Benefit sanctions hitting homeless people hardest

Monday, 23 September 2013 - 12:00am

What has been the impact of stricter Jobseeker's Allowance conditionality on homeless people?

New research reveals: 

  • 31% of homeless people on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) have been sanctioned, compared to just 3% of typical claimants
  • Nearly a third of services report homeless people being sanctioned while facing poor mental health, learning difficulties or substance misuse problems
  • The majority report clients being pushed into debt, food poverty and survival crime
  • Services report clients’ existing problems getting worse as a result of sanctions, with only a minority being motivated by sanctions to find employment 
  • The report calls for changes to the sanctions regime to take into account the issues homeless people are trying to overcome

A High Cost to Pay, a report published today by the umbrella body Homeless Link, indicates that individuals who have experienced homelessness are being disproportionately affected by benefit sanctions.

A comparison of data from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and homelessness services found that 31% of clients claiming Jobseekers Allowance have had their benefits stopped or reduced compared to just 3% of all claimants.

Under new rules introduced in 2012, benefit claimants who fail to fulfil certain conditions can have their benefits stopped or reduced for a month or more. Designed to motivate claimants to seek employment, a survey of homelessness services indicates that sanctions are being applied to individuals with complex problems who face the greatest barriers to employment.

Over a third of services reported that the majority of their clients on JSA with learning difficulties, mental health problems or substance misuse issues had been sanctioned.  

Loss of benefits – up to £71.70 per week for JSA claimants – appears to be having a significant impact on homeless people.  When asked about the impact, of the services that responded:

• 98% reported homeless people falling into rent arrears;
• 87% reported homeless people experiencing food poverty;
• 86% reported homeless people getting into debt;
• 62% reported homeless people turning to crime to survive

According to the survey sample of homeless services, the single most common reason for clients being sanctioned was failing to attend a Jobcentre Plus interview. However, services also reported that clients often did not receive important communications that could have enabled them to avoid being sanctioned.

Homeless people are already trying to overcome complex problems, and 84% of services reported this group experiencing increased anxiety or depression when sanctioned. Only 18% of services believe that the threat of sanctions is motivating some clients to get into employment. 

Commenting on the report, Rick Henderson, Homeless Link’s Chief Executive, said:

“The welfare system should provide a safety net to protect people at risk of falling into destitution and support them into work. This report highlights the fact that the sanctions regime is doing very little to help homeless people towards the long-term goal of independence and stability.

“Claimants do have responsibilities but it is clear that sanctions may be forcing them deeper into the problems that led them into homelessness in the first place. We’re calling on the Government to ensure the conditions for receiving benefits take into account individual circumstances to avoid punishing those who are already struggling to get by.”

The report concludes that sanctions are not motivating homeless people back into work but putting many into severe hardship and further disengaging them from progressing to employment. 

A High Cost to Pay makes a number of recommendations to prevent individuals from being sanctioned and the subsequent consequences. DWP should increase the flexibility of the claimant commitment to accommodate those who are furthest from the job market and need more support. There must also be clearer communication about welfare reform and the sanction regime to ensure Jobcentre Plus staff and, homelessness services  can work together to provide homeless people with the support they need to get their lives back on track.

A high cost to pay 2013: Impact of benefit sanctions

Our 2013 research into sanctions and homeless people indicated that clients of homelessness services are at greater risk of being sanctioned. It found a third of homeless people on Job Seekers Allowance had had benefits reduced or stopped, which is disproportionately higher than the general population.


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Stephen Holland

Stephen served as our Communications Officer until January 2016.