The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), the representative body for the employment support sector, has today (7 January 2015) called for an overhaul of the current benefit sanctions regime and put forward a five point plan to increase its effectiveness.

Speaking at the Work and Pensions Select Committee, ERSA chief executive, Kirsty McHugh, said that the ability for Jobcentre Plus to sanction jobseekers should not be abandoned entirely, but there needed to be fundamental reform to make the system more effective.  In particular she called for:

  1. The development of a far more robust evidence base about the effectiveness of sanctions and benefits conditionality generally on jobseekers
  2. Frontline employment providers of the Work Programme and other programmes, to be given more discretion about when they should report jobseekers to Jobcentre Plus for potential sanctioning.
  3. The introduction of an ‘early warning’ system which could be used at first offence rather than imposing a sanction.
  4. Greater clarity across the system about which jobseekers are classed as ‘vulnerable’ and should be exempt from sanctions. This should include better sharing of information about jobseeker circumstances, including the result of the Work Capability Assessment. 
  5. An automatic review of jobseeker circumstances when repeat sanctions fail to have an effect.  

In addition, ERSA is calling for a speeding up of the implementation of the recommendations from the recent Oakley Review of the operation of the sanctions regime.

At present, Jobcentre Plus can issues sanctions, thus removing benefits from jobseekers who fail to comply with agreed activities, such as meetings with advisers, skills programmes or work placements.  Providers of the Work Programme and other programmes are obliged to refer some jobseekers to Jobcentre Plus when there has not been compliance with agreed activities. 

Speaking before the Select Committee, Kirsty McHugh, ERSA Chief Executive, said:

“For a minority of people, receiving a sanction can be the wakeup call they need to help them move into work. However, for the vast majority of jobseekers, sanctions are more likely to hinder their journey into employment. For that reason we want to see more discretion in the system, including the introduction of an ‘early warning’ system. Jobseekers move into work quickest when they feel positive about work and thus sanctions should only be used as a last resort.”


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Notes to Editors

1. The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) is the sector body for those delivering or with an interest in employment support services.  ERSA’s membership spans the private, voluntary and public sectors and ranges from large multi-nationals through to small specialist charities.  It has 180 members, including all prime contractors of the Work Programme. The majority of its members are not for profit.
2. ERSA’s submission to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry can be found here.
3. ERSA is able to set up interviews with jobseekers who have found work and providers of employment support services. Case studies are available on ERSA’s website. Interviews with ERSA’s Chief Executive Kirsty McHugh are available on request.