Charities have condemned the “outrageous” decision to deny some vulnerable Britons the emergency cost of living payment over benefit sanctions.
The first £326 payment was supposed to be given to around 8 million people in receipt of means-tested state benefits in July – but it emerged that some on Universal Credit have missed out.
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) guidance for JobCentre staff told them to refuse the one-off payment to some who have been sanctioned, according to The Mirror.
The guidance is said to have told staff that those who Universal Credit was stopped due to a sanction during the “qualifying period” this spring – saying they “will not be entitled to a cost of living payment”.
Sanctions – which can see Universal Credit payments cut or stopped – can be imposed if staff decide they “fail to take all reasonable actions to find paid work”.
Mark Winstanley, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said the government had to rethink the “outrageous” decision to allow the special payment to be withheld while energy bills and food prices soar.
“This decision compounds the distress sanctions cause, inflicting significant damage on people’s mental health,” said the charity leader.
Winstanley added: “The DWP must urgently review this decision and administer the cost-of-living payment to those affected as soon as possible to prevent unnecessary suffering and harm.”
Green party peer Natalie Bennett said it was “utterly indefensible – people who’ll have most desperate need of the help denied it”.
Marc Francis from the anti-poverty group Z2K Trust also urged the DWP to reconsider penalising those who have problems with their Universal Credit claim.
He said: “These one-off payments are designed first and foremost to ensure people aren’t left unable to afford to put food on the table food or freezing in their homes.”
Sanctions are a regular occurance for many on Univeral Credit. The latest available government figures show that just over 78,000 claimants (3.9 per cent) had a sanction in February – over double the 31,000 recorded two years ago.
Francis said the sanctions’ regime was “notoriously over-zealous”, and left many people without any money for weeks on end – saying it was one reason why so many are turning to the food banks.
Food bank managers have told The Independent running out of sufficient supply of food amid an “overwhelming” surge of new people falling into hardship.
It comes as the latest official figures show that real wages fell at a record rate of 3 per cent between April and June as inflation slashed the value of workers’ pay.
And food inflation has jumped to 11.6 per cent in the four weeks to early August – adding £533 to the average supermarket bill, according to Research firm Kantar.
Millions of Britons in receipt of benefits are entitled to receive a £650 cost of living grant under former chancellor Rishi Sunak’s plans, with the second instalment of £324 due to go out in the autumn.
But Sunak and his Tory leadership rival Liz Truss continue argue about the kind of extra support that should be available to ease energy bills in the autumn and winter.
Sunak has suggested he is considering further direct payments of around £5bn for the most vulnerable if he wins the Tory leadership contest. But Truss has yet to commit to any further “handouts”.
She is now said to be considering whether the existing £400 government discount on energy bills this autumn – aimed at helping all households in the UK – could be better targeted.
She could stop the planned £400 payment going to “high earners”, according to reports, with Treasury minister Simon Clarke, a key Truss supporter, saying it was “pretty odd” that wealthy people would also benefit.
The Independent has approached the DWP for comment.