Almost 9,500 jobseeker's sanctions imposed in 12 months
THERE were almost 9,500 sanctions imposed on people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance in Northern Ireland in the last financial year.
Figures disclosed in a Department for Communities report also outline the reasons why penalties were applied.
Covering the 12 months up to the end of March 2017, it is the first annual report covering the operation of welfare payments but does not include universal credit, which came into effect in September last year.
Although a total of 9,460 sanctions were applied, the actual number of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) recipients affected was 7,540 as some were sanctioned more than one.
The proportion sanctioned each month on average was 1.8%.
More than half of cases were the result of claimants failing to either sign on or attend a meeting.
The Steps 2 Success (S2S) programme is mandatory for those claiming JSA for 12 months or more, or nine months for those under the age of 24, with penalties enforced for claimants who fail to participate or miss appointments.
There were almost 3,000 sanctions for failing to attend an interview related to S2S, with a further 400 benefit cuts imposed on those who did not start or complete the scheme.
In 210 cases, there were sanctions for leaving a job voluntarily, and 100 instances where claimants lost a job through misconduct.
Refusing to apply for a job was given as the reason for a sanction on 580 occasions, while there were more than 20 penalties handed down for breaching the 'one strike/two strike fraud' policy, whereby a claimant has committed an offence of benefit fraud.
There were also three categories - losing a place on S2S through misconduct, failing to comply with Jobseeker's allowance direction and 'other' reasons - where exact figures are not given as the numbers are less than 10.
The S2S job scheme, launched by the Stormont Executive in October 2014, has faced criticism after figures showed that fewer than one in five participants were still in work a year after completing the scheme.
Sara Boyce, from the Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) lobby group, claimed there was "an increasingly punitive sanctions regime".
"We know that thousands of vulnerable people have had their sole income stopped or reduced, without any assessment being undertaken as to the impact on this on them or their children. In most cases simply for missing a meeting."
The PPR group is calling for the introduction of the 'People's Proposal', which would apply human rights criteria before decisions are made.
Meanwhile, more than 40,000 people received a 'welfare supplementary payment' from Stormont during 2016/17.
Introduced by the Executive to assist those who would otherwise have seen their income reduced or stopped through changes introduced by the British government such as the benefit cap, the bill amounted to almost £8.5 million.