Category Archives: Tips and tutorials

What are benefit sanctions? Explainer

In October 2012 the government made the rules stricter for people out of work and claiming benefits. Since the new rules came into effect more people than ever before have been sanctioned.

What does it mean if someone is ‘sanctioned’?

Being sanctioned means your money is stopped.

People out of work and looking for a job claim Jobseeker’s Allowance. This provides £72.40 a week to live on. 16 to 24 year olds receive less: £57.35 a week.

A sanction is when an unemployed person is deemed to have broken their ‘jobseekers agreement‘. Since April this has been called the Claimant Commitment.

If they are deemed to have broken that commitment their Jobseeker’s Allowance is stopped for a certain period of time.

However, many people have been sanctioned for frivolous reasons. And a significant proportion of those sanctioned have successfully appealed against sanctions. The Guardian reported earlier this year that:

In recent months 58% of those who wanted to overturn DWP sanction decisions in independent tribunals have been successful. Before 2010, the success rate of appeals was 20% or less.

How long can you be sanctioned for?

A sanction lasts for a minimum of four weeks. That means at least a month with no money whatsoever. If you are sanctioned twice in the same year it will be for a minimum of thirteen weeks – so three months with no money at all.

At the other end of the spectrum the longest amount of time a person can lose their money for is three years.

This useful chart gives an overview of the sanctions regime.

jobseekers allowance sanctions

Why does this happen?

When someone starts claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance they sign an agreement. This document is either called a Jobseeker’s Agreement or a Claimant Commitment.

If the job centre decides you have broken one of the rules or not stuck to everything you signed up for they are likely to sanction you.

Here are some things a person can be sanctioned for:

  • Failing to apply for or accept a job that is offered
  • Failing to attend a compulsory training or employment scheme
  • Not applying for the required number of jobs
  • Not following a direction from a Jobcentre Plus adviser
  • Failing to attend, or arriving late for an appointment at the Jobcentre
  • Leaving a job voluntarily

A version of this post was originally published at

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

25 Twitter accounts to follow in 2014 on welfare reform – numbers 11-25

We’ve compiled a list of 25 useful Twitter accounts if you want to follow welfare reform. Yesterday we revealed the first 10 – here are the other 15…

11.Samuel Miller @Hephaestus7

Disability specialist Samuel Miller is taking the government to court in The Hague over possible crimes to humanity.

12. Real Life Reform @RealLifeReform

This northern housing consortium is running an eighteen month study tracking how people are living and coping with welfare reform across the north of England from April 2013 to October 2014. Real Life Reform are bringing together case studies of social housing tenants to capture not only the financial but also the human impact. Continue reading 25 Twitter accounts to follow in 2014 on welfare reform – numbers 11-25

25 Twitter accounts to follow in 2014 on welfare reform – the first 10

We’ve compiled a list of 25 useful Twitter accounts if you want to follow welfare reform. In this post we reveal the first 10…

1. Joseph Rowntree Fdn.  @jrf_uk,   @Helen_Barnard

Helen Barnard is Research Programme Manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), the social research policy charity of Quaker origins.

The JRF conducts a range of research into welfare issues, and created the MIS, the Minimum Income Standard, estimating what is an adequate income based on what the public believe to be minimum living standards.

2. ResolutionFoundation @resfoundation

Living standards report Look out for the launch of their study The State of Living Standards 2014 on February 11th. Continue reading 25 Twitter accounts to follow in 2014 on welfare reform – the first 10

5 ways to find Twitter accounts covering the welfare field (or any other)

We’ve been compiling a list of people on Twitter to follow on welfare-related issues. Here’s how we did it:

(If you need to know how to create a Twitter list, see Twitter’s guide)

1. Search Twitter biographies only

The quickest way to kick off your Twitter list is to search Twitter biographies for users who mention the areas you’re interested in.

Twitter tool FollowerWonk has a facility for searching biographies on the site – make sure you select “search Twitter bios only” from the drop-down menu.

