benefit sanctions universal credit uk

This instantly sounds like a terrible idea. Ending the “something for nothing” loophole abuse in which some people live entirely through benefits without bothering to seek a job sounds truly asinine in a time in which as much as people might want to work, there are simply no jobs to be had.

Whatever qualifiers must be shown to demonstrate a job-seeking initiative may not even be allowed due to enforced community distancing guideline.

And yet, it may not be that simple. As much as the UK government is indeed often a fount of terrible ideas, there are still often reasons why they do they things they do. Let us try to uncover their reasonings why.

What normally gets sanctions imposed on the unemployed?

The UK’s out-of-work benefits have long been framed in terms of responsibilities and rights, from which derives a system of conditionality and sanctions. The state expects its beneficiaries to do certain things as a condition for receiving out-of-work benefits, and failure to do these things as the consequence your benefits may be stopped. The state has no interest in pursuing a “something for nothing” culture of welfare.

If you are claiming –

  • Universal Credit
  • Income Support
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Employment and Support Allowance

You should have a document called a claimant commitment entailing your responsibilities to continue receiving benefits. If you don’t have such a document you may have been given a Job Seeker’s Agreement, action plan, or an appointment letter that makes similar specifications.

Welfare recipients are obligated to various ‘conditions’ when admitted to state support, including

  • Conditions of category: in which entitlements are conditional being a member of a defined category meriting support (being unemployed, disabled, homeless, etc.);
  • Conditions of circumstance: in which individuals may be included or excluded based on their circumstances (passing a test of means, having achieved personal circumstances that no longer qualify them as needing support, or demonstrating that they have a particular need);
  • Conditions of conduct: in which there is a requirement for a particular pattern of behavior from welfare recipients.

If you fail to accomplish the terms in your claim, usually to make an effort to seek a job and to engage with interventions, interviews, and observed word preparatory activities. Claimants may find their allowances cut by 40% to 100% for a minimum of 7 days for failure to meet work related activities and interviews, to 28 days for failure to undertake reasonable action to obtain work, and minimum of 91 days for an offense like a failure to take up an offer of paid work – all for the first offense.

Increasingly, people are being denied benefits on factor of conditions of conduct. Over punishment such as sanctions and denial of benefits are paired with more subtle means like intervention, persuasion, and social pressure have been used to encourage welfare recipients in particular ways.

Sanctions possibly a violation of the EHCR

This is not the first time that the UK government’s stance has been criticized as potentially unjust. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded a research study – ‘Welfare Conditionality: Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change’ – conducted by six UK universities.

Among key finding was that benefit sanctions did little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek, or enter paid work. They instead routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes and push some people away from collectivised welfare provisions.

Imposing sanction can sometimes drive someone to destitution and adversely impact their ability to find work, which is counter-productive to the aims of the program.

Evidence suggested that benefit sanctions were often triggered for relatively minor transgressions such as being a couple of minutes late for a Jobcentre Plus appointment. On some occasions benefit sanctions were clearly inappropriately applied in spite of an individual’s best efforts to avoid them.

“I had an appointment with them, I phoned them saying that I’ve got a problem… my brother who died in [location] and I’m there it’s the burial ceremony, you understand?… They said, ‘No don’t worry, if you come back, just call us back’, and then ten days, I phoned them back… They say, no, they have to send it to the decision board to see and then they send me a letter after saying that I have to be sanctioned… that wasn’t human.” (MIGRANT, FEMALE, ENGLAND, UC RECIPIENT, WAVE C)

Researchers reported that the effects of welfare sanctions and conditional support trended to be “profoundly negative”. According to Project Director, Professor Peter Dwyer from the University of York’s Department of Social Policy and Social Work, “The common thread linking stories of successful transitions into work, or the cessation of problematic behaviour, was not so much the threat or experience of sanction, but the availability of appropriate individual support.”

