Universal Credit Sanctions and the Claimant Commitment

Author: Julie Holdcroft, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North & Stoke-on-Trent

This article was written for Expert Citizens CIC. Reproduced here with permission.

Link to original article

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Leaflet on sanctions

Hardship repayment review form

Challenging benefit sanction form

Complex Needs alert form

How many claimants are sanctioned?

The number of people having their benefits sanctioned is now 2.5 times what it was before the pandemic. DWP statistics reveal that the number of Universal Credit claimants affected by conditionality was nearly 1 in 3 in Oct 2022.

In August 2022, over £36 million of benefit (about 500,000 claimants) were sanctioned.

In the last year, 98.4% of adverse sanction decisions were for failure to attend or participate in a mandatory interview. The Government is now planning to automate parts of the sanctions process to ensure that Work Coaches “implement sanctions as effectively as possible”.

What is a Claimant Commitment?

You must accept a Claimant Commitment to receive Universal Credit – it is a ‘basic condition’. ​

The only exceptions to this requirement are when:

  • a person is undergoing medical treatment as an in-patient in a hospital
  • a claimant/or local office has an exceptional domestic emergency such as fire or flood or other ‘exceptional’ circumstances.

Once the above circumstances are resolved, a Claimant Commitment must be accepted.

The requirement to accept a Claimant Commitment can be lifted permanently when:

  • a claimant is terminally ill (medically confirmed to have less than 12 months to live).
  • where claimant does not have capacity to accept their commitment, and this is unlikely to change

A Claimant Commitment records what you will do to receive UC payments, such as the number of hours of work search you will do or agreeing to attend training/meetings. You can be offered a ‘cooling off’ period of up to 7 days before signing.​ You can accept a commitment either online, by telephone, or in writing.

Claimant Commitments can be reviewed at any time. ​They should take all your circumstances into account. Work Coaches need to know if you are homeless, have mental health issues, suffer domestic violence, are a care leaver, have caring responsibilities or are a refugee.

If the Claimant Commitments is not accepted within 7 days of the ‘commitments meeting’ then the claim will be disallowed/ended.

It is important to record any difficulties with attendance on the journal at the beginning of the claim if possible, so that the Work Coach is aware. Work Coaches are advised that in Complex Needs cases they can apply a ‘discretionary easement’ of or ‘turn off’ an individual’s work-related requirements for a temporary period if necessary.

Work Related Requirements – What do you need to do get UC?


The claimant will not have to do anything to receive their UC if they have Limited Capability for Work Related Activity or are working enough hours or are caring for a severely disabled person/child under 1​ or if you are within 11 weeks of giving birth. There are temporary situations that can also require no work-related requirements for a set period (e.g., victims of domestic abuse, modern slavery or homelessness). The claimant needs to update the DWP if their circumstances change.

The stats for 2022 show that over 62% of UC Work Capability Assessments resulted in LCWRA (i.e. exemption from all requirements).


Lone parents with a child under aged between 1 and 2 are expected to take part in regular (usually 6 monthly) work focused interviews.


Those assessed as having Limited Capability for Work and those with children aged 2 and over can be asked to do a maximum of 16 hours a week work preparation activity, such as writing a CV or going on training or work experience.


Those with no restrictions must be available for work and provide evidence of 35 hours work search a week.

The new Health and Disability White Paper proposes that from 2026 onwards, the WCA will be abolished, and they will ‘introduce more personalised levels of conditionality’. As a result, this will remove the concept and status of having limited capability for work and/or work-related activity for benefit purposes and let Work Coaches decide on levels of conditionality. The Chancellor has also said that UC sanctions will be “applied more rigorously”.

Changing a Claimant Commitment

The claimant needs to be honest with the Work Coach and provide evidence of any vulnerabilities (Complex Needs Alert form). The DWP can then adjust Claimant Commitments to their needs.​

You can make a complaint if adjustments are refused.

How much is a Universal Credit sanction?

There are four levels of sanctions. The sanction you get depends on what conditions are in your Claimant Commitment and what the Jobcentre thinks you have failed to do.​

Lowest – If your only condition is to take part in a ‘work focused interview’ and you don’t do it.​ This sanction will last until you next attend your work-focused interview.

