Jobseekers who break the rules should sign on daily says new report

Guy Bentley
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Benefit claimants who break the conditions of their job search requirements should be given "top-up" benefit cards and asked to sign on daily, according to a report released today by think tank Policy Exchange.

The report recommends a series of solutions to tackle the problem of incorrectly applied sanctions as well as punishing noncompliant behaviour.

68,000 people a year have their benefits taken away by mistake, according to the research. The number refers to claimants of Jobseeker's allowance (JSA) who have failed to attend an interview for the first time and receive a sanction which is appealed and subsequently overturned.

Every month, roughly five per cent of JSA recipients are sanctioned, with 29 per cent of those who receive their first lower-tier sanction having it overturned, meaning 5,600 are wrongly sanctioned. The paper draws attention to the hardship this can cause for claimants, citing estimates that 43 per cent of those using food banks are doing so due to a stoppage in their benefits.

The report argues that the current system is insufficiently responsive to circumstances, varying from being too lenient and too strict.

To tackle the problem of mistaken benefit withdrawal and a lack of engagement with the job centre by some on JSA, the report recommends that first time offenders be given a benefits card credited with their weekly benefit, as opposed to the current system where claimants can face four weeks without funds.

The card will allow the claimant to access benefits for no more than eight weeks. Should the claimant continue to break the rules both the card and the benefits would be withdrawn. These "yellow cards" would have to be picked from the job centre.

Policy Exchange also recommend tougher penalties should be imposed on those consistently breaking the terms of their job search requirements. The paper found that between October 2012 and September 2013, there were 30,000 claimants on their third sanction or more for lower tier offences.

Repeat offenders would have their benefits removed an extended period of time, from the current 13 to 26 weeks for a third breach. For each offence another 13 weeks would be added.

Guy Miscampbell, the author of the report, said:

The welfare system must have a sharp set of teeth. That is why the sanctions regime is so important.

However, it is clear there are a significant number of people who have their benefit taken away from them unfairly. Four weeks without any money is driving people to desperate measures, including a reliance on food banks.