“I got a sanction for not going to an interview. I got sanctioned for a month… It made me shoplift to tell you the truth. I couldn’t survive with no money.” (WSU, HOMELESS, MALE, ENGLAND)

While another reported:

“When I used to feel really low, I used to hit the bottle. Now… I’ll just ring [support worker] up and he’ll say, ‘Right do you want to come to speak to someone?’ Which is great… I’ve never felt more confident. I’ve got a job interview… through these guys… fingers crossed, I’ll be off benefits and back on proper money. Yes, that’s all I want.” (WSU, OFFENDER, MALE, ENGLAND)

The report further stated that respondents commonly regarded Jobcentres and Work Programme (WP) providers as being primarily focused on ensuring compliance with the mandatory benefit claim conditions rather than helping people into work. Pressure to achieve more demanding job application/work search requirements coupled with the recipients’ strong desire to avoid the punitive effects of a sanction resulted in people applying for jobs they had no realistic chance of getting. Intensified welfare conditionality therefore encouraged a culture of counterproductive compliance and futile behaviour that got in the way of more effective attempts to secure employment.

My job was solely to prove to that woman [referring to Work Coach] that I had applied for so many jobs, and that was it… whatever jobs were available. Whether they were suitable for me, whether I was suitable for them, whatever, it didn’t matter.” (UC RECIPIENT, MALE, ENGLAND, WAVE B)

Many respondents stated that they felt criminalized for applying for universal credit and one stated that the threat of sanctions was unnecessary because he is keen and active to find work: ‘I want to find a job. I don’t need people to tell me what I have to do and threaten me with taking money off if I don’t do it. I want to find a job as quickly as I can.’

His experience is that the frequent threat of tough sanctions was not balanced with effective support to find a job: “The Jobcentre used to try and help you find work, you’d go in and they’d get on the computer and say ‘Oh we’ve got that many jobs today’. That doesn’t happen anymore. They don’t really help you to find a job. They just help you to sign on every two weeks. You know, you go in and they say ‘Right, come back in two weeks’… They don’t really help you to find a job anymore.”

Comparing Universal Credit and Job Seeker’s Allowance, it was found that there was double the amount of sanctions imposed under UC than JSA.

In defense, the DWP spokesperson stated that This report completely fails to recognise that there are near record numbers in work and that the number of benefit sanctions has fallen dramatically.

“It’s only right that there are conditions attached to receiving benefits.”

A Dip Back to the Gloomy Normal

The UK’s social security system has managed to get emergency funds to tide over most of everyone left unemployed by the pandemic largely by gutting everything else in the system. No more checks, no inquiries, no standards – if you apply you get your claim.

The coronavirus was a death knell for the UK’s gig economy. Employees with zero hour contracts, easy to hire, easy to fire – abruptly a million of them were suddenly out of work and five million more self-employed workers found themselves in the same boat. The Universal Credit remains the only way for many to sustain themselves, and the surge in claims had forced the DWP to reassign workers simply to process claims.

It saved millions from the uncertainty of being able to feed themselves and keep their homes. The saying that many people are merely a single pay slip away from poverty is an old one, but true. People who file claims aren’t shirkers who prefer not to work – many would rather actually earn their living wage – but simply left unemployed due to circumstance.

And there is no way to correct themselves out of these circumstances. The novel coronavirus has proved the inherent fragility of this system that is determined to catch out parasites at every turn.

So Why Reimpose Sanctions?

Because Job Centres are reopening and it is part of procedure that sanctions are a part of the conditions for receiving Universal Credit and other unemployment assistance.

According to the DWP:

“Now our focus is rightly switching to Getting Britain Back into Work. From July, people can make an appointment with their work coach if they can’t get the help they want online or over the phone and work coaches will be calling all claimants to help them get ready for the world of work.”

It is clear what the government fears. Thousands of workers are losing their jobs and devasting whole swaths of the economy as many fear to return to work and employers dismiss those they cannot support in the face of reduced costumer presence. Already 5.2 million are claiming Universal Credit and unemployment is rising at exponential levels. The fear is a mass unemployment unseen since the 1980s and perhaps even the Great Depression.

