Former DWP employee ‘sanctioned for going to a funeral’ in fear of eviction

A former employee at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has spoken about how he wakes up each day fearing eviction, after his benefits were slashed by more than £500 a month for missing a Jobcentre meeting to attend a funeral.

Garreth Forrest, from Preston in Lancashire, said the stressful ordeal has left him “too worried to sleep at night”, fearful of when he will told to leave his home because of rent arrears.

He told the BBC: “You’re waking up in the morning thinking, is this the final day, when you’re going to be told to leave?

“You’re waiting for information, to see if they are going to resolve the issues and reduce the sanctioning.

“It’s distressing. No one should be having to worry like that.”

Mr Forrest, who works intermittently and claims Universal Credit, fell behind on his rent after the DWP reduced his payments from £703 to just £200 per month, out of which he has to pay household bills, such as rent and utilities, and still be able to feed himself.

When he explained that he had missed the Jobcentre appointment to attend a funeral, Garreth was accused of “lying” and told to provide evidence.

“I had to provide proof that I attended the funeral, which I found was very insensitive”, he said.

“I even had a phone call from the job centre on the day of the funeral, and they actually thought that I was not there.

“They said, ‘Are you sure you’re at the funeral? Are you lying?’ And I found that very distressing.”

Mr Forrest says he was also sanctioned for not providing correct information about his job search activities, which he denies.

Dr David Webster, from the University of Glasgow, says a further one million people could be exposed to the benefit sanctions regime under Universal Credit, compared to 350,000 people a year who are currently affected.

He told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme:  “It’s a penal system – a system of punishment for opposed offences.

“The amounts of money people lose through sanctions are actually larger than the amounts of money people get fined in the magistrates’ courts.

“But in the mainstream courts, there’s a whole battery of safeguards to ensure citizens don’t get wrongly punished.

“The trouble about the sanctions system is that it operates entirely in private, and there aren’t any safeguards. “Money is cut off before there is any chance of appeal.”

He added: “No country in the world has ever attempted such a system. This is a complete novelty and no one actually has any idea if it will work.”

Mr Forrest has provided the DWP with an ‘order of service’ from the funeral. He has been told that the Universal Credit sanction will be lifted.