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Last updated:
18/06/2020

How to challenge a Universal Credit sanction?

If you don't believe you should have received a Universal Credit sanction you can challenge the decision. We explain how to challenge a Universal Credit sanction.

If you don't believe you should have received a Universal Credit sanction, you should challenge the decision. You can do this initially by asking for a mandatory reconsideration, and if this fails to ask for a tribunal.

When you have been given a Universal Credit sanction, you will have received a sanction notification which will explain why you have been sanctioned. This will have been by letter or sent through your online Universal Credit account.

What reasons should I challenge a Universal Credit sanction

You can ask the DWP to reconsider their decision to give you a Universal Credit sanction if any of the following apply to you:

  • You did the activity the DWP said you didn't.
  • You had a good reason for not doing the activity you were required to do.
  • You have been given a sanction for something that wasn't in your Claimant Commitment.
  • Your original Claimant Commitment is unsuitable for your circumstances.
  • If you're in the all-work related requirements group and have specific reasons as to why you shouldn't have been sanctioned.
  • You weren't adequately notified about a Jobcentre appointment.

Each case will be assessed by the DWP on an individual basis to determine what counts as a good reason. It would help if you spoke to a local welfare benefits advisor for more information.

Challenging a Universal Credit sanction because of a mental health condition

If you haven't been able to do a task because of your mental health condition, you may have a good reason to challenge a Universal Credit sanction.

You should challenge a Universal Credit sanction because of your mental health condition if any of the following apply:

  • Your mental health condition meant you didn't understand what was required of you to meet a specific requirement.
  • The specific requirement put your mental health at risk - for example if you have social anxiety and you rejected a job because it was a public-facing role.
  • You don't believe reasonable adjustments were made to your Claimant Commitment for your long-term mental health condition.

The DWP can make their judgement as to whether or not they believe your mental health condition was responsible for you not completing a task. However, they must take your circumstances into account.

Two-step process to challenging a Universal Credit sanction

There is a two-step process for challenging a Universal Credit sanction:

  1. Ask for a mandatory reconsideration, if this fails you can,
  2. Ask for a Tribunal

Mandatory reconsideration to challenge a Universal Credit sanction

If you believe you have been wrongfully sanctioned you should ask for a mandatory reconsideration as soon as possible. You can do this through your online journal or over the phone.

You will need to explain why you believe the Universal Credit is incorrect and therefore shouldn't have been sanctioned. You will have one month to ask for a mandatory reconsideration.

When you ask for a mandatory reconsideration - whether that's by phone, or online – you need to tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP):

  • Your national insurance number.
  • The date of your decision letter.
  • Why you disagree with their decision.

A DWP' decision-maker' will investigate your case to see if the decision was correct to give you a Universal Credit sanction.

Once they have made their decision, the DWP will send you two copies of the mandatory reconsideration notice. This will explain their decision. Two copies are given as one will be sent off if you are unsuccessful and need to take the case to tribunal.

If the DWP changes their decision and retracts your Universal Credit sanction, you will receive any backdated benefits you were penalised for.

If they don't change their decision, you can appeal through a tribunal.

Asking for a tribunal to challenge a Universal Credit sanction

If the DWP does not change its decision, you can appeal to an independent tribunal. Once you receive your mandatory reconsideration notice, you will have one month to ask for a tribunal. You will need to do this directly to the tribunal service and is called a direct lodgement.

A Universal Credit tribunal is part of the court system and independent from the DWP. When you appeal against a Universal Credit sanction decision, the tribunal will look at the evidence from yourself and the DWP and make a final decision.

At this stage of challenging a Universal Credit sanction, it is advised to seek help from a specialist welfare rights advisor at a Law Centre, Citizens Advice Bureau, an independent advice agency or your local authority's welfare rights service if they have one.

How to understand a Universal Credit sanction

If you have been sanctioned, you should check that it's the correct level of sanction and for the right period. When you receive your sanction notification you should be told:

  • The reason you received the sanction.
  • The level of sanction you have been given.
  • How long the sanction will last.
  • How much money will be deducted from your Universal Credit payment.
  • The date the sanction decision was decided.

Checking if you have been given the correct level of Universal Credit sanction

There are different levels of Universal Credit sanctions depending on which work-related activity group you're in. To check which work-related group you're in look at your Claimant Commitment or the sanction notification.

Non-work related requirements group

You can't receive a Universal Credit sanction if you are in the no related-work requirement group. If you have received a sanction in this group, you should challenge this immediately.

Work-focused interview only group

If you're in the work-focused interview only group, you can only receive the lowest level of sanction. You can be sanctioned for not attending a work-focused interview at the Jobcentre.

Work preparation only group

If you're part of the work preparation only group you can receive a low-level sanction if you don't complete the following tasks set out in your Claimant Commitment:

  • Failing to attend a work-focused interview at the Jobcentre. 
  • Failing to meet the work preparation requirement.
  • Failing to do activities listed in your work search requirement.
  • Failing to meet your work-related requirements.

All-work related requirements group

If you're part of the all-work related requirements group, you can receive any level of sanction.

You can receive a low-level sanction if you fail to do the following tasks in your Claimant Commitment:

  • Failing to attend a work-focused interview at the Jobcentre.
  • Failing to meet the work preparation requirement.
  • Failing to do activities listed in your work search requirement.
  • Failing to meet your work-related requirements.

You can receive a medium-level sanction if you fail to do the following tasks in your Claimant Commitment:

  • Take reasonable action to get employed in paid work, or get more paid work
  • Failing to meet the work availability requirement.

You can receive a higher-level sanction if you:

  • Fail to take part in a Mandatory Work Activity Scheme.
  • Fail to apply for paid work without a good reason.
  • Fail to accept a paid job offer without a good reason.
  • Stopping paid work without good reason, or because of misconduct at work.

Checking if you have been given the correct level of Universal Credit sanction

There are different periods for a Universal Credit sanction. The time your sanction will last is determined by:

  • The level of sanction you have received.
  • Your age.
  • Whether you have had previous sanctions.

No Universal Credit sanction can last for more than 182 days. If you have been sanctioned more than once at the same time, they will run back-to-back until you reach 182 days.

If you have been sanctioned and are struggling financially to meet your basic needs, find out how to get financial help with a Universal Credit sanction.

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