In exchange, people have to go through hoops applying for jobs that are simply not available and vulnerable people like the physically and mentally ill are forced to show up into risky floorspace rife for contagion and a dehumanizing regime in job centers. The main beneficiary for the benefit system would ironically be the people directly employed by the benefits system to push the bureaucracy, not the destitute and the out of work. Jobs are made on the backs of those seeking jobs.

And via job-seeking rituals, it can be said that unemployment is under control and the economy might be on the road to reopening. Mayhaps this would invite consumer confidence again if it is said often enough.

Yes, it is illogical. But no one ever said the reason had to make sense, only that there is a reason.

For help with employment issues, Hadaway & Hadaway solicitors north east

covid19

The response towards COVID-19 mirrored most people’s naturally cynical expectations. The UK was almost completely unprepared at that start, the response was improvised without much planning, and then most of the populace fortunately and very Britishly just hunkered down to get on with it, save for some defiant quarantine-breakers. As long as most of us can give a good moan about it, by and large we are now on a downhill trend with a bodycount that betrays the ineffectiveness of the early response – and a fresh new pile of debt as the state had to step in to subsidize the economy.

Like for example, both World Wars. Previous notable pandemics like the 1968-70 flu pandemic likewise emptied out factories and forced half staffing to limit the spread. Things have yet to become truly irrecoverable. It may take years of recovery, but the engines of commerce shall surely turn again as long as people don’t make things worse for themselves.

COVID-19 is not a hoax or a conspiracy. There have been many other pandemics like it before, the difference why those previous pandemics seem to have done comparatively little damage is from how we are looking at it from the inside. Damage mitigation strategies that succeeded get little news.

Also, there were far less people in previous decades that suffered pandemics and they were taught by their parents to treat quarantines seriously, rather than born a world which had effectively eliminated most contagious killers like smallpox, measles, typhoid fever, cholera, etc. – which had been seasonal epidemics through many centuries.

There is little need to stress over the long-term economic prospects as that is the realm of the subconscious cultural response. Consumer confidence matters. For the long term to become viable, first we must deal with short term concerns. Worker and employer rights should be maintained, or else they aren’t rights at all.

Right of Employees and Employers

It cannot be Employees vs Employers in this case because lives cannot be spent to fuel the economy in the same way some comic book tribe throwing virgins into the volcano to appease their angry volcano god. At the same time however, the nation can’t keep itself shuttered for long before collapsing.

Employers have a ‘duty to care’ for staff, consumers, and anyone else who might visit their workplace. While it may be difficult to prove legally that someone entering contracted coronavirus in your place of business, employees should not be risked and then serve as a vector for additional infection.

A business without employees cannot operate. A business that risks its employees’ health itself may be risking legal action. But bankrupting vulnerable businesses will also put more people out of work.

A more open-minded view is that every employee is also a consumer, so the best thing for national recovery is to have as many people primed to keep buying.

The Survival of Small Businesses

Small businesses employing less than 250 people employ most of the workforce in the UK – about 23 million people. Survival strategies for small business are outside of the scope of this article, however.

This is merely to emphasize that at this point, we should not take an adversarial position. The eternal enemy is bureaucracy. Employers should be able to claim up to 80% of wages they pay for employees on furlough, and employees ought to keep their jobs even when most of the business must shut down under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

If you find yourself having difficulty claiming your grants or emergency loans, collective political action with legal support and media exposure may be required to communicate the urgency of your need to your local government units and banking representatives.

Being Forced to Come to Work

Who among the employees are to be sent on furlough are on the discretion of the employers, with importance towards those most at-risk populations. Younger workers may still be required to come to work, at most 50% of regular staffing to promote social distancing.

When you do report to work, remember that your employer is obligated to make your workplace as safe as possible. Being forced to work at threat of being fired is unlawful. You are supposed to be protected against

  • Constructive dismissal or being pressured to resign or leave rather than being dismissed
  • Disability discrimination
  • Age discrimination
  • Breach of health and safety laws

If you are living with someone who is vulnerable (pregnant, old, disabled or suffering from ill health), it may be unlawful for your employer to insist you come to work and risk their health.

