The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has abandoned plans for a “yellow card” warning system that could have protected thousands of people from having their benefits wrongly “sanctioned”, following a short trial involving just 6,500 claimants.
The trial gave claimants facing a benefit sanction an extra 14 days in which to contest the decision and provide evidence to show why their payments should not be stopped or reduced.
However, the DWP claim the short trial, which took place between April and September 2016, “appeared to make little difference to the outcomes of claimants”.
The department will now explore “an alternative process to give claimants written warnings, instead of a sanction”, but the Common Work and Pensions Committee Frank Field said data from the trial “suggested the scheme was protecting hundreds of people from being wrongly sanctioned”.
“Applied to the country as a whole, that layer of protection could have covered many thousands of very vulnerable people”, he added.
Mr Field called on the Government to devise a new scheme as quickly as possible, to prevent vulnerable people from being “left destitute” and dependent on charity.
“Justice demands that measures like these are tested as soon as possible”, he said.
The DWP claim that only 13% of participants in the trial who were given ‘yellow card’ warnings responded within 14 days, and in around half of these cases they failed to provide a good enough reason as to why a sanction should not be imposed.
Work and Pensions Minister Alok Sharma told MPs: “Given the additional burden placed on the Departmental resources and marginal gains achieved, the trial did not appear to be an effective use of the Department’s resource.
“We do not consider that the benefits of the approach are sufficient to justify the extra time and cost it adds to the process.
“We are now exploring the feasibility of an alternative process to give claimants written warnings, instead of a sanction, for a first sanctionable failure to attend a Work-Search Review.
“The aim will be to conduct a small-scale proof of concept to obtain qualitative feedback from staff on this new process, followed by any subsequent tests.
“More details will be made available once we have progressed with the design work.”