Low – If you miss an appointment with a Work Coach or refuse to take part in a training course or fail to take part in a work search action.​

A low-level sanction is made up of a fixed period (usually 7 days for 1st, 14 days for 2nd and 28 days for 3rd sanction) plus the time it takes you to correct the failure.

For example, Gemma was supposed to attend Jobcentre on Monday, but she forgot to go. She doesn’t have a good reason. She goes to sign on Friday instead. This is the first time she has been sanctioned. Her sanction period will be 7 days + 4 days = 11 days.

Medium -​ If you do not do enough to look for work or are not available for work, you may get a medium level sanction. Medium level sanctions usually last for 28 days. If you have already had a medium level sanction in the past year, the sanction might last for 91 days.

High – If you leave a job voluntarily or lose a job because of misconduct or if you don’t apply for or take a job that the Jobcentre expected you to – then a High-Level sanction can be applied.​ High level sanctions usually last for 91 days (13 weeks). If you have had a high-level sanction before in the past year, the sanction might last 182 days (26 weeks). You should not be given a High-Level Sanction for leaving a job if you left because of your mental health and its effect on your working relationships.

Section 27 and 23 Welfare Reform Act 2012 Regulation 104(1) to (3) Universal Credit Regulations 2013

Advice for Decision Makers Chapter K3 (paragraph K3057) Regulation 102(2)(a) Universal Credit Regulations 2013

How much will a Universal Credit sanction be?

The amount of the sanction is 100% of the Standard Allowance for a High-Level sanction and 40% of Standard Allowance for Low Level. If it’s a joint claim and only one person is non-compliant, then 50% of the standard amount for a couple. If the award is reduced to 0p and the sanction occurs during Cost-of-Living payment qualifying dates, the claimant will lose their entitlement to that Cost-of-Living payment. If a claimant moves between conditionality groups during an assessment period the sanction rules that apply at the end of that AP can only be applied.

If you receive additional elements in your Universal Credit, you will carry on getting them. If you receive money in your Universal Credit to help with your rent, it is important to carry on using it for rent.

Challenging a Sanction

Do you have a Good Reason?

Except for high-level sanction misconduct cases, you can avoid a sanction if you can show there was ‘good reason’ for what you did or did not do. DWP should give claimants ‘the benefit of the doubt’ when assessing good cause.

DWP Advice for Decision Making Chapter K2 and Regulations 95 to 99 of the UC Regulations 2013.

How to Challenge

There is a two-step process for challenging decisions.

Mandatory Reconsideration

Firstly, you will need to request a mandatory reconsideration. Ideally you can do this through the UC journal (see attached pro forma that you could upload). You should explain why you think you should not have been sanctioned. This is the claimant’s chance to explain that there is a good reason why they didn’t do what they were supposed to do or to explain that the DWP has made a mistake and they did do what they were supposed to. There is no time limit for challenging missing a Work Focus Interview. For other types of sanction, the 1-month (13 months with good cause) rules apply. (UC D&A Regulations 2013, Regulation 14).

DWP must provide a written statement of reasons within 14 days of a request (Regulation 51 of the UC D&A regulations 2013). It is very important to mark a request as a Mandatory Reconsideration request. Best practice is to put MR request on the journal, rather than posting it, or taking it into the jobcentre. Seek advice from Citizens Advice on this process.

If you failed to do what you were supposed to do because the DWP’s expectations were unreasonable, the claimant should explain this in their request for mandatory reconsideration. This can be a good reason for failing to do what you were supposed to do. For example, if you have mental health issues that your work coach knew about, but they weren’t considered when setting your claimant commitment.


If the DWP does not change its decision or if you get no response to MR after 1 month, you can appeal to an Independent Tribunal. You can appeal on SSCS1 form (or online) and explain that MR was requested (screen shot). Inform Tribunal that the application for an MR was made.

You need to submit your appeal as soon as you can, ideally within 1 month (but again you can appeal up to 13 months later with good cause for being late). This needs to be done by completing a SSCS1 form or online at https://www.gov.uk/appeal-benefit-decision/submit-appeal. You will ideally need your Mandatory Reconsideration Notice to appeal.