If you are self-isolating due to symptoms or advised by medical authority, you are entitled to statutory sick pay. You may not be dismissed for self-isolation due to the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Harassment of At-Risk Essential Workers

If you are a medical worker or an employee in an industry deemed essential and you are thrown out of your residence or denied access to services because people fear catching COVID from you, that is unlawful.

If you are being harassed or attacked, that’s a criminal offense and seek help immediately. It may protect other at-risk workers from further attacks by serving as an example.

Anti-Asian Sentiment

This is just outright an unjustified crime and unfortunately the stress of coronavirus is causing it to spike. Stay safe, prefer to move in groups, and make sure you can provide video or recorded evidence. It is unfortunate that most of these attacks are also hit and run and prosecution is difficult when the perpetrators can’t be easily identified.

Coronavirus Scams and Bad Advice

It is advised to be very careful and don’t fall for any quick solutions. Scammers and hackers are using the coronavirus as a ‘hook’ to commit fraud and steal critical personal information.

It will be difficult to recover damages after a scam, and following bad medical advice can kill. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The government’s anti-fake news unit is having to deal with 10 new cases of coronavirus misinformation per day. This is a time when it is best to be skeptical of any easy solutions.

Be careful of those that prey on those trying to access economic grants and relief supplies. If you receive a suspicious email urgently asking you to send money or provide account numbers and personal information for verification, those are likely to be ‘phishing’ attempts. Never oblige anyone attempting to gather your financial data.

Websites that will give reports on potential coronavirus infected in your workplace or neighborhoods in violation of privacy in exchange for payment or sign up login information are just taking advantage of fears and a hunger to obtain privileged information that don’t exist.

Emails may pretend to come from trusted organizations that ask you to click on a pdf or word document for ‘more information’ that will launch malware to compromise your system and harvest your passwords.

If someone is selling you home testing kits, those are fake. The only possible home kits are sample collection kits and the contents to be mailed to an accredited testing laboratory, and they require a signed doctor’s order. There is a global shortage of coronavirus testing – not because of a lack of kits, but a in hard limit in lab processing. No home kit can tell you if you have coronavirus.

Be careful of predatory loan packages.

Desperation signals those who would take advantage of it. Limit exposure both in public and in social media. If you are unsure, it is best to send your own email to official channels directly instead of replying to a suspicious email. This isolation may also be taking advantage of scam calling – for some people may be the only human contact they have in weeks.

Beware of fake sites selling medical supplies and cures. Do not purchase cures or prophylactics that you can consume.

There are as of yet no real solutions, just mitigating factors, and nothing that can be done by throwing enough money at it. Self-isolation and protective personal equipment (facemasks, goggles, etc.) and routine hand washing may be boring but they work.

Scammers are plentiful and hard to prosecute because they quickly vanish after taking your money. The only real way to protect yourself is not to play their game.

The Strange Reality of the Pandemic

The proper response to COVID-19 is not panic. As long as certain essential services are maintained, it has been shown that most people can go for months without societal collapse and rioting. COVID-19 has exposed the reality of who are actually the most essential people in this modern digitalized world of ours. It goes:

  • Nurses and Doctors
  • Police and Military/Security
  • Truck Drivers/Mail and Delivery workers
  • Market Retail workers
  • Food Processing/Factory workers
  • Media/Information Technology workers
  • Scientists and Researchers
  • Politicians

Let us discuss this weirdness in order.

