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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Benefit sanctions disproportionately affect homeless claimants

Homeless people are more likely to have their benefits sanctioned according to a report published by Homeless Link.

A High Cost to Pay reports that around a third of homeless people claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) or Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) have been sanctioned.  In comparison, only 3% of non-homeless claimants have been sanctioned.  Homeless Link surveyed 46 of its member organisations after members reported increasing concerns about clients’ benefits being stopped.

Who is being sanctioned?

The survey found that some groups are at greater risk of being sanctioned.  These are:

  • young people in receipt of JSA
  • homeless people with mental health or substance use issues
  • people with poor English skills, such as homeless migrants.

These findings would support other research which shows that a lack of understanding of the benefits system can lead to vulnerable people losing their benefits.

Reasons for benefit sanctions

The report found that the most common reasons for respondents in receipt of JSA receiving sanctions were

  • failing to participate in the Work Programme (45%)
  • failing to attend an advisory interview (28%)

Respondents indicated that interviews or appointments were often missed due to ill health or conflicting hospital and other appointments.  The report set out a number of reasons why a homeless person could miss appointments in good faith

  • the letter may have been delivered incorrectly, to the wrong address or the wrong hostel resident;
  • homeless people with complex needs may not be able to read or understand their letters.

The impact of benefit sanctions on homeless people and service providers

In its report, Homeless Link lists a number of problems which member organisations said arose as a direct result of sanctions.

  • Homeless people are starting to build up rent arrears and service charge arrears
  • Service charge and rent arrears also create financial difficulties for service providers.
  • Increasing numbers of homeless people are in food poverty and are struggling to eat
  • Homeless people may borrow money to cope while being sanctioned, which can lead to survival crime to pay off the debt
  • Homeless people have reported increased anxiety and worsening of existing mental health issues.

Respondents to the service felt that sanctions did not help homeless people into work and did not encourage homeless people to engage more with Jobcentre Plus.

For the full report, including methodology and response rates, download A High Cost to Pay from Homeless Link’s website

Tagged In

Welfare Reform, Homelessness, Affordability

This article was written on 23 September 2013. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.