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29 June, 2020 Open access

Conditionality and benefit sanctions to be reintroduced this week, Work and Pensions Secretary confirms

As jobcentres reopen, reinstatement of claimant commitment will form 'essential part of the contract to help people start to reconsider what vacancies there are'

Conditionality and benefit sanctions are to be reintroduced this week, the Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey has confirmed.

As the UK entered lockdown as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the government relaxed the rules relating to conditionality requirements in the claimant commitment and, on 19 March 2020, announced that there would be no requirement for people to attend jobcentre appointments for at least three months.

With the temporary suspension expected to expire tomorrow, the Secretary of State was asked in the Commons this afternoon whether it will be extended -

'At a time when unemployment has risen sharply, the number of vacancies has dropped, people are shielding and schools have not yet gone back, threatening people with reducing their financial support if they do not look for jobs is surely untenable, so will the Secretary of State announce an immediate extension?'

However, as part of the government's plan to 'start fully reopening jobcentres in July', the Secretary of State said -

'It is important that as the jobcentres fully reopen this week we reinstate the need for a claimant commitment. It is an essential part of the contract to help people start to reconsider what vacancies there are, but I know that I can trust the work coaches and jobcentre managers, who are empowered to act proactively with people. There will be some people right now who have not had to look for a job for the last 20 to 30 years, and they will need careful support, tailored to make sure they can start to look for the jobs that are available and which I hope will soon become available.'

In response, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Reynolds said -

'It is incomprehensible that the Government is bringing back conditionality and sanctions. At a time when unemployment has risen sharply, vacancies have dropped, people are still shielding and the schools aren’t back, threatening to reduce people’s financial support is untenable.

What’s more, Job Centre Plus is still lacking guidance on how premises might even open safely. With the unemployment crisis looming, it is alarming that there is no thought being given on how to offer proper support to those seeking work at this time. We need a proper plan from the Government to get Britain back to work – sanctions aren’t the answer.'

NB - the PCS Union has said that reopening jobcentres to the public this week could create a 'perfect storm' and that, while the threat from the virus remains all too real, a lack of adequate protection for staff and customers could lead to 'pandemonium'.

For more information, see COVID-19: Meeting Increased Demand for Services from Hansard.

Stop press (1 July 2020) - the government has today updated gov.uk to remove the wording ‘You will not get a sanction if you cannot keep to your Claimant Commitment because of coronavirus (COVID-19)’ from pages relating to, for example, refugees, prison leavers, homeless people, people with a disability or health condition, couples and families.