  • Nurses and doctors obviously are needed in times of pandemic. They are in fact heroes of this age, due to the extreme health risk they experience, the high stress and long hours they must work, and then the ingratitude, harassment, and being thrown out of their homes they suffer from others who don’t want to catch the virus from being around people who are working hard to save lives.
  • Someone has to enforce quarantine and keep public order from collapsing. Police workers and volunteer community guards are also under great health risk, while it’s vital for national security that particularly dumb criminal and insurgent elements don’t take advantage of this weakness to pull terrible shite. One surprising consequence for this pandemic has been the global cease of warlike behavior as people hunker down against the common enemy to all humanity.
  • Without logistics and being able to move goods and supplies around to where it is needed, society just stops. Period. Transport needs to move, and packages need to be delivered. As long as people can buy online, they won’t miss being able to shop and the sense of normalcy is maintained.
  • People need their groceries and this is the one unavoidable reason for people to leave quarantine. These workers are second to nurses and doctors in the risk of contracting COVID-19 and unintentionally passing it on. And they are already getting killed for politely asking people to obey simple mask orders.
  • Even the MI5 says that “Britain is four meals away from anarcy.” Neil Gaiman and Sir Terry Pratchett notes that “It has been said that civilization is twenty-four hours and two meals away from barbarism.” The nugget of truth is that as long as people can eat well and feel confident there will be more there is no reason to start to get desperate and start hoarding, which would create the situation they are hoping to avoid.

Factory workers are the unsung heroes keeping food prices level and ensuring that society keeps plugging on. They too suffer higher COVID-19 risks – one person infected in the plant can force a total shutdown. Without them, it is a ticking time bomb before things start being on fire.

  • Access to the internet and critical information is what allows people to stay sane, still shop and receive goods, and keep social contact while maintaining social distance. Without this, people will feel confined and forced to go out in search of something else to keep from going crazy with cabin fever and the tempers of their family.

Banking and online financial services could also be placed under this category as quick access to funding and the information exchange is critical to the peaceful continuation of the economy during a global crisis.

  • Figuring out COVID-19 and progress on the vaccine and the end to this nightmare can only happen if we allow our clever boffins to do their work without interruption.
  • And surprisingly, all over the world, it is being proven that as much as you may hate your politicians and feel that they are dishonest and self-serving – there is a vast difference between having at least a nominally competent leader and someone that is actively sabotaging their own nation’s attempts at staying alive.

Politicians should at least be hoped to do no extra harm.

The political and societal impact of the 2020 pandemic is also going to take decades to fully comprehend. This is one of the world’s watershed moments.

If you have a job during this period, the best thing to do is to stay safe and try not to increase the risk for others. If you are unable to work, read up on financial amelioration measures from legitimate sources. If you own a small business, it may be difficult right now to obtain loans and you may have to reach out to others in a similar situation to collectively present the urgency of your needs to banks and the local government.

For advice and help contact Employment Solicitors

redundant business woman

Enhanced Redundancy Protections 2020

Will you be removed from your job for redundancy in 2020? It’s an ever-more pressing fear in the looming environment of economic uncertainty, but as an employee you too have rights and options. There are some new legislation coming that may help to address some of these issues.

Defining Redundancy

Before you can appraise if you have a valid reason to claim or contest redundancy, first we must define what redundancy is. According to the Employment Rights Act 1996, an employee has been dismissed for redundancy if the reason is that:

  • the employer ceases to carry on the business in which the employee was employed;
  • the employer ceases to carry on that business in the place where the employee was employed;
  • the needs of the business for employees to carry out work of a particular kind cease or diminish; or
  • the needs of the business for employees to carry out work of a particular kind in the place where the employee was employed cease or diminish.

Note how this means a need for the same amount workers to do a particular job has diminished, not that the need to perform a job has diminished. If a task can be done with fewer employees, or if a company must move or restructure, then that is a valid case for redundancy. If there simply is less incoming work for employees to do, that is not redundancy. If you are doing a job and then they get someone new to fill that job, that is not redundancy! Redundancy happens when the job you are supposed to be doing no longer exists.

It is illegal in the UK to use redundancy as a reason for a dismissal when there no legitimate issues with employee performance.

Redundancy is often used as a convenient excuse for firing employees for reasons less sensitive to voice. It may be a matter of job performance, friction in the workplace, business income failing to support the number of employees, or some form of discrimination. If you get a notice that you may be let go for reasons of redundancy, it may be prudent to look behind that for the real reason.