Try a range of terms: ‘welfare’ is normally used by those in official positions (or ‘social security’ in the US); ‘housing’ is a more specific term, as is ‘homeless’ or ‘homelessness’, ‘poverty’ and even ‘social’ (as in ‘social inclusion’).

You might want to look for users who mention an interest in specific issues like ‘bedroom tax’ or ‘workfare’, too, or organisations like Atos, A4e, and DWP.

For search methods and similar tools read this post on Search Engine People.

2. Browse Twitter directories

There are a number of directories for Twitter users. WeFollow works well with a general search for welfare but adding location seems to exclude a lot of relevant results.

Twellow allows you to narrow down to the United Kingdom, and particular cities, which helps exclude US results, but there doesn’t appear to be a way to use keywords and location together.

There are categories but these are very US-centric – so, no welfare or benefits, and the categories for ‘low cost housing’ and ‘affordable housing‘ bring up too many irrelevant results.

If you find a more effective directory please let us know!

3. Find related lists

It’s likely that someone else has already created a Twitter list covering the same or a related area. One way to find these is to look at the users you’ve already found and see what lists they’ve been added to.

You can find these by going to the Twitter user’s profile page and clicking on Lists to the left and then selecting Member of in the middle. The resulting URL should look like this:

…but with the username instead of USERNAME. Shiv Malik‘s list memberships, for example can be found at

You can also try to search Twitter lists. However, a number of tools that used to allow you to search these are no longer operating, so you’ll have to resort to some clever use of Google. 

Try the following search:*/lists/ inurl:YOURKEYWORD

…and replace YOURKEYWORD with what you’re looking for (note that there is no space after the colon).

For example, with the keyword welfare it would look like this:*/lists/ inurl:welfare

Sadly that only produces one result, because the list has to be called ‘welfare’ exactly – so this list wouldn’t match the search.

You can try omitting the “lists” part and using wildcards (asterisks) around your key term instead: inurl:/*welfare*

Or try broadening the search to something like this (replacing the phrase with your own):*/lists/ "bedroom tax"

This will bring back any list pages where one of the tweets mentions that term. Obviously this depends on what people are tweeting about at that moment in time.

4. Search discussions and hashtags

As you start to follow people in your field, you’ll come across some terms and hashtags repeatedly. In welfare for example people will be talking about the bedroom tax, welfare reform, universal credit, housing, benefits, and other issues.

You can search for these on Twitter itself, or use Google with the phrase (note no space after the colon) which limits results to Twitter.

Make sure you use quotes to get exact phrases only – e.g. “bedroom tax” will ensure you don’t get results that mention both words in separate places.

Hashtags of the same phrases are worth trying too: #bedroomtax and #welfarereform, for example are both widely used instead of the full phrase.

You can also try prefixing general terms with ‘uk’ – #ukhousing, for example, is often used by those within the UK housing industry to distinguish their discussions from those elsewhere.

Watch out for scheduled live chats too – #CABlive, for example, is used for discussions between citizens advice bureaus – and campaigns, like #PaydayWatch.

After your initial search it’s worth trying again occasionally – you can set up regular updates for a search using Twitter tools like Tweetdeck.

You can also use a tool like to find hashtags related to ones you already know.

Top 10 hashtags related to #welfarereform on can help you identify new tags related to one you know

5. Following followers

Finally, look at the people you’ve already found and who they’re following and listing.

When you’re logged in to the Twitter website it normally shows a box on each profile page showing ‘similar accounts’, but clicking on ‘Following’ and ‘Followers’ will give you more suggestions – or you can just add those words to the Twitter account URL: a list of accounts that Patrick Butler is following can be found at, for example

Accounts that one Twitter account is following
Looking the the accounts that one charity is following can lead you to a range of sources: here are politicians, campaigners, researchers, organisations and media

Do you have any other tips on finding relevant Twitter accounts to follow? Please let us know in the comments on @hmiwelfare

How to keep track of welfare issues part 3: data and documents

In the first part of this series I looked at bringing general news sources and blogs into one place; in the second I looked at social media discussions. This final part looks at how to know what government departments are saying and doing, even if no one is reporting it.

