Law for Life - Avoiding and Challenging Benefit Sanctions

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Avoiding and Challenging Benefit Sanctions

Due to recent changes to the welfare system, an increasing number of people are seeing their benefits reduced or stopped due to sanctions. The effects of sanctions are wide-reaching, leaving many confronting destitution, poverty, and homelessness as likely outcomes. Sanctions affect particularly individuals and families in vulnerable situations, such as people with mental health needs, for whom it is challenging to navigate the complex system around benefits.

With this context in mind Law for Life has developed an online information guide focused on helping people understand and build the skills needed to avoid unnecessary benefit sanctions. The guide aims to help people address issues at an early stage and prevent unnecessary hardship. Where this isn’t possible, the guide explains how to deal with a benefits sanction, including how to appeal. After a drafting process that drew on generous input from claimants, intermediaries, advisers and others, we were pleased to publish the new online guide: A survival guide to benefit sanctions.

In April we also held two workshops for the staff of the Bridge Mental Health Support, a charity offering mental health and wellbeing support in Greenwich. The workshops were delivered in partnership with the Public Law Project. The training addressed the basics of Universal Credit, the different groups of claimants on UC, their commitments, how they might get sanctioned and for how long, and how they can avoid and challenge sanctions. Many had a grasp of the problems claimants face while on UC and were shocked at the length of time sanctions can be imposed for. The guide and the workshops were funded by the National Lottery Community Fund (previously Big Lottery Fund).

Click here to read the survival guide to benefit sanctions

Ballyhoo Feature Article - The Challenges of Benefits

The Coalition Government has made some radical changes to the system of social security over the past few years. This has left a lot of people uncertain about a rapidly changing system of social security.

  •  Is there still hope for the sick and vulnerable in society?

  •  How much does a person really know about the kind of financial support available to them when faced with an illness or disability?

  • Is there enough information readily available about the kind of support they will need?

  • Is the current system of benefits supporting the people who really need it?


Viewpoint Ballyhoo spoke to two people in similar situations about their experiences of ill health and how much support they receive from the Government. What kind of expectations did they have before and after their claims were submitted? Did the stress of such claims put further pressure on their illness making symptoms worse or was everything simple and manageable.


Case Study One

I was born with my illness and it has affected me my whole life both physically and mentally. Because of my “High Functioning” I came across to people as very intelligent especially to my parents who invested a lot of money into my education and skills training. I was under a lot of pressure to do well in life but my special needs were not addressed. My mother passed away when I was 19 and in my 20s I took on a life of drink, drugs and dangerous living in order to escape the pain. During this time I was crying out for help but no one was to be able to understand me. I could not get a diagnosis for my illness. In 2002 I totally went off the rails and went abroad to have a better life. Eventually I found help from an alternative therapist who gave me the tools I needed to survive. Still undiagnosed I had a 10 year battle for survival which lead me to end up in Hertford mind in September 2012.

Case Study Two

I just did what I thought was right. We were all brought up to work hard, conform, buy a house, save and make a good living. Before my illness I did everything right? I held down a job paid my mortgage saved what I could. The system was supposed to be there for me and I feel let down.

Case Study One

I have always been in and out of the system and have learned to work it well for survival I do my research and find the loopholes to get what I need its hard work but I am on my own in this world I need to survive. 

Case Study Two

The first time I applied for benefits I used my local CAB and they helped with everything, I managed to get Incapacity Benefit and stayed out of work for a while, but I got bored and restless and wanted to earn a living. I returned to work as I am a proud person and I enjoy supporting myself. I saw the adverts on TV and cancelled my claim for benefits straight away, not realising the consequences of this action. I had to stop working again I became ill. I went down my local CAB again and this time they informed me that the benefits had changed and I had to make a new claim for DLA. I did as I was asked and heard nothing back, I had to fill in 3 forms and make plenty of visits to the CAB to chase up the paperwork it was a very distressing time. I was so fortunate to have the support of Hertford mind without it I don’t know what I would have done. Not only was I sick but the financial burden on top of this was hard to bear my savings were running out and I was at my wits end.

Case Study One

My mind and body slowly begun to breakdown and while in Hertford Mind the other service users were bringing my awareness into the fact that I was maybe having a breakdown and should change my benefit claim from Jobseekers onto ESA. The thought scared me and I resisted until I was so ill I knew I needed to slow down. Still undiagnosed I went to the doctor for some tablets to calm me down. It wasn’t until I reached crisis point in Jan 2013 that I pushed for a diagnosis. Then came the dreaded ATOS test. I attended Hertford Mind for emotional support and picked up around me that there was a general feeling of negativity towards the changes in the benefits system.  There were people around me who had had their lifetime awards taken away and there was a lot of confusion and anxiety towards the changes. I was told by most people that there was no chance on passing the test, this put me under a lot of stress as I knew I could no longer cope supporting myself, I had built up a lot of debt and was still sleeping on a mattress on the floor things were tough.

 Case Study Two

I went for my ATOS test and to my surprise I did not gain any points. I was seen by this person who to me did not look like she had any medical qualifications; she coldly went over the test questions with me. I had plenty of evidence from my doctor and psychiatrist this was all ignored, I was angry and frustrated my health both physical and mental were not in a very good state and I felt lost and hopeless. I had worked hard all my life and I thought the system would be there for me, I paid my taxes like I was told to do and I return I was promised financial aid. It feels like the money only goes to people that manage to blag the system and does not help the people that really need it.

Case Study One

I passed my ATOS test and was given 18 months I was so relived, for the first time since I lost my mother I felt supported, the money was not a lot but is was enough and it meant I could have a break and concentrate on my recovery. I was grateful. I did feel rather guilty at my support group though, there were people failing around me it was a stressful time.

Case Study Two

Both my ESA and DLA went to tribunal. I managed to get my ESA overruled and was given 18 months. The DLA tribunal was awful. There was myself my representative and 3 people on the panel. I gave them all the supporting evidence I had and I was still made to feel like I should be grateful for the minimum of help. I have a degenerate condition and I worry about the future and how I am going to manage.  I feel I could be more supported.

Both participants are now receiving ESA and both work 10 hours a week earning up to the 101.00 threshold.

Have you had a similar experience? Can you offer any advice to others who are having these problems. Add you comments below.