As promised last night, the SKWAWKBOX has been looking further into conflicting reports from DWP insiders concerning the WRAG (work-related activity group) category into which the government, more or less arbitrarily, places some disability benefit claimants and the possibility of sanctions after a fixed period of two years under the Universal Credit (UC) system if claimants have not found work.
Some activists insisted that this was part of the UC system and this was initially confirmed by long-term DWP employees. Others subsequently disputed it. The only thing all were agreed on was that the rules are ill-conceived and extremely confusing.
The SKWAWKBOX contacted a PCS union official who specialises in UC for clarification and received this response:
I’ve been looking at the regulations and I can’t find anything that refers specifically to a fixed time limit in which to find employment.
The ‘disabled’ argument, as I’m sure you are aware, is notorious because ultimately the Department through the provide contractors are essentially able to define who is fit or not for work.
For example, a claimant maybe moved from ESA to UC on the back of a WCA [Work Capability Assessment]. The claimant may disagree with the decision but they are stuck.
If they are adamant they are not fit for work, they could refuse employment in an environment they believe will affect their health. This is where the sanction process comes in – a 13wk, 26wk and 156wk sanction could apply (although similar regs existed prior to UC and the 2012 Welfare Reform Act if not as harsh or severe).
In this case you’re looking at failure to apply, not accepting work or leaving on one’s own accord. Their argument is they aren’t fit, the department will still look at sanctions.
The sanction regime is clearly arbitrary, deeply unfair and dangerous – but there is no rule mandating a fixed time-limit for a claimant to find work.
However, another PCS/DWP source warned that while the rules don’t include such a limit, the way they are applied may not be as clear cut:
I can tell you that we have received complaints from WRAG claimants about having their ESA revoked after two years. And now they are treated as JSA claimants because they are ‘fit for work but not necessarily their precious occupation(s)’.
Sanctions have been applied because the claimant has not fulfilled their requirement to find work. The purpose of the WRAG was to enable people to return to work despite being disabled, but this component has now been removed as WRAG claimants are now treated as jobseekers.
Other WRAG claimants have been booted off ESA or the sickness element of UC after a period of two years because they failed their WCA – a deliberate decision to bully them back to work. They can appeal, but if unsuccessful then they are subject to jobseeker commitments – and sanctions if they fail to demonstrate that they are actively seeking work.
There are no automatic sanctions, but there does appear to be a de facto use of a 2-year period as a trigger for moves to manoeuvre or bully claimants into a position where they are subject to sanctions if they do not meet arbitrary conditions.
This may be the source of the initial confusion of the reports the SKWAWKBOX received independently from DWP/recent-DWP employees. If you are subjected to this treatment, it is not in accordance with UC rules, so challenge it. Seek help to do so if needed.
As far as there is a definitive answer, this appears to be it.
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