Job centre targets hit benefits of thousands

THOUSANDS of Scottish jobseekers guilty of minor infringements of benefits regulations have had their allowances frozen by “overzealous” job centre staff eager to meet targets, a new report by Citizens Advice Scotland has claimed.

The consumer organisation has called for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to ensure that Jobcentre Plus staff do not use targets to impose “sanctions” on claimants. The move came after it emerged that the number of people who had their benefits cut after being found guilty of breaching rules rocketed by 459 per cent in two years.

A sanction means a Jobseeker’s Allowance benefit can be suspended for up to 26 weeks if the claimant is found to have broken the regulations laid out by the job centre.

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Citizens Advice Scotland claimed that Jobcentre Plus staff were implementing the sanctions too rigorously and interpreting the rules in a way which was counterproductive to the main aim of the organisation: to help jobseekers find work.

The DWP removed its “benchmark” figures for the number of people expected to be sanctioned by individual Jobcentre Plus offices earlier this year after officials were forced to admit that a “small number” of staff had interpreted the numbers as rigid targets, but Citizens Advice Scotland fears they could be eventually reintroduced.

People who receive benefits should comply with the jobseeker’s agreement they sign,” said Lucy McTernan, chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland. “That is not in dispute.

“Our concern here is that people who are genuinely seeking work are being sanctioned anyway, just to meet arbitrary targets.”

Among those who lost their vital benefits were a woman who had her benefit frozen for six weeks after failing to attend a job interview that she claims she had no knowledge of, and a man who had his Jobseeker’s Allowance frozen for three months after overlooking an application for one job suggested to him, despite applying for about ten jobs every week.