Category Archives: data

The relentless rise of JSA benefit sanctions


Sanction referrals 2003 – 2013. Data compiled from DWP Stat-Xplore website


There has been a dramatic rise in the number of sanctions against unemployed people over the past decade.

The figures, from data compiled from the DWP’s (Department of Work and Pensions) Stat-Xplore website show over 900,000 sanctions were issued in 2013, more than double the number applied in 2009 and almost four times the figure for 2004.

The decision to cut off a claimant’s benefits is called an ‘adverse’ decision by the DWP.

Each case is referred to a ‘decision maker‘ who decides whether a sanction should be applied or not.

‘Non-adverse’ decisions, where a person’s case was referred but it was decided not to apply a sanction, rose sharply in 2009 – 2010, by just over 200,000.

These cases have hovered around the half a million mark since 2010.

‘Reserved’ referrals, where the decision maker says a sanction should be applied, but where there is no current claim, have almost doubled from 53,026 in 2004 to 99,964 in 2012. There was a small drop in the number of these cases in 2013 to 95,087.

Cancelled sanction referrals have rocketed

‘Cancelled’ referrals have rocketed. In 2013 there were more than twelve times the number in 2004.

Most of this rise has occurred during the past few years. The number of cancelled referrals in 2013 is almost five times that in 2010.

The DWP define a ‘cancelled’ referral as one which:

“results in no sanction decision being made. This can occur in specific circumstances for example, the sanction referral has been made in error, the claimant stops claiming before they actually committed the sanctionable failure, or information requested by the Decision Maker was not made available within a specific time period.”

The DWP were asked to explain the increase in ‘cancelled’ decisions over the past few years but did not give a reason.

Dr David Webster, Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow, has done extensive research into sanctions. He said there has been no significant increase in cancellations of referrals by DWP’s own staff, but instead could be related to outsourcing practices.

“The rise in cancelled sanction referrals is almost entirely due to sanctions initiated by contractors, in the Work Programme and some other programmes such as Mandatory Work Activity and Work Experience.”

Dr Webster believes there are two reasons for the rise in cancelled referrals from contractors: mistakes made in paperwork submitted to the DWP; and that the DWP do not allow contractors to use their judgement when referring people for a sanction.

“Contractors are obliged to refer a claimant for sanction if they fail to meet any requirement at all, such as missing a single interview, even if the contractor well knows that there is a good reason.”

This means that even if a person on the Work Programme has informed the relevant people they have a hospital appointment or a funeral and won’t be able to make an appointment, they will still be referred for a sanction.

A DWP spokesman said:

“Sanctions are only used as a last resort in a small percentage of cases and our built-in safeguards allow for sanctions to be cancelled where necessary.

“In these cases claimants will not lose out on their benefit payment”.

A version of this article was originally posted on

How we did it: tracking overpayments to prisoners in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Yesterday we reported on how prisoners in Northern Ireland were being paid  £1.94 million in benefits they were not entitled to. In this post we explain the background to the story. Continue reading How we did it: tracking overpayments to prisoners in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Prisoners overpaid £2m in benefits in Northern Ireland

Prisoners in Northern Ireland have been paid £1.94 million in benefits over the last six years, despite not being entitled to them, according to data obtained by Help Me Investigate.

And “overpayments” to prisoners – the official term for paying benefits to those in prison – have increased by more than half in the last year for which figures were available.

Freedom of Information requests by Help Me Investigate reveal that the Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland (DSDNI) paid prisoners £198,299 in benefits in 2011, increasing to £307,501 in 2012.

Prisoners’ rights to benefits are suspended upon their criminal conviction. However, it is up to the Department of Justice or the prisoner to inform DSDNI of the conviction. Continue reading Prisoners overpaid £2m in benefits in Northern Ireland

In just 5 minutes you’ll know more about UK immigration than most of the public

In this post, originally published on Immigration and Services, Ajmeri Walele looks at the facts around immigration.

Non-UK born census populations 1951-2011 - ONS
Source: Office for National Statistics – click to see original

Since 1945, immigration in the United Kingdom has increased, in particular from the Republic of Ireland, but also from former colonies of the British Empire such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, Hong Kong and the Caribbean.

The latest data (PDF), gathered in December 2012, shows: Continue reading In just 5 minutes you’ll know more about UK immigration than most of the public

Benefit sanctions data to be released for first time on DWP stats site

dwp stat_explore

The Department for Work and Pensions statistics site Stat-Xplore will publish data on sanctions  for the first time next month Continue reading Benefit sanctions data to be released for first time on DWP stats site

Single parents in benefits storm – Gingerbread’s data

With rising prices on one side and falling benefits on the other, have single parents been disproportionately hit by welfare reforms? Gingerbread, the charity supporting lone parents, believes so.

