Benefits claimants will not face sanctions for failing to seek work over next three months

Benefits claimants will not face sanctions for failing to seek work over next three months (Picture: Getty/PA)

People on benefits should not have their payments stopped for failing to seek work during the next three months of the coronavirus crisis, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said.

They will not be expected to contact Jobcentre Plus and will
continue to receive benefits as normal, DWP chief Therese Coffey added.

But the minister did not rule out sanctions altogether,
after being asked to provide clarification by the chairman of the work and
pensions committee.

She encouraged those out of work to, if able, seek out new opportunities such as in the retail industry, which is calling for more workers.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Therese Coffey arrives for the Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street on 16 October, 2019 in London, England. Boris Johnson was due to update ministers on the progress of negotiations with the EU to secure a Brexit deal ahead of the October 17-18 European Council summit. (Photo by WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Therese Coffey (Picture: WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Department for Work and Pensions in London, England, United Kingdom. The Department for Work and Pensions, DWP, is responsible for welfare, pensions and child maintenance policy. As the UKs biggest public service department it administers the State Pension and a range of working age, disability and ill health benefits to over 22 million claimants. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images Images)

The DWP said ‘no sanctions should be applied’ over ‘looking for and being able for work for the next three months (Picture: Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images Images)

In a letter to committee chairman and Labour MP Stephen Timms, she wrote: ‘Recognising the need for DWP civil servants to focus on the processing of claims, we will not be checking conditionality compliance regarding looking for and being available for work for the next three months.

‘This means no sanctions should be applied for that reason for the next three months and regulations will be introduced to bring that to effect.

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‘We do, however, want claimants to continue to look for
work. These are difficult times, however new jobs are being created.

‘Retailers have announced tens of thousands of new jobs in response to the coronavirus outbreak and I would urge claimants to explore these opportunities and others, where able to do so.’

Following a meeting of the work and pensions committee on Wednesday, Mr Timms asked Ms Coffey to set out any circumstances where claimants could be sanctioned in the next three months.

There were no such circumstances outlined in her reply.

Her letter also did not address, as requested by Mr Timms, whether the possibility remains that claimants might be sanctioned for ‘failing to meet work preparation requirements’.

A man wearing a protective face mask during rush hour on the Strand in Westminster, London after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

A man wearing a face mask during rush hour on the Strand in Westminster (Picture: PA)

Mr Timms said: ‘At a time of unprecedented national crisis,
the last thing people need to be worrying about is a benefit sanction.

‘DWP staff must be allowed to prioritise the enormous influx
of Universal Credit claims, so that people get the money they need as quickly
as possible.

‘The Secretary of State must clear this up quickly: will anyone be at risk of being sanctioned in the next three months?’

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