Benefit sanctions

Date 1 September 2017
Date updated 12 October 2017

Benefit sanctions over time

What does this chart show?

The number of JSA sanctions by age, the total number of ESA sanctions from 2009 onwards and Universal Credit sanctions from 2015 onwards. Benefit sanctions are imposed when a claimant fails to comply with the conditions of a benefit without a reason that the DWP finds acceptable. Thus they only apply to the parts of benefits with conditions attached, such as JSA, or the Work-Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance (people in the work-related activity group are not expected to actively seek and apply for work, but they are expected to carry out some activities).

Under UC, they do not apply to the housing element of the benefit. They vary in length and severity depending on the benefit and why the claimant is being sanctioned. For JSA, 100% of benefit is lost for between four weeks up to a maximum of three years. Under ESA, it is a lower proportion and for a maximum of four weeks. 

Sanctions under Universal Credit differ in terms of length and severity depending on what work requirements are given to the claimant, with those with no work-related requirements not receiving sanctions. For example, if a UC claimant was receiving the standard allowance of £73.34 a week in 2017/18 for a person in the ‘All work-related requirement group’, they could be sanctioned 100% of this amount, but not sanctioned for any housing component they are receiving. 

 In 2016, the number of JSA sanctions received was 22,000, the lowest number since 2001. This is partly but not wholly due to a fall in the number of people in London receiving JSA. The number of JSA sanctions was fairly steady from 2001 to 2004 until 2005 when they began to climb. They reached an all-time high in 2012 at 130,000. In 2016 the sanction rate for JSA, which is the number of sanctions divided by the number of JSA claimants per month, was 2%. This is the lowest level since 2005 and in the early to mid-2000s the rate was around 1%. In 2010, 2012 and 2013 the sanction rate was as high as 5%.

More sanctions were received by younger age groups than older ones. The number of sanctions received by 16 to 24-year-olds is the highest of any age group in every year. 

The number of ESA sanctions is small compared with the number of JSA sanctions. At their peak in 2014 there were 6,200 ESA sanctions compared with 79,000 JSA sanctions. In 2016 the number of ESA sanctions had dropped to 1,500. In 2014, the high point for the number of ESA sanctions, the sanction rate was 1%. The rate now is 0.3%.

In 2016 the number of UC sanctions received was 16,000. This is the only full year of data for UC sanctions that is available. This is less than the number of JSA sanctions for that year but there were also fewer UC claimants. The sanction rate for UC in 2016 was 6%. This is higher than the JSA sanction rate has ever been. 

The total number of sanctions (ESA, UC and JSA) has fallen to 40,000 in London, suggesting this is no longer a problem affecting a large proportion of out-of-work benefit claimants, as it has been in recent years. There has been a similar fall in the rest of England. This may not remain the case as UC is rolled out if the UC sanction rate does not come down.