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Benefit sanctions

It’s important to know what to do if your benefits have been stopped or cut due to a sanction. Try not to panic – make sure you understand why this has happened and get help until your payments start again.

How sanctions work

When you shouldn’t be sanctioned

Tips for avoiding sanctions 

Hardship payments

Useful links

How sanctions work

This is when a benefit is stopped or reduced because you miss an appointment or don’t do what you’ve agreed to do. 

Benefits can be sanctioned if you don’t: 

  • Do enough to look for work
  • Turn up for a meeting or phone appointment
  • Arrive on time for appointments or interviews
  • Take part in a training scheme
  • Accept a job you’re offered

There are 4 levels of sanctions that last for different lengths of time. The level will be linked to the reason for your sanction. If you’ve been sanctioned before, the next sanction might last for longer. Citizens Advice has more about how long sanctions last.

Which benefits can be sanctioned?

Any benefit with a claimant commitment can be sanctioned. These are:

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

How sanctions affect your other benefits

If you’re on Council Tax Reduction or Housing Benefit, you can still get these even when another benefit has been sanctioned. But they’ll usually be stopped unless you contact your council.

So it’s important to speak to the council as soon as you know you’ve been sanctioned. They’ll tell you what information they need to continue with your Council Tax Reduction and Housing Benefit.

When you shouldn’t be sanctioned

You shouldn’t get a sanction if you can show you had a good reason for what happened. This isn’t specifically defined – it’s up to you to show why your actions were reasonable. Good reasons could be:

  • Refusing or leaving a job because the travel time or working hours were unreasonable, given your childcare responsibilities 
  • Needing to care for your child at short notice, like if your childcare arrangements fell through
  • Not meeting a work-related requirement because of a physical or mental health condition – for example, if you use a wheelchair and had to turn down a job because there was no accessible entrance, or if you have social anxiety and couldn’t take a job that involved dealing with lots of people
  • An unexpected crisis like an emergency at home, family break-up or death
  • Transport difficulties
  • Misunderstanding what you needed to do because of a learning difficulty or low reading ability

If you think a sanction is unfair, you can challenge it. You’ll need to explain why you think it’s unfair and give evidence if you can. Citizens Advice has some useful advice about challenging sanctions, including arguments you can make.

Tips for avoiding sanctions as a single parent

  • Make sure your claimant commitment is right for you and your family. Explain that you’re a single parent and be honest with your work coach about what you can and can’t do. Let them know about anything that will limit the time you can work or look for work – like your children’s school hours, the time you need to take them to school or childcare, and so on. 
  • If you’ve experienced domestic abuse, tell your work coach or call the Universal Credit helpline. You won’t need to do any work-related activities for 26 weeks, as long as you’re not living with the abusive partner.
  • Tell your work coach if temporary problems are stopping you from working or looking for work. For example, if you’re struggling to arrange childcare, have a family emergency or need to go to a funeral. Your work-related activities should be reduced.
  • Make sure you don’t miss any calls from the DWP. Their number is 0800 023 2635, so it’s worth saving this in your phone’s address book so you remember to answer.

Hardship payments

You might be able to get a smaller amount of benefit to help you cover essential household expenses – called a hardship payment. This is normally 60% of your usual benefit payment. If you’re pregnant or seriously ill, you might get 80%. As a parent, you’ll be classed as ‘vulnerable’ and should get the payment immediately. 

To get a hardship payment:

  • Your Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance must have been sanctioned 
  • You must be struggling to pay for rent, food, heating or other basic needs for you or your child
  • You must now be following the rules for claiming your benefit

If you get Income Support, you won’t be able to claim a hardship payment.

To apply, contact your nearest jobcentre. If you’re getting Universal Credit, new-style Jobseeker’s Allowance or new-style Employment and Support Allowance, you can also call the Universal Credit helpline.

When you apply, you’ll need to share:

  • What you’ve done to find the money elsewhere, such as borrowing from a friend or working extra hours
  • Any other income or savings you have
  • What you’ve done to reduce your spending
  • What living costs you’re struggling to meet

Our page on managing financially has more suggestions for boosting your income.

Will I have to repay a hardship payment?

If you’re claiming Universal Credit, new-style Employment and Support Allowance or new-style Jobseeker’s Allowance, you’ll need to pay back your hardship payment when your sanction ends. Your benefit will be reduced each month until it’s paid back. If this is going to create serious problems for you, your payments can be reduced or even cancelled. Call Citizens Advice for help with this.

If you get income-related Employment and Support Allowance or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, you don’t have to pay back a hardship payment.

Date last updated: 18 May 2023

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