You may need specialist advice to check that the DWP met their responsibilities too.

What help can you get while you are sanctioned?

If you have been sanctioned and are struggling to manage without your full Universal Credit payments, you can apply for a hardship payment. A hardship payment is a loan from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which you will have to pay back through deductions from your benefits once your sanction ends.

Eligibility for a Hardship Payment

To be eligible for a hardship loan, you must meet all the following criteria:

  • You are struggling to meet your basic needs (rent, heating, food and hygiene)
  • You must show that you have tried to stop spending money on non-essential items
  • You must have tried to get money from other places such as friends or family members
  • You must have completed any work-related activities you were supposed to do in the last seven days before applying

You will need to provide evidence of above, e.g financial statement.

If you are not eligible for a hardship loan, there may be other ways for you to get financial help while living under a sanction, such as foodbank referrals or a fuel help voucher.

How to apply for a Hardship Payment

To apply for a Hardship Payment, you need to contact the Universal Credit helpline. If you’re claiming Universal Credit as a couple, only one of you needs to apply.

A hardship payment will only cover you until your next regular monthly Universal Credit payment. If you are still struggling to meet your basic needs the following month, you will need to make another application.

How much is a hardship payment?

A hardship payment is approximately 60% of the sanction you received the previous month.

How do you pay back a hardship payment?

Unlike hardship payments for JSA/ESA sanctions, on UC you must repay the loan through deductions each month from your Universal Credit when your sanction ends until the loan is repaid in full.

UC start to recover the Hardship Payments made once all sanctions no longer apply to the award.

The DWP will reduce the Universal Credit payment by 15-25% of the standard allowance – the basic amount you receive, but not from any additional elements you claim for.

If you are struggling to meet your basic needs because you’re paying back a hardship payment, you can contact DWP Debt Management to reduce the rate you make your repayments at.

Appealing a hardship payment decision

If you have been rejected for a hardship payment, you can ask them to reconsider this through a mandatory reconsideration. You should provide any new evidence which is relevant since you first applied.

Applying to have Hardship Payment Recovery Waived

Until recently, the DWP’s position was that Recoverable Hardship Payments could not be written off or waived unless a claimant was earning above the earnings threshold (currently £617 per month for an individual claimant, and £988 per month for a couple) where they are no longer required to look for more work or increase their earnings. Deductions would then be suspended, and the remaining amount of hardship payment was written off once they had earned this amount for six assessment periods without further sanction or penalty.

The DWP has now accepted that this was not right and has accepted it has a discretion to waive all Recoverable Hardship Payments following a legal challenge brought by the Public Law Project.

Claimants should now be able to contact the DWP through their journal or by sending a letter – in the same way that a claimant might request that an overpayment be waived. Those who previously asked for a sanction waiver and were refused are entitled to a refund. The deadline to apply is 19 June 2023.

Who is eligible?

You may be eligible to seek a refund of these repayments if:

  • at the time you were paying back the hardship payment, you asked the DWP to stop the repayments; and
  • DWP refused your request and continue to take the repayments; and
  • you repaid the hardship payment.

DWP states the scheme is for those who asked for their hardship payment to be waived between the dates of 1 January 2014 and 11 January 2021. It is not clear why this time frame has been adopted. If you have a client, you think may be eligible but falls outside this time period, Public Law Project would be interested in hearing from you.

How to apply

You can apply using the attached application form which needs to be posted to the address on the form.

You will need to explain in the form why DWP should have stopped your repayments at the time. This will usually be because either:

  • making the repayments affected your health or the health of a family member and/or
  • making the repayments caused you financial problems.

You will need to provide the DWP with evidence of this.

If your application is refused

If you do make an application to the DWP and your application is refused, Public Law Project may be able to assist you subject to capacity – enquires@publiclawproject.org.uk

Current repayments

Finally, if the claimant is still repaying hardship payments you can ask DWP to waive the remaining debt by writing to them and giving reasons.

Case Study

‘Jane’ was sanctioned for not attending a jobcentre appointment. We challenged this as a Complex Needs Alert had been handed into the claimant’s Jobcentre but had not been actioned. The sanction was overturned, and the claimant was repaid the money.

This entry was posted on April 18, 2023

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