Benefit sanctions failing to treat claimants with dignity, say lawyers
The current system of benefit sanctions is failing to treat claimants with dignity and respect and causing severe hardship for some of the most vulnerable people in society, according to the Law Society of Scotland.
In its response to the UK Parliament’s work and pensions committee inquiry into benefit sanctions, the Law Society has also highlighted that the system is not meeting the UK Government’s policy objectives.
The professional body for Scottish solicitors has said there is an urgent need for effective monitoring and a review of training provided for Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) staff.
Richard Henderson, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s administrative justice committee, said: “Reviewing decisions around sanctions, through mandatory reconsideration and through appeal to the First-tier Tribunal, is not sufficiently effective or speedy enough to be regarded as satisfactory means of redress – resulting in real hardship for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The DWP urgently needs to put in place an effective mechanism for monitoring the quality of decision-making across all of its operations and should also undertake a review of the decision making training it provides to its staff.
“While we accept that there may well need to be power to make reasonable directions to claimants, and for some sanctions to be available if these directions are not followed, evidence shows that the UK government’s policy objectives in this area - namely that benefit sanctions are there to positively assist claimants and that there is appropriate support available to help people return to work – are not being achieved.
“Claimants are not being treated with dignity and respect. Best practice is not being developed through learning from appeal decisions and, in some individual cases, human rights may well have been breached. It has long been apparent that there are some very serious issues to be examined in this area, and this inquiry offers a real opportunity to create a better benefit system across the UK and also provide much needed insight as a new benefit system is developed in Scotland.”
The terms of the benefit sanctions inquiry of the UK Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee can be read online: Benefit Sanctions Inquiry.