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Benefit sanction test case? DWP refund £300 to Salford worker stung by ‘illegal’ ruling

A Salford man who unlawfully had his out-of-work benefits axed has been refunded by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

In 2012 Simon Milne had his Jobseekers Allowance stopped for four weeks, without notice.

It left him in such a poor state that he was unable to buy food, let alone to pay for travel to get to job interviews.

Read: ‘Devastating’ benefit sanctions force crisis, hunger and despair, says latest Salford report

In a letter to Simon, the government department admitted they did not given him a fair chance to respond before fining him hundreds of pounds.

He received a DWP letter in November 2015 which stated: “A check of our records indicates that we may not have given you formal written notification of this decision.”

But they refused a refund, claiming he would have to provide evidence from four years ago that he had searched for work.

That’s where Salford’s Unemployed and Community Resource Centre stepped in.

The centre, on Liverpool Road in Eccles, has now put in Freedom of Information requests to find out how many other people in Salford could have been wrongly sanctioned.

It could mean Simon will be a test case for benefit sanctions disputes going forward.

Kester Dean, a volunteer advisor at the centre said: “Stopping somebody’s benefits can have catastrophic impacts so this was an extraordinary admission from the DWP.

“The sanction was clearly illegal as the law requires claimants to be warned of a possible sanction so they have the chance to present their case.

“Yet Simon apparently hadn’t even been given a written decision, let alone a warning, it was unbelievable”.

In a 9 June hearing at Manchester Civil Justice Centre it was decreed that that the steps the DWP took were illegal.

Simon says the situation caused him considerable stress: “The sanction delayed me starting work I had no money to go for interviews or for food, let alone clothes to look smart enough to go for a job.

“They said they would help you with travel but didn’t – it knocks you back so you have to rebuild confidence to move forward.”

The first thing many people know about a benefit sanction is that they run out of money with little or no warning, says centre manager Alec McFadden.

“Thousands of people across the region have been incorrectly sanctioned, this can severely damage vulnerable people’s mental health.

“Most sanctions are illegal and so should always be challenged.”

You can contact Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre on 0161 789 2999.

Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre was established in 1980, at a time when Britain was blighted with job losses and mass unemployment.

It continues its work today, campaigning, supporting, advising and representing unemployed and employed people.

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