benefit sanctions
© MirrorPix
Tracy said she had a shock when the payment statement arrived
A 23-year-old who waited an entire month for his universal credit payment to arrive was eventually told he'd receive nothing, despite the Government pledging to freeze sanctions during the coronavirus crisis.

Ben, 23, had been sanctioned earlier in the year for being unable to find work, however, like payment holidays for homeowners and furlough for the employed, he believed the freeze would be lifted to support struggling households during the pandemic.

"How can he be sanctioned for being unable to find work during a lockdown?" Ben's mum, Tracy told Mirror Money.

The family said they waited weeks for the payment after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced plans to freeze benefit sanctions under emergency measures last month.

universal credit

The Government has agreed to ban all benefit sanctions for at least 90 days to allow staff time to process millions more applications
However, last Thursday, the family who had waited an entire week to do their food shop, were sent a statement for £0 via the online portal.

It left them devastated - and worried about how they would survive the current crisis.

Tracy, 49, from Suffolk, is a full time carer for her second son.

With Ben out of work, the family are currently surviving on £64 a week, including bills, rent and food.

"Ben has been struggling to find work for a while," she explained.

"At Christmas, he managed to get a temporary job at Morrisons, however this was only for three weeks.

"He struggled to find work afterwards and after three months, was eventually sanctioned.

"It was a breath of fresh air when we read that sanctions had been frozen. We have no big supermarkets nearby and are having to shop locally during the coronavirus crisis. However, our nearest supermarket is a convenience store, and it's costing us a fortune to eat. We were desperately relying on the money to get by."

Ben said he has contacted the DWP in the past, however on each occasion was advised to take out a Hardship Fund loan.

"They offer this to everyone that calls up for help," Tracy said.

"But the money builds up and now he owes money and is under pressure to pay it back.

"Everyone is being offered help to survive during the current emergency, but what about the people already struggling at the bottom? It feels like we have been forgotten."

Mirror Money put Ben's case to the DWP who have now clarified the terms and conditions of the freeze on sanctions.

The department said sanctions that were already in place prior to the coronavirus outbreak will continue to apply.

After Mirror Money got in touch, Ben's work coach contacted him, and the DWP have now agreed to reinstate his payments.


Comment: So, in order to have a fair trial one needs to go to the national papers? How many more are suffering an unjust system in silence?


The claimant, who typically receives £342.72 a month, has now been sent £1,600, including a backdated payment.

"Sanctions that were already in place remain," a DWP spokesperson said.

"We are focused on the processing of claims and will not be checking conditionality compliance regarding work preparation, looking for and being available for work for three months.

"No new sanctions should be applied if the claimant is unable to meet their commitments during that period."

Under the terms of the freeze, benefit and universal credit claimants will not face new sanctions for three months, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said.


Comment: Meanwhile government ministers claim the lockdown is expected to plunge the country into a deep depression, the effects of which could last for many years - and yet these new sanctions rules only have a time limit of a few months?


Reviews and assessments have also been suspended until June,

This is to allow staff to focus on processing new claims - with millions more people set to enrol onto universal credit after the standard allowance was raised by £1,000 to help struggling families.

Work and pensions secretary of state, Thérèse Coffey, said: "As this country ramps up its efforts to support people through coronavirus, we will do whatever it takes to protect claimants and our staff.

"We are automatically extending all awards and reassessments for health and disability benefits to provide that reassurance to those in receipt of them."

Face-to-face assessments for all sickness and disability benefits have also been cancelled for the next three months, including for any new claims.

If you are due for a review of your payments, the DWP said it will extend the end date to ensure you're not left without money.

However if your situation changes you should still contact DWP as normal to ensure you receive the correct level of support.