Their online survey ‘Paying the price:single parents in the age of austerity (pdf)’ asked a number of questions about meeting rising living costs, with 591 single parents replying between July and September 2013.

HMI Welfare have obtained the online survey data results here  Continue reading Single parents in benefits storm – Gingerbread’s data

Get the data: prosecution and benefit fraud

The Telegraph and Daily Mail both report today on the number of benefit fraud cases that fail to result in prosecutions, following a parliamentary question from the Conservative MP Richard Fuller.

The stories include some important context for the figures and anyone looking to report on them, including new guidelines, which according to The Telegraph:

“[Mean] suspects can be charged under the Fraud Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and the abolition of the financial threshold which prevented benefit fraud cases of less than £20,000 from being sent to crown court.”

The data behind the stories does not cover sentencing under the new guidelines – but future years will. Continue reading Get the data: prosecution and benefit fraud

Get the UCU data: further education zero hour contracts

Sixty-one percent of further education colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have teaching staff on zero-hour contracts, according to the University and Colleges Union (UCU).

200 colleges responded to Freedom of Information requests from UCU. A further 75 failed to reply within the 4 weeks required by the Freedom of Information Act.

We’ve obtained the UCU FE data (published here) that shows the numbers of teaching staff or assistant staff per college on zero hour contracts and how the contracts are used in the industry. Continue reading Get the UCU data: further education zero hour contracts

Get the UCU data: higher education zero hour contracts

We’ve been reporting on the use of zero hour contracts in higher education, following FOI requests by the University and Colleges Union (UCU). Of 162 requests sent by the UCU, 142 replied.

Edinburgh and Glasgow universities – both members of the Russell research group which attracts billions in grants – and the Royal College of Art are among the elite institutions using zero hour contracts.

Understanding the HE FOI data:

The HE employees are divided into three groups:

  • teaching staff,
  • researchers, and
  • academic support services (for example librarians, administration, or computing).

The first column gives the total number of employees on zero-hour contracts in that institution. The three beige columns on the right break this down into teachers/lecturers (T), researchers (R), and academic support (AR). Between the two are staffing numbers according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Teachers at top universities on zero hour contracts

Four of the UK’s top universities are among those employing the most lecturers on zero hour contracts leading to insecure and uncertain work.

Research from University and Colleges Union (UCU) shows Bath, Edinburgh, Lancaster and Glasgow universities together employ 5,500 teachers, researchers or academic services staff with no guarantee of work.

When contacted some universities were quick to qualify their use:

  • Lancaster University said the contracts were only for students.
  • At Cambridge where they have 83 staff on zero hours, a spokesperson said in a statement they were only used in very specific situations:

“Typically, such contracts are used for seasonal work, and are advantageous to employees who are taking a second job that they need to fit around other commitments, or students wishing to do some flexible working alongside their studies.”

Fourteen of the top twenty universities in the Complete University Guide for 2014 are using zero hour contracts. Only London School of Economics (LSE), Exeter, York, Leicester, University of Birmingham and King’s College London do not. An LSE spokesman said:

“LSE has not and does not employ any staff on formal zero hours contracts of employment.”

Locations of the twenty Higher Education institutions with the most zero hour contracts.

More than 1 in 8 of those employed in higher education survive on zero hour contracts, the University and College Union (UCU) survey shows.

Of those in teaching or research it is almost 1 in 6.

The data shows that of 141 HE institutions, more than half use zero hour contracts.

Back in May, on learning about the spread and impact for its members, UCU began making Freedom of Information requests to find out how widely the contracts were used. 87% of institutions responded.

The survey defines zero hour contracts in use in Higher Education (HE) as an arrangement where the employer has no obligation to offer work or guarantee a minimum number of hours.

After seven years in higher education, for example, a PhD student on a zero hour contract would have no security of income. Visiting lecturer Carrie Dunn wrote about the high workload and the insecurity this brings.

Some say the unpredictability of research grants and lecturers on sabbaticals demands flexibility but those facing sudden drops in hours may have been unaware of their terms when they radically altered without warning. As an alternative, centres have offered short term or minimum hour contracts.

Since the UCU survey, Edinburgh University has agreed to stop using zero hour contracts and signed an agreement with UCU after the survey revealed they were the worst employers having the highest number on zero hours at 2712.

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