Ministers drop ‘yellow card’ benefits sanction after unconvincing trial results

A so-called “yellow card” system of benefit sanctions has been dropped by the Government after research suggested it was not worth the extra time and cost.

Ministers have instead said they will consider a written warning system for first time offenders rather than penalising them by docking their benefits.

Sanctions can be imposed for breaching benefit conditions like attending a work placement, or for being minutes late for a Jobcentre appointment.

But there have been numerous reports of poor practice in the system, such as people in hospital being sanctioned for missing a benefits appointment.

The Work and Pensions select committee recommended a new warning system after an inquiry into sanctions.

Under the proposals claimants who faced a benefit sanction would get a warning letter, giving them an extra 14 days to submit evidence of a “good reason” for why they should not have their payments cut.

The Department for Work and Pensions has now trialled the system for some 6,500 Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, between April and September 2016, and said it did not come up with convincing results.

In a written statement to Parliament, minister Alok Sharma said during the trial 13% of those receiving letters responded in the 14-day time period to provide evidence.

In half of these cases the evidence provided was deemed not to be good enough and the sanction was applied anyway, he said.

There was some indication the system reduced the proportion of cases where reviews were requested, Mr Sharma said, but this was only indicative as it was based on low numbers.

“The qualitative evaluation concluded that given the additional burden placed on the departmental resources and marginal gains achieved, the trial did not appear to be an effective use of the department’s resource,” Mr Sharma added.

“Given the low proportion of cases in which claimants provided further evidence and the even lower proportion of cases where decision outcomes were changed, we do not consider that the benefits of the approach are sufficient to justify the extra time and cost it adds to the process.

“We are now exploring the feasibility of an alternative process to give claimants written warnings, instead of a sanction, for a first sanctionable failure to attend a work-search review.

“The aim will be to conduct a small-scale proof of concept to obtain qualitative feedback from staff on this new process, followed by any subsequent tests. More details will be made available once we have progressed with the design work.”

Earlier this year the select committee said it was launching a fresh inquiry into benefit sanctions amid ongoing concerns over how the system was operating.

The latest JSA sanctions figures for 2017 from the DWP show it sanctioned 60,109 people last year.

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