Could Civil Penalties Be The New Benefit Sanctions As Jobcentre Staff Hand Out Fines To Cover Their Own Mistakes?

thievesOne of the more insidious aspects of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms has been the huge amount of power which has been handed over to Jobcentre advisors to harass and bully benefit claimants.  The power to sentence people to forced work along with the massive expansion of benefit sanctions has meant that DWP busy-bodies now have the power to plunge claimants into economic despair seemingly on a whim.

Jobcentre workers are now also able to hand out £50 fines when they decide that someone’s negligence has led to a benefit overpayment.  Negligence according to DWP Decision Maker Guidelines means: “acting carelessly, not paying sufficient attention to the task in hand, or disregarding the importance of what is required to be done in relation to a claim or award”.

Already there is anecdotal evidence emerging that these fines, which can be deducted from benefits at source, are being administered in the same haphazard way as benefit sanctions.  The recent report from Citizens Advice outlined how people were being sanctioned through no fault of their own due to over-zealous Jobcentre staff working (and lying) to meet unofficial targets to end as many claims as possible.  It seems that this culture is also emerging in the application of Civil Penalties.

Whilst information gleaned from the internet must be treated with caution, in this thread on the Money Saving Expert forums a claimant describes how a Jobcentre error led to them receiving a Civil Penalty.  The £50 fine in this case was related to an overpayment of just £71 which happened due to the claimant undertaking a few hours paid work for which they were paid £90.  Because of what appears to be a mix up by the Jobcentre – the claimant appealed the fine and claims to have won – this meant that as well as losing £71 in benefits for declaring the work, the claimant also lost £50 due to the Civil Penalty.  This is Iain Duncan Smith’s idea of making work pay.

There are currently no figures available on how many Civil Penalties have been handed out, although the government has said this information will be logged over time.  Whilst anecdotal evidence is far from satisfying, it is currently all that is available concerning how this scheme is working in practice.

And it is hard to see how situations such as those described in the story above can be avoided, as Jobcentre staff have an interest in ensuring it is claimants who take the blame for any mistake leading to an over-payment.  They get bollocked for over-payments as well, and under current conditions are always likely to be believed over claimants.

Whilst Civil Penalties are not as draconian in effect as benefit sanctions, which can now leave people with nothing at all for up to three years, the power for low paid civil servants to hand out fines on the flimsiest of evidence which are not backed up by the Courts seems unprecedented.  Whilst the penalties can be appealed, there is no way for them to be avoided in favour of a trial.  At present on the spot fines can be handed out for a range of offences.  But you are well within your rights to refuse to pay and demand a court hearing if you believe you are not guilty of the offence.

In the case of Civil Penalties there is no such right because there is no suggestion that the people they are imposed on have committed an offence.  People are being fined despite the fact they haven’t broken any law.  It is state theft, from the poorest people in the country and could soon be happening on a huge scale.

Claimants who have been given a Civil Penalty should first be given a chance to offer their side of the story.  The DWP Decision Maker Guidelines explain how decisions to implement the fines should be reached and can be found at:  http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/m-33-12.pdf

If the penalty is imposed then it can be appealed in the same way as other benefit decisions.  Citizen’s Advice have comprehensive guidance on their website concerning how to challenge a decision made by the DWP.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

53 responses to “Could Civil Penalties Be The New Benefit Sanctions As Jobcentre Staff Hand Out Fines To Cover Their Own Mistakes?

  1. while they get their pay paid offshore accounts yes itsgreat being all in it it seems only us not them

  2. It’s not just current claims being affected. I’ve not long received a civil penalty for an ESA claim which was closed in May … because they’ve suddenly decided it should have been closed in March and I didn’t tell them about a circumstance change. I did tell them – it happened that my husband got some casual work (which has since become permanent and with more hours). The first month he worked just 10 hours over 4 weeks (£72 take-home), and was paid 3 weeks after that due to how the payroll worked (taking us to when the claim was originally closed from). At the time they said they didn’t want to know until the money was in the bank, and wouldn’t send the proper forms out til then (they never did arrive, so it was all done by phone and backed up by letter in the end). Now they’re saying we should have told them from the start (we did as much as we could!) and that he got £152/wk from day one (even though they’ve had payslips to prove he doesn’t even get that now, let alone in the start) and won’t tell me where that figure came from to allow me to challenge it. I’m now also looking at a back-dated overpayment demand of over £1000 (if they ever get around to processing it, at the moment it’s just a verbal threat), and just when we’d finally got the HB/CTB/Tax credits straight again after coming off ESA (of course, this has also triggered a full HB/CTB review – again – funny how the various departments can tell each other when money stops before I even know, but never advise when it starts again). In additional stress and uncertainty terms alone, work definitely isn’t paying for us.

  3. These Civil Penalties aren’t just being handed out by JC+ and DWP. Local Authorities (and the contractors who handle HB, LHA and CTA) are also handing them out, and have been for a while now.

    Ever tried appealing a decision by a LA? They make the DWP look like race horses on amphetamines.

  4. I suspect the ECtHR will not appreciate the rather transparent attempt by the government to avoid violating Article 6 by labelling fixed penalties “civil” rather than criminal – especially as there appears to be no means by which one can contest these civil penalties in civil proceedings. (Although that might be interesting to try; if they truly are civil penalties, then one would expect the small claims track to become available if such a penalty is wrongly applied and not rescinded on appeal, given the settled ECHR status of benefit entitlements as possessions. Indeed, I would think that there comes a point where the systematic misretention of monies in this form actually becomes a criminal act itself. What is the procedure for prosecuting the DWP for embezzlement, I wonder?) Indeed, such avoidance tactics would appear to be a prima facie violation of Article 1 – which binds governments to respect the other articles. Courts have traditionally taken a dim view of malicious sophistry, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon.

    Of course, it has to get to trial first. And we’re still waiting to see what the Supreme Court do about the Cait Reilly case – and if they weren’t going to tear the government a new one, I can’t think why they agreed to hear it in the first place.

    • Oh yes, the supreme court case verdict on Wednesday.
      My tribunal was frozen due to this, If the dwp lose this should be good news for all those who have been unfairly sanctioned under the old rules at least. If they win then at least the frozen tribunals can proceed.

      I don’t think the dwp are going to lose. i hope I am wrong, of course.
      I guess there’s at least one judge who will be corrupt. Or who will be sufficiently right wing to bias their judgement in the governments favour.
      Lets hope the rest have at least an ounce of reason and uphold the court of appeals original ruling.
      Mind you, with my tribunal i have a fighting chance of winning. Before it got ‘stayed’ the judge was seemingly very understanding of my case.

      Cynical? Moi? The government do not want to pay back 130 million pounds. They want to save the taxpayer allegedly.
      Or simply continue to crush the poorest and most vulnerable?

      If they do lose will this mean we all get our sanctioned benefits payed back automatically? We cannot be that fortunate, can we?

      Stay strong people.

      • Iain Duncan Smith

        Let me make myself perfectly clear, I couldn’t give a flying fuck what the supreme court thinks. I will continue to ignore their rulings if expedient and re-write the law if necessary and indeed respectively if it needs be to suit my agenda.

        • Look , you fat cunt, when the the revolution eventually arrives your bloated head will be one of the first to be hacked off & stuck on a pole outside Westminster!

  5. What do the dwp have to do before people decide to rebel, this just takes the biscuit. There is such a thing as too much dour information heaped on people whoever it comes from.

  6. So what respectable organisation would only allow you your right to live if you sign over to them the right of access to your personal bank account? Although we have a nonsensical notion of how to ascertain and attain justice it is clear that the DWP policies are inherently unreasonable. It would hardly matter if any particular anecdotal evidence were supportable by some particular criteria of ‘proof’. The fact remains the bullies are acting illegitimately. No one is doubting that.

  7. Mustn’t assume that many jobcentre workers want to carry out these orders. They’re hanging onto their jobs and many seriously stressed. We know the real villains

    • They should be ashamed of hanging onto jobs where they are following orders to sanction, they will get no sympathy from me until they show some sympathy themselves and stop sanctioning.

  8. Parliamentary Ombudsman’s ‘Principles of Good Administration’ states:

    “When taking decisions, and particularly when imposing penalties, public bodies should behave reasonably and ensure that the measures taken are proportionate to the objectives pursued, appropriate in the circumstances and fair to the individuals concerned”

  9. How much damage will they cause before May 2015? Bunch of children running this country..

  10. Robin Surgeoner

    Why to hell aren’t the press picking up on this sort of thing oh yes I just remembered, they have become as right wing orientated as the Tories they are supposed to despise. The BBC news department cut almost every news article so that only positive comments from the Government are heard, and dissenters vanish in the haze as if they have never spoken

    • Well the BBC is dependant on the Government not axing the license fee, so of course they aren’t going to bite the hand that feeds them, particularly when said hand isn’t too keen on their existence in the first place.

  11. Reblogged this on Mentally Wealthy and commented:
    Find this even more disturbing in the cases where claimants may have cognitive difficulties and thus be exploited by yet another form of punishment for being poor…. hmmm

  12. This can’t be legal. There has to be a change in the law for this to occur & it appears that this has not happened. There has to to be a case under the human rights act to be answered, perhaps this is one of the reasons the tories are desparate to scrap the HR act.

  13. My daughter has just been hit with a £50 fine … she went for a job interview on 19th Aug, was offered a trial few days before being offered the job on 2nd Sept, on which day she rang them and told them she was starting an apprenticeship that day and would no longer be claiming Carers Allowance …. bit pedantic of them eh? She can’t hardly pay them back on £2.65 an hour!

  14. I myself have been on the receiving end of a 6 month sanction and claimed hardship for five months waiting on my apeal letter being seen as I handed it in the first week of beings sanctioned”0

  15. it would also be cheaper than taking people to court …and / or use for cases that are too weak for prosecution .

    LAs used to use this system ? …..they knew that people were frightened of being in front of the beak and in the local rag ….some would say it was legalised blackmail …then the Tories said this system was too soft . Contradictory …surely not

    • This is different to the administrative penalties for low level fraud which are now set at £350, There is no question of fraud in these cases, claimants are not interviewed under caution as they are when fraud is suspected. This is a fine for making a mistake.

  16. Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    Job Centre staff are able to fine benefit claimants who have committed no crime, and based on the flimsiest evidence (which may or may not be accurate). Why does the DWP, and the Coalition government, believe it is justified in bypassing a centuries-old, tried and proven legal system for one that harasses people who are entirely innocent of criminal behaviour?
    In short, who are the real thieves?

  17. Still the PCS do absolutely fuck all.

  18. Landless Peasant

    WTF ? That’s completely insane. Who dreams up this shit? I blame it on all that in-breeding.

  19. Landless Peasant

    I think I’ve sussed it. They want to encourage people to sign-off at the merest mention of a possible job, or those about to start a new job will sign-off a week or so early to be on the safe side and avoid any risk of incurring a Civil Penalty/Fine. Thereby saving UK plc millions of ££s in unnecessary ‘giros’ for people to live on before they get their first wage. Maybe. Otherwise there’s no fucking sense to it whatsoever. And even then there isn’t. Just more outright Class War by psychopathic Tory scum.

  20. Courtesy of Ian Bone’s blog: http://iainduncansmith.com

  21. I believe with this particular penalty the onus is on the claimant for any errors made. It was recognised as problematic, but got into the legislation anyway.

  22. 3year sanctioned scrounger

    i suggest all under JSA sanction to go to there GP, and pile it on..anxiety depression, weight loss , sleeplessness also say you are missing vital dental appointment’s, are turning to hard drink ect, get a sick note for say a month then close your JSA claim, then soon as you put the phone down upon closing said JSA claim, make a claim for ESA, it costs around 250.00 gbp to set up a new ESA claim you will also be given a payment the very next day until your first ESA payment is due, this will cost them a hell of a lot more if every body did it, than it would to just pay them the 71,00 a week JSA, then when the work capability assessment dates looming close the ESA claim then go back to JSA thus incurring them more costs, i know this is far from ideal but if all sanctioned JSA claimants, did it like i did it really will cost them a hell of a lot more.

    • 3year sanctioned scrounger

      in fact as a whole it will cost loads more the gp’s time/hours your advance to the ESA the very next day. then a full payment of ESA 2 weeks after, in total it will cost around 500.50 quid, instead of the 140,00 they should of just paid, only way things will change, is to hit them in the pocket

  23. 3year sanctioned scrounger

    there ideology you see his spend 2 billion save a fiver!! so play them at there own game.

    • That sounds like great advice, and of course, you are completely correct, we should be playing them at their own game – it’s also the safest way for us, as in playing their game we play by their rules – and hold them to those rules. This is why things like witholding consent to share information with third parties, and not ticking the box on the UJM website or working within the specifics of the JSAg work so well, as they remain within the rules.

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  26. In the world of £2.2m council house sales (which I read about yesterday), hey! What’s a 50 quid fine!
    It’s a fantasy dreamworld down at the DWp – reminiscent of the population self-governing, self-policing, self-criminalising world of the Stasi in cold-war eastern Europe.

  27. Off topic

    Just when I think things could not get any worse for my town which hung a monkey thinking it was a spy, has just been called one of three rust belts which national government should ignore, now we are being told Jack the ripper moved here after his murders in Whitechapel.

    http://www.hartlepoolmail.co.uk/news/did-jack-the-ripper-move-to-hartlepool-after-infamous-murders-1-6191174

    • Your town has been blocked off… IDS has been dropped by chopper just inside and given a money-belt containing the tax payers toil he has wasted in stupid policies strapped to his waist, if he can reach the other end of town without being hung, drawn and quartered he can keep the money exiled on Easter Island with Cameron and Boy George, before the latest nuclear deterrent is tested.🙂

  28. No man, woman or their dogs is going to tolerate that for long, if that was the case then this country is in worse shape when it comes to showing one’s allegiance than we first thought. Jumping through hoops is a trick for the circus or the so-called village idiot egged on by cruel locals , we know of one in Chingford who fits that position perfectly. I know many people who have little time for JCP advisers… rather like saying.. “I wasn’t part of the Nazi’s final solution during WW2, I just logged the peoples numbers and kept them in order.. just a poor little overworked civil servant with no medical training.”

  29. Colonel Bogey (Retired)

    A good dose of the cat ‘o nine tails is what’s needed – that would soon whip the bloody scroungers into shape!!

  30. Pingback: Stop Benefit Sanctions Now! | Rantings From a Virtual Soapbox

  31. Benefit sanctions are not incompetence, they are a carefully thought out process to increase revenue. Job centre staff are given targets to reach
    (ie min 3 per day) That is why most sanctions are not upheld on appeal. I think of it as an unlawful tax a scam on the poorest people.
    http://dpac.uk.net/2013/06/jsa-benefit-sanctions-sky-rocket-under-coalition/
    Here are DWP figures on the number of sanctions. Multiply that by £71pw and remember some people are sanctioned for much longer than one week.. I have had benefit sanctioned it was returned on appeal.
    The latest scam is to sanction without informing the claimant. I did not notice my benefit had been stopped until my direct debit was returned. I was asked to sign in four weeks rather than the usual two because of a bank holiday. The next time I signed they again made me an appointment to sign four weeks hence. I did not think anything of it as there are two bank holidays close together somewhere in the summer months. My claim was not stopped they just did not pay me. When I complained about it they said I needed to fill out a backdated benefit form which I did and now they are trying to apply failure to attend type of sanction rules for their error.This is the latest scam so check your accounts.

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