Coventry families left penniless after benefits stopped: Uncovering the impact of benefit sanctions in Coventry

Thousands of families in Coventry over the last year were left without any income after their benefits were sanctioned (stopped or reduced) according to advice agencies working in Coventry. The agencies(1) are so concerned about what is happening to people in Coventry that they are launching a three month survey to find out the full impact of welfare benefit sanctions in Coventry.

The survey is being launched following a meeting attended by over 30 organisations and individuals to discuss benefit sanctions in Coventry. Problems raised at that meeting included:

  • Examples of sanctions that appeared particularly severe including one person sanctioned for six weeks for being five minutes late to sign on, who as a result may become homeless, and another sanctioned for accidently putting the date of a job application and the job applied for in the wrong boxes on a form
  • Examples of stress, depression and other mental health problems, including increased suicide risk among  clients as a result of sanctions, particularly among female victims of domestic or sexual violence.
  • In some cases people only found out that they had been sanctioned when their benefits were stopped and did not know what they had done wrong, or that they had a right to appeal.
  • Families with children being left with no income to buy food or pay bills and at increased risk of homelessness because of rent arrears. (2)

As a result of this meeting it was decided to launch a Coventry wide survey to uncover the full extent and impact of sanctions. Coventry agencies are asking their clients and any members of the public who have been sanctioned to take part in the survey, which is completely anonymous. Copies of the survey and advice about what to do if you are sanctioned are available here: http://www.covlaw.org.uk/welfare/sanctions.html

A direct link to the survey can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FWW7YYW

Speaking at the launch of the survey Janet Gurney from Coventry Law Centre said:

“We are really concerned about the impact that sanctions are having on some of the poorest families in Coventry. From the cases that agencies are seeing it looks as if some sanctions are being imposed unfairly, but few people know about their right to appeal, or that appeals are often successful. We would like to support more appeals in Coventry, but we also need to know more about how sanctions are being imposed in Coventry and what affect this is having on families.”

The results of the survey will be published, and shared with the Job Centre locally and DWP nationally in the hope of improving practice.

Notes

  1. The project is being co-ordinated by Coventry Law Centre, (www.covlaw.org.uk),  Coventry Citizens’ Advice Bureau, (www.coventrycab.org.uk), Coventry Women’s Voices (www.coventrywomensvoices.wordpress.com) and the Centre for Human Rights in Practice at the University of Warwick (http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/chrp/) along with staff from the Sociology Department at the University of Warwick. A full list of organisations taking part in the survey is available at:  LINK GOES HERE
  1. Case studies of sanctions in Coventry include:

Case studies from Coventry Citizens’ Advice Bureau

A single disabled woman was sanctioned because she filled in a form showing how many jobs she had applied for incorrectly. She applied for the correct number of jobs but put the date and employer details in the wrong fields. As a result of the sanction she was unable to buy food or pay essential bills. She could not afford a bus ticket into town to sign on. She is at risk of debt and the distress caused has made her existing health problems worse. She is expected to use the internet to look for work, but finds this difficult and has had little help or support from the job centre.

A single man with health problems had his job seekers allowance stopped in October this year because he hadn’t attended the work programme in March, seven months earlier. He had been sent a letter in March instructing him to attend a work programme, but this had been sent to an address he had left the previous year. He said that he had told the Department of Work and Pensions that he was homeless and was using the Job Centre as his postal address. A recent Court of Appeal decision means that sanctions can be applied retrospectively. In October 2013 the man’s Job Seekers Allowance was stopped for two months. He is currently homeless and relying on food vouchers.

Case Studies from Coventry Law Centre

Mr S is a man with learning difficulties who was sanctioned for a month because he had to attend an urgent doctor’s appointment on the day he was due to sign on. He had lost consciousness and had to have blood tests to work out what was wrong. A friend had called the job centre to inform them and was told that he should come into the job centre as soon as he was able to.

Mr S went to the job centre the following day to find that no record had been made of the telephone call. He explained that he had had a doctor’s appointment. The officer at the job centre completed the form because Mr S could not read or write. The form did not correctly record what had happened, but Mr S did not realise this so signed it without understanding what it said. Mr S was assisted by a friend to appeal against the decision. At the tribunal Mr S gave evidence about his health problems and learning difficulties and the appeal was granted, removing the sanction.

A woman, Miss S,  who shares care of her son with her ex-partner was sanctioned for six weeks because she was ten minutes late to sign on. This decision was overturned on appeal.

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About coventrywomensvoices

Coventry Womens Voices is an independent group of women’s organisations, organisations working with women and individuals that have come together to ensure women’s voices are heard when policy is made in Coventry. Our mission is to “Make Women’s Voices Heard in Coventry”.
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