There are upcoming laws in 2020 that make the excuse of redundancy easier to challenge. It is also sometimes advantageous for an employee to claim redundancy, since there are enhanced redundancy pay arrangements for long-serving employees. Get all that you are entitled to in a dismissal.

 

woring beyond Retirement Age

Working Beyond Retirement Age

The UK does not have a default retirement age anymore, and employers may no longer force employees to retire. Now, a company may have its own retirement cut-off age policy, but all dismissals must come from a justifiable basis instead of simply entitled discrimination, age-related or otherwise.

In a recent judgment of Ewart v The Chancellor, Master and Scholars of the University of Oxford, the Employer Justified Retirement Age policy was meant to provide a proportionate means of creating opportunities of employment for younger and more diverse staff. However, the statistical evidence provided by the claimant proved that the policy only created a small number of vacancies. It was decided by the tribunal that the University did not show sufficiently that the policy contributed to the achievement of its legitimate aims to an extent that it can justify the discriminatory effect.

State pension age in the UK is increasing, and age discrimination is something that concerns many employees who are at approaching an age where finding a new job is quite unlikely if dismissed.

 

Maternity Leave

Pregnancy and Maternity Leave Protection

Many employers don’t like paying out for maternity leave because it is a long period of time of reduced productivity, and there is an urgent need to find someone else to perform the job that the pregnant employee must leave behind. Then once the new normal has settled in, is there a need anymore for the previous employee? This is why women need stronger maternity protections as the mere mention of ‘pregnancy’ sends alarm bells ringing for employers.

According to a government report, one in nine women had been fired or made redundant when returning to work after having a child, or were forced out from unfair treatment. Research estimated that up to 54,000 women a year felt they had to leave their jobs due to maternity discrimination.

Maternity discrimination is of course illegal, and those on maternity leave have special protections in a redundancy situation. Under the Good Work Plan of 2020, there will be expanded redundancy protections – six months after return to work, and up to two years in total for the maternity period.

According to Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999, if your job is at risk of redundancy but you need to be present for interviews – if for health reasons you cannot be present, you do not have to attend interviews. Regulation 10 says that you should be given first refusal over suitable alternative jobs that are not substantially less favorable than your original job, over other employees being made redundant.

Sefton Borough Council v Wainwright EAT 2014 notes that a woman on maternity leave should be considered alongside other employees when assigning employees into other posts.

Men also have protections under Shared Parental Leave in the first year after birth or adoption to be immediately offered suitable alternative employment.

Dismissal Comes before Redundancy Trial Periods

The case of East London NHS Foundation Trust v O’Connor has Mr. O’Connor working as a Psycho-Social Intervention (PSI) worker for an NHS trust. In March 2017 he was informed that the role was being deleted under restructuring on 3rd of July 2017 and he was offered an alternative role of Care Co-ordinator. He began a trial of the role on that date.

O’Connor raised a grievance that the role was not a suitable alternative and the trust agreed to extend the trial period until this was resolved. In Nov 2017 his appeal was rejected and he declined the offer of the Care Coordinator role again. He was dismissed on Dec 2017, and the trust refused to make statutory redundancy payments on the grounds that it believed that the alternative employment had been unreasonably refused.

A tribunal decided that O’Connor had not actually been dismissed until December, and as such the trial period was not in actuality a statutory trial period.

If you are given notice that your role is being deleted, there is no rule of law that the notice of deletion was inevitably amount to a dismissal. Employment solicitors have noted that an employer must also carefully follow procedures in removing employees for redundancy instead of assuming things.

What if the Whole Company Goes Bust?

How will you get redundancy payments when your employer or company turned insolvent and now completely unable to pay your wages? Then you can claim it from the Redundancy Payments Office and the National Insurance Fund.

The Redundancy Payments Service was started to allow employees to receive their Statutory Redundancy Pay in a much more timely manner than having to wait for their employer’s assets to be liquidated.

You may claim your:

  • redundancy pay
  • holiday pay
  • unpaid wages/overtime
  • statutory notice pay

You may apply online at https://www.gov.uk/claim-redundancy.