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Welfare Rights Cases

The Centre specialises in appeals to the First Tier Tribunal (Social Security and Asylum Support), Upper Tribunal, and Judicial Review cases.  Frontline workers can telephone for consultancy on welfare rights issues on Tuesdays between 10am and 1pm and Wednesdays between 10am and 3pm.

Our welfare rights service is funded by Southwark Council, Southwark Tenants Fund and United St. Saviours Charity (USTS)

The project funded by USTS is focused on supporting residents in the North of the Borough migrating onto Universal Credit

Examples of cases we may take on

  • Judicial Reviews such as cases involving unreasonable delay, unreasonable requests for documents (for example - the documents do not exist) breach of a statutory duty, or decisions with no appeal rights
  • Appeals on a point of law to the Upper Tribunal or Court of Appeal
  • Cases involving the right to reside, habitual residence test or issues of European law
  • Complex cases or cases including current legal issues such as the Bedroom Tax or benefit cap cases
  • Benefit problems for asylum seekers including NASS applications or appeals
  • Appeals to the First Tier Tribunals. These could involve underpayment, overpayment and refusal of Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance, Disablement Benefits
  • Housing Benefit Problems including revisions and supersessions
  • Social Fund Reviews
  • Council Tax Reduction problems, for example - overpayments and  underpayments
  • Disputes and appeals regarding Tax Credit Awards including overpayments and underpayments

Cases we cannot deal with

  • Form filling, renewal claims, social fund applications, child support cases. social security fraud and criminal matters

For more information and to find more advice please click here.

Universal Credit FAQs

Click here for frequently asked questions on Universal Credit.

Please contact sally.causer@southwarklaw centre.org.uk if your organisation or Tenants group would like a workshop on Universal Credit issues.




Everyone who claims Universal Credit is placed in one of 4 conditionality groups based on their circumstances. These are as follows:

1)No work related requirements

You are placed in this group if you are:

* above your earnings threshold (usually 35 X National Minimum Wage. £7.50 if over 25 rising to £7.83 in April)

*have LCWRA

*are responsible for a child under 1

*have reached PC age but your partner has not

*are pregnant and within 11 weeks of expected week of childbirth

* are an adopter in first year

* are a young person with no parental support in full time non advanced education.

* are a carer with substantial caring responsibilities

 2) Work Focussed Interview requirement only

You will be placed in this group if :

* you are responsible for a child over 1 and under 2 ( if you are part of a couple your partner will be placed in their own group)

* you became a friend or family carer within the last 12 months

  3) Work Preparation requirement- this involves getting ready for work by attending training  courses, preparing a cv, attending the Work Programme etc.

You will be placed in this group if:

* you have limited capability for work (LCW)

* you are responsible for a child over 2 and under 3.

4) All work-related requirements

Everