Universal Credit is usually paid monthly, although this may differ if you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Following a claim for payment, there will be a one month assessment period. During this time, claimants will need to attend an interview. It usually takes around five weeks from the application to get the first payment. Claimants need to complete and accept a tailored commitment, based on their individual situation, which is an agreement between them and their work coach, stating what they need to do in order to receive the Universal Credit payment.
This will be reviewed and updated on an on-going basis.
In some instances, it may be that claimants do not meet an aspect of their Universal Credit responsibilities.
The publication Universal Credit and You, released by the government, says that the commitment clearly states what happens if claimants fail to meet one or more of their responsibilities.
“You will receive reduced payments, known as a sanction, if you fail to meet one or more of your responsibilities and can’t give a good reason to explain why,” it continued.
One aspect of the commitment is that those able and available to work will need to place a full time focus on preparing for and getting a job.
The Universal Credit and You guide stated: “If you do not do this without a good reason you will receive reduced payments of your Universal Credit, known as a sanction.”
A sanction is a cut in your benefit payment, and applies if you fail to meet each of your responsibilities agreed in your commitment, without “good reason”.
The payment may be reduced for a set period, and the period of reduction will rise the more that claimants fail to meet similar requirements, up to a maximum of three years.
Sanctions are divided into four levels: higher, medium, low, and lowest.
While the guide doesn’t state the adult sanction rate, Benefits Aware says it’s 100 per cent of the standard Universal Credit Allowance for a single person.
There are some instances where this rate will be reduced, such as:
- You are aged 16 or 17
- You are the carer of a child under one
- You are pregnant and have less than 11 weeks before the baby is due
- You have had a baby in the last 15 weeks (including if the baby was stillborn)
- You have had an adopted child placed with you in the last 52 weeks
- Your claimant commitment requires you to only attend work focused interviews
Higher level sanction
In a higher level sanction, claimants will be sanctioned for 91 days for their first higher level sanction in any 364 day period.
If it’s a second higher level sanction, then this will last 182 days, or 1095 if it’s their third.
A higher level sanction may apply if a claimant:
- Has to meet the ‘work preparation requirement’ and fails to take part in Mandatory Work Activity
- Has to meet the ‘work search requirement’ and fails to apply for a particular job when told to do so
- Has to meet the ‘work availability requirement’ and refuses a job offer
- Leaves work or reduces their hours of work, whether voluntarily or due to ‘misconduct’ (while claiming Universal Credit or just before their claim)
If the latter occurs, specifically if a claimant left work before they claimed Universal Credit, then there are special rules for how long the sanction will last.
Medium level sanction
A person’s first medium level sanction in any 364 day period will last for 28 days.
If it’s their second, then the time frame lasts 91 days.
The government publication states that it may occur if a claimant has to meet either the:
- work search requirement – and fail to take all reasonable actions to find paid work or increase their earnings from work
- work availability requirement – and are not available to start work or attend interviews.
Low level sanction
Low level sanctions will last until claimants do whatever they were sanctioned for failing to do, as well as seven days for their first low level sanction in any 364 day period.
This rises to 14 days if it’s the second in that time frame, and 28 days for their third.
The sanction may apply if a claimant fails to:
- attend or take part in a work-focused interview, and a lowest sanction level does not apply
- attend or take part in a training course
- take a specific action to get paid work, or to increase their earnings from work
Lowest level sanction
If a claimant only has to meet the work-focused interview requirement, and fails to attend or take part in it, then they may face a lowest level sanction.
The sanction only continues until they take part in one.
If claimants are claiming Universal Credit as a couple, then for each sanctioned person, the sanction rate is 50 per cent of the appropriate Standard Allowance for the couple.
The government explained: “For the lowest level sanction, you will be sanctioned at an amount equivalent to 20 percent of your Standard Allowance (50 percent of 40 percent).”
Reductions of sanctions from Universal Credit
More than one sanction cannot apply at once, but sanctions can run back-to-back.
The publication explains that when someone is sanctioned, it’s usually their next payment, or a series of future Universal Credit payments, that is affected.
Earnings and unearned income is taken into account account before sanctions reductions are applied.
Should the payment be insufficient with the full sanction amount, then a sanction may be reduced the award to nil, and would be treated as having been made in full.
It may be that Hardship Payments can be claimed if there have been Universal Credit sanctions, if the claimant is over the age of 18.
Some conditions may need to be fulfilled first though, if the cause of the sanction has no end date, and the claimant must show that they have done everything reasonable to look for work in the seven days before claiming a hardship payment.
“Every case is assessed individually. You will have to show that you have tried to find the money from somewhere else and only spent money on essentials,” the government publication stated.
If the claimant is aged between 16 and 17, then they may fall into any one of the four conditionality groups.
- all work-related requirements
- work-focused-interview and work-preparation requirements only
- work-focused interview requirements only
- no work-related activity requirements
The sanctions rules for 16 and 17 year olds mirrors the adult regime, but the section amounts are lower – being 40 per cent of the Standard Allowance.
They also have shorter durations.
It is possible to ask for a mandatory reconsideration within a month of the date of a decision, if the claimant does not agree with a Universal Credit sanction.
They must write to the department who provided the decision, stating why they think it is wrong, and provide any evidence.