that they need to claim good cause where that exists and it ensures mitigation so that claimants will know how they can end the sanction by conforming to benefit requirements. I hope that all in this Committee agree on these three goals. In which case, I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment.

My Lords, this amendment, which would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the way in which claimants can mitigate any penalty imposed under the ESE or MWA regulations after the Act comes into force, is unnecessary, as this information is provided to claimants as a matter of standard practice. When a claimant is issued with a benefit sanction, they are as a matter of course sent a letter explaining the decision made and what effect it will have. The letter clearly tells claimants that if they want to appeal the decision, they should fill in leaflet GL24, If you think our Decision is Wrong, and that claimants can,

“get this leaflet from your Jobcentre or Social Security Office”.

Attached to the sanctions letter are two leaflets: leaflet 1NF1, on appealing against a decision and leaflet JSA9, the hardship leaflet). I have both of these leaflets with me today.

The leaflet on appealing against a decision explains in plain English who the claimant should contact if they want to know more about the decision or, if they think the decision was wrong, how to appeal it and what support they may get in formulating that appeal. The hardship leaflet explains what financial support is available, the eligibility criteria and how to apply for hardship, and provides the form they must fill in to claim hardship. The whole process is done as a matter of course and, indeed, is on the record and available for anyone to see how those leaflets work.

I turn to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, on recompliance. If a claimant has been issued with a 26-week sanction but has complied in the intervening period, they will be served with a four-week sanction. Recompliance is not particular to any scheme and can include participation in any other scheme. Of course, the sanctions regime has changed, so if the failure to participate was before 22 October last year, the old regime, which includes the re-engagement, applies. However, if the failure to participate is after 22 October, the current sanctions regime, which has no engagement and which builds up, will apply. That goes on the time of the failure to participate.

The noble Baroness was concerned about the time between the failure and the sanction being imposed on the stockpiled cases. I am sorry that I have not yet found a better word than stockpiled but it is for cases not people. As I said on an earlier amendment, the process of finding that information takes place immediately on the failure. They receive a letter and need to provide good cause at that point. Clearly, where there is a problem and there needs to be amplification, and there is a problem of information or evidence, the decision-maker will have to take that into account in the normal way, given that there is a gap and it is a justifiable lacuna.

As a matter of course, the cases that we have stockpiled will get issued with a sanction and receive the standard letter, and those accompanying leaflets that I outlined. This amendment is therefore superfluous and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it.

I thank the Minister for that reply and, in particular, for clarifying that it will be the sanctions regime that was applicable at the time of the alleged breach that would prevail. I will just ask him to clarify one point more specifically. I was glad to hear him say that any subsequent direction can count as recompliance and that it did not have to be something specific to the particular scheme or course originally. It can count, but will it?

If it fits the norms within which that re-compliance operates, then it will. I am not sure whether there is huge distinction, in this case, between the may and the will.

I am not trying to be pedantic, although I confess that it is a hobby. The reason it matters in this case is that normally, if I were sanctioned for not participating in a course, the obvious way to comply is to start going to the course. As the course has long since finished, there are all kinds of unrelated things that may have happened in between then and now, which would not be the obvious way for me to re-comply with a direction on something that has long since ceased. Therefore, the fact that these things could count does not necessarily mean that they will. The reason that I wanted guidance was precisely to make clear to jobcentre staff that in these circumstances they should interpret any form of compliance as being enough. I encourage the noble Lord to say that on the record.

What I will say on the record is that we will ensure that guidance to jobcentre staff will make this absolutely clear.

My Lords, we will make sure that the particular options here are laid out for jobcentre staff so that we do this consistently. I can add that recompliance will count if it is a scheme under the ESE regulations.

That was worth waiting for. I thank the Minister for that. I still think that this amendment is worth while. Although the Minister regards it as superfluous, the information that goes out to claimants actually relates specifically and only to complaints and hardships. The other obvious way to mitigate the effect of a sanction is recompliance and in fact none of that information does relate to recompliance. However, in the light of what he has just said, and given the lateness of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed.

House resumed.

Bill reported without amendment. Report and Third Reading agreed without debate. Bill passed.

House adjourned at 1.28 am.