Data and documents provide some of the most useful leads for reporting: they tell you what the government is doing, and what it is being forced to reveal.

It’s important to understand that much of the information revealed by official government websites are the result of scrutiny by opposition politicians and Freedom of Information requests. This is how to find out when they do. Continue reading How to keep track of welfare issues part 3: data and documents

How to keep track of welfare issues part 2: case studies and context

In the first part of this series we looked at bringing general news sources and blogs into one place. In this part we look to another important source: social media discussions.

Social media discussions contain three types of information: news updates you haven’t seen elsewhere; expertise (analysis and insights, for example); and personal experience (case studies).

Here’s how to add them to your Netvibes dashboard:

Context, analysis and case studies: social media discussion

If you haven’t read Part 1, go here and read it now – it contains instructions on how to get started with Netvibes you’ll need to follow first.

Done? OK. That post mentioned the Netvibes ‘Essentials’ menu a couple of times – another option there is the Twitter search.

This is useful for bringing social media discussions into your netvibes feeds.

netvibes twitter search

The key thing here is to keep the search specific by using quotation marks – or by using hashtags. Continue reading How to keep track of welfare issues part 2: case studies and context

How to compile a news feed on welfare issues (or any other) – part 1: what’s going on?

Earlier this week we published our list of 19 places to follow welfare developments. In the first of a three-part serieswe explain how to get your own list of useful feeds into one page, and share it with others.

Step 1: Use a ‘personalisable homepage’ news reader like Netvibes or Feedly

There are a number of services that allow you to follow multiple sources of news at the same time – often called ‘news readers’ or ‘RSS readers’. I used Netvibes for compile this list, because you can share those lists with other people, but you may have another preference (Feedly and Flipboard are also nice, but currently don’t have the same option). The video below is just one of many providing an introduction to Netvibes:

Follow the instructions above on creating an account with Netvibes and adding feeds.

If you want your feeds page to be seen by others

If you want your feeds to be public, however, you’ll need to enable the public dashboard first. To do this: Continue reading How to compile a news feed on welfare issues (or any other) – part 1: what’s going on?

19 places to get updates on welfare reform

If you want to keep track of what’s happening in welfare reform we’ve compiled this list of some of the most useful – and varied – sources on everything from the bedroom tax to child poverty.

We’ve also put together a dashboard if you want to follow these on a single easy-to-check webpage. You can follow a public version here, or add it to Netvibes here.

Here’s who we’ve added – can you think of others?

1. The Guardian – topic: welfare

The Guardian is the UK newspaper that invests the most in covering welfare issues.

Their website allows you to follow specific topics such as ‘benefits‘ (within the Society section), as well as individual journalists, such as Patrick ButlerBut we’ve picked the general ‘politics – welfare’ topic first because it sometimes includes stories written by other journalists that aren’t classified under either of the other. 

This story on Nick Clegg’s criticism of child benefit policy, for example, comes under ‘child benefit’ rather than ‘benefits’, and is written by a politics reporter – but it does still come under the welfare topic.

2. Inside Housing: news

With so little specialist coverage in the press, specialist magazines are often a better place to look for welfare-related news. Continue reading 19 places to get updates on welfare reform

How to find new leads in an old news report on empty property

empty property in Croydon - image by United Diversity
empty property in Croydon – image by United Diversity

Background material and general reporting on an area can often provide all sorts of clues and leads for further, deeper investigation.

This piece from the Birmingham Mail is a particularly good example. On the surface it is a rather general report on an empty property in the city – but along the way it includes all sorts of helpful pointers if you want to dig further. Continue reading How to find new leads in an old news report on empty property