Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Crisis

Summary

Crisis has extensive experience of supporting homeless and vulnerable people into work and we deliver a Flexible Support Fund contract. We are therefore well placed to comment on the work of JCP.

Benefit sanctions are often applied wholly inappropriately and claimants are not always informed as to why they are being sanctioned.

Many claimants have a negative experience of the handover between JCP and the Work Programme. Homeless claimants in particular receive a low standard of support from Work Programme providers who are often not well placed to help them.

Under Universal Credit, JCP may be the only point of face to face contact for some claimants. It is therefore essential they are able to effectively assess claimants’ vulnerabilities and barriers to work.

1. Benefit Sanctions

1.1 Benefit sanctions are often applied wholly inappropriately. Our clients’ experiences include being sanctioned for not attending meetings they were not informed about until after the date or for which they had a valid reason, for which they provided evidence that they could not attend.

1.2 For example, one of our clients, a single mother, agreed her work requirements with her adviser. At a later meeting, her normal adviser was off sick so she saw a different person. The new adviser believed that her work requirements were insufficient and chose to sanction her for not meeting more stringent requirements. As a result, her JSA was stopped.

1.3 Claimants are often not informed that they will be or have been sanctioned, with some first finding out when they try to withdraw cash and are unable to do so.

1.4 If claimants are unclear as to why a sanction has been imposed, it is hard to see how sanctions can possibly be operating as a tool to influence behaviour, despite this being their stated purpose.

1.5 In many cases, Work Programme providers refer claimants for sanctions. However they do not always tell JCP why they are doing so despite the fact that JCP are responsible for actually imposing the sanction.

1.6 Sanctions cause considerable distress and hardship for vulnerable people. Many are forced to borrow money from friends or family or rely on food banks. Our clients have told us that they are forced to choose between food and heating, for example, as a way to make ends meet whilst being sanctioned.

1.7 The appeals process can be very difficult for more vulnerable claimants to navigate with appeals being up to three to six months in length.

1.8 Benefit sanctions have recently been substantially increased. It is therefore essential that JCP is able to apply sanctions in a fair and consistent manner to avoid very vulnerable claimants losing their benefits for periods of up to three years.

2. Interaction with the Work Programme

2.1 We know from our clients’ experiences that the handover between JCP and the Work Programme is not always dealt with effectively. Often, clients are informed by JCP that they will be moving to the Work Programme but are not given any information from JCP about what this involves or about their Work Programme provider until after their initial meeting with the provider.

2.2 Homelessness is recognised within the Work Programme as a disadvantage that makes it harder for unemployed people to move into work. The programme therefore pays providers extra for getting homeless people on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) into sustained work. These extra payments are dependent on Jobcentre Plus recognising people who are homeless and placing them in the correct claimant group. However, JCP often does not identify people as being homeless, they do not attract the higher payment and so do not receive appropriate support from their Work Programme contractor.

2.3 In some cases, homeless claimants have been referred to us for employment support and then to the Work Programme very shortly afterwards. This creates instability for the claimant and makes it more difficult for us to work with them despite our expertise in supporting homeless people into employment.

2.4 The experiences of homeless people on the Work Programme have been very poor. Many of our clients report low standards of service, limited contact and few face to face appointments. Some have reported that they found the support offered by JCP to be more useful.

3. Universal Credit

3.1 Under Universal Credit, the majority of contact that claimants have with benefits staff will be online. It is not yet clear exactly how the claims process will work, but it may be that the only face to face contact claimants have will be when they draw up and sign their claimant commitment with the JCP. They will therefore need to fully understand the barriers to work claimants face so that they can agree appropriate work requirements.

3.2 Also if is the only face to face contact JCP must play an active role in identifying claimants’ vulnerabilities so that they can access the extra support they may need, including alternative payment arrangements.

3.3 We already know that JCP often fails to identify people as homeless. This means that they may not get the support they need and their claimant commitment will not accurately reflect the barriers to work they face.

3.4 Jobcentres should build up a list of supported accommodation projects so that they can better identify homeless claimants and claimants should be asked sensitively about their housing situation so that they can be offered appropriate support. They should work with local homeless agencies to better understand issues around homelessness and take steps to ensure staff have training in this area.

3.5 The DWP should clarify exactly what role JCP will play during the initial Universal Credit claim so that staff are able to prepare and ensure they are ready to offer appropriate support within the new system.

4. About Crisis

4.1 Crisis is the national charity for single homeless people. We are dedicated to ending homelessness by delivering life-changing services and campaigning for change. Our innovative education, employment, housing and well-being services address individual needs and help people to transform their lives. Our dedicated Employment Services Team works with homeless people to support them to achieve suitable and sustainable employment.

17 May 2013

Prepared 27th January 2014