Monstrous unfairness of benefit sanctions Prime Minister must look below headline statistics to tackle inequalities

20 October 2018

The monstrous unfairness of benefit sanctions 

PM must look below the statistics to tackle the inequalities of income, wealth, health & administration of justice 

The Prime Minister ( Guardian If Theresa May is serious about inequality she will ditch Osborneomics) must look below the headline statistics to tackle the dire inequalities of income, wealth, health and the administration of justice she has inherited.

I helped John Smith, name changed, through the traumatic aftermath of a benefit sanction.

Three powerful government department​s had descended on a single unemployed adult with a history of depression. The DWP stopped his income and the DCLG/Local authority enforced rent and council tax arrears, and the MOJ enforced a TV licence fine, all with threats of eviction, the bailiffs and prison. 

During a three month sanction the unmanageble debts pile up.  When it ends they are enforced against a totally inedequate £73.10 a week JSA. He was then told his block of flats was due for demolition. He was speaking about his thoughts of throwing himself off the balcony of his 5th floor council flat. 

These extreme punishments imposed by the State, extending to over a year due to the enforcement of debts, were totally disproportionate to the offence of missing an appointment. John Smith did not receive a fair trial at the Jobcentre.

When the bailiffs called on John Smith I told them I was taking the case back the the Magistrates Court - this is the case I put to them - they remitted £135 fine and dismissed the bailiffs. 

To the Magistrates Highbury Corner  - Magistrates Court

9 March 2015

John Smith. Tottenham.

We are asking you for a statutory declaration or the remission of  £135 fine in full on the following grounds that.

The fine should never have been imposed, he is a vulnerable person as described by the Ministry of Justice; he also cannot afford to pay.

  1. Mr John Smith has no record of ever being fined.
  2. The first he heard of the fine was when the Bailiffs called to tell him he had been fined for TV licence evasion demanding £445 down at 7.30 in the morning.
  3. He protested that was impossible because the TV licence authority representative had frequently told him he was not liable because his TV set is only used for games and DVDs.  He does not require a TV licence. He has no TV or broadband account. Two men from the TV licencing authority have inspected his flat and agreed with him.
  4. He called PN at 8am the same morning who informed Marston about Mr John Smith’s circumstances and they agreed to suspend the bailiff action.
  5. Mr Smith has a long history of anxiety and depression and has been treated in the NHS psychological services. 
  6. On the 1st January 2014 he was sanctioned for three months for attending an interview on the wrong day. 
  7. His housing and council tax benefits were stopped creating rent and council tax arrears. He is still paying off rent arears at £10 every two weeks out of his £72.40 a week adult unemployment benefit (ESA).
  8. It was after the sanction that NHS psychological services referred him for 12 fifty minute sessions of therapy.
  9. He received a letter from Haringey Council this week giving notice of intended demolition of the block of flats where he lives.
  10. His means statement is attached.
  11. The court’s attention is drawn to Joseph Rowntree minimum food standard for a healthy diet of £43 a week and the impossibility of buying such a diet and all other necessities on £72.40 a week which will be raised by 1% on April 1st  2015 to £73.10.
  12. Mr Smith’s mental health is not improved by debt.

The court’s attention is drawn to the link between debt and mental health problems, which has been reported on by the Government Office for Science and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.


One in four people has a mental health problem

One in four people with a mental health problem is in debt

One in two people in debt have a mental health problem

Debt may be a cause and a consequence of mental health problems

Royal College of Psychiatrists

We also draw the attention of the court to the Taking Control of Goods; National Standards (sections 70-78) published by the Ministry of Justice in April 2014. It states;

“Enforcement agents/agencies and creditors must recognise that they each have a role in ensuring that the vulnerable and socially excluded are protected and that the recovery process includes procedures agreed between the agent/agency and creditor about how such situations should be dealt with”

He then got an agency job on a zero hours contract.

He worked the first month earning £1009.35.There was no work in the second month for which Uinversal Credit paid him £0.01 paid into his bank by the DWP. The debts continued to pile up. 

Rev Paul Nicolson, 93 Campbell Road, Tottenham, N17 0BF