Normal job centre rules – including financial sanctions routinely issued to claimants who miss appointments – have been suspended indefinitely for former Grenfell Tower tenants and other local residents who claim unemployment benefits, it has emerged.
The decision by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) emerged after representatives of local residents who approached local Job Centre Plus officials in North Kensington on behalf of residents were apparently told that no guarantees could be given that claimants caught up in the fire and its aftermath would not be penalised if they were unable to sign on.
But the DWP subsequently clarified that no sanctions will be applied to local claimants and that all staff at the north London job centre that serves claimants in the areas around Grenfell Tower had been instructed to be “as flexible as possible”.
A DWP spokesman said: “Anyone affected by the Grenfell Tower fire who misses an appointment or is unable to meet their job-seeking requirements will continue to have their benefits paid in full. Our staff are handling people’s claims with sensitivity, understanding and flexibility and we have put extra support in place for anyone who needs it.”
Joe Delaney – a local resident who said he was acting on behalf of the community – told the Guardian: “I asked staff from the local job centre and DWP staff at Westway Sports Centre to correct this matter today. All they did was what everyone in authority has done so far: offer platitudes and ask traumatised people to do the running by calling to beg for this to happen.”
He claimed that the DWP only later moved to clarify the position when disquiet began to emerge on on social media. “Once it became clear that there was media attention focused on them, they have finally done the right thing. Why should it take shame for them to act? Where is their humanity?”
Benefit sanctions, which involved benefit payments being being cancelled for between four weeks and three years as a penalty for breach of job centre rules have been the subject of huge controversy in recent years. Hundreds of thousands of claimants have been sanctioned after conditionality rules were tightened in 2012, often for trivial rule breaches, such as missing an appointment, or failing to hit agreed job-application targets.
The DWP said job centre staff in north-west London had been instructed to make sure that benefits continue to be paid even when appointments have been missed. Normal job-seeking requirements would be suspended “for those who need it, for as long as they need it”.
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