‘Tougher’ sanctions on jobseekers causing many to lose money

Members of the staff of the You advice centre in North End. (left to right), Jane Herrington, Sasha Bossuot,  manager Annette Groves, and Dennis Flear-Jackson.'''Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (133234-2)
Members of the staff of the You advice centre in North End. (left to right), Jane Herrington, Sasha Bossuot, manager Annette Groves, and Dennis Flear-Jackson.'''Picture: Ian Hargreaves (133234-2)
Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner Michael Lane

‘Kick in the teeth’ for communities suffering from crime

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MORE than 3,000 sanctions that cut off people’s benefits for up to three years have been handed out to people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance in the Portsmouth area since a tougher regime came into force last year.

Statistics for Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant job centres show 3,720 sanctions were given out to claimants between October 2012 and June 2013.

Sanctions are given to a person claiming the benefit if their job centre advisor believes they are not seriously seeking work.

It can see money worth up to £71.70 a week stopped from anywhere between four weeks to three years, depending on the severity of the breach of the person’s contract with the job centre, and how many times the person has been sanctioned before.

Annette Groves, manager of the You Advice Centre in Kingston Crescent, Fratton, said there has been a rise in the number of people being sanctioned in the city.

She said: ‘They are a lot more strict with their sanctions now. I was speaking to the job centre about this recently. Job searchers have got to put a lot more detail about the jobs they are applying for when filling in the job centre forms – and there is not enough space for them to do that.

‘The sanctions are having a huge impact on people. The other day I had someone come in who was sanctioned for eight months and he has been stealing food. He has no money to pay to put the heating or electricity on.

‘There are times when people can be out of money for a long time. I have to say we are seeing a huge amount of this now. There has been one client who has been looking after her children and giving them food and not eating herself.’

Minister for employment, Esther McVey, said: ‘This government has always been clear that in return for claiming unemployment benefits jobseekers have a responsibility to do everything they can to get back into work.’

ONE Portsmouth resident who has been affected by job centre sanctions says he has been treated unfairly after his appeal against the decision to cut off his benefits was overturned.

Problems began for Brian Green, pictured above, when he received a letter from the job centre inviting him to a meeting to discuss his options.

He got the letter hours after the meeting had been due to take place and had his benefits held for a month.

He said: ‘When you get sanctioned your benefits get cut off. I was borrowing money from wherever I could to buy food.’

He says since his appeal he has been told he isn’t applying for enough jobs to qualify for his benefit and it was once again stopped.

Mr Green raised his concerns with his MP Penny Mordaunt, who wrote to the Department for Work and Pensions’ benefits director Jason Feeney.

A DWP spokeswoman said: ‘We don’t discriminate against claimants if they have been to tribunal.

The You Trust runs advice services across the area, including in Portsmouth, Fareham and Gosport. Portsmouth City Council funds the trust to run Advice Portsmouth. For advice on welfare reform and sanctions, call (023) 9279 4340; email enquiries@adviceportsmouth.org.uk or visit Advice Portsmouth at Focus Point, 116 Kingston Crescent, Fratton. The centre is open 9am to 5pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Thursdays from 1pm to 7.30pm, and 9am to 4.30pm on Fridays.

For those outside the city, the You Trust can be contacted on 01329 825930.