Over 100,000 sick and disabled people claiming Employment Support Allowance have had their benefits stopped or reduced for not carrying some form of ‘work related activity’. A report released recently by the Methodist Church found that around 100 people a day with a mental health problems are currently having their benefits sanctioned in this way. There is growing concern however that many of these sanctions could have been incorrectly applied due to the DWP failing to carry out home visits to assess the impact on the claimant of stopping their only source of income.
The Jobcentre guidelines are clear: “If a claimant has a condition that could affect their ability to understand and comply with conditionality, a Core Visit to their home must be arranged before any sanction decision is considered. “
According to the DWP these visits should be carried out before sanctioning anybody with a “mental health condition or learning difficulties, or conditions affecting cognition such as stroke, autistic spectrum disorder or attention deficit disorder that might affect their understanding of mandatory interview requirements and the consequences of failing to comply.”
The guidelines state that two attempts must be made to visit the claimant at home and if contact is not made then “every attempt must be made to ensure the claimant’s welfare … the HEO must attempt to contact the following sources to establish the claimant’s welfare: Claimant’s Appointee/POA/next of kin,
Claimant’s Community Psychiatric Nurse, Social Services, Police.”
These rules only apply to people on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and there is reams of anecdotal evidence that they are being flagrantly ignored. One reason for this could be because the guidance is only published in internal Jobcentre documents and not routinely made available to the general public or their advocates. Were it not for a Freedom of Information request then this information would probably have never seen the light of day.
If you are an ESA claimant with a mental health problem and you were sanctioned without these guidelines being followed then this may be a legitimate reason to have the sanction overturned. According to Disability Rights UK, who have called for the little known rules to be extended to people on Jobseeker’s Allowance, “If the DWP stop benefit for a customer without applying Mental Health Safeguards then, according to the guidance, they must reinstate benefit. If the DWP do not have information about the customer’s mental health at the time that they stop benefit but later receive this information then they must reinstate benefit.”
Let’s make sure everyone knows about this, the safeguarding guidelines start from paragraph 95 in this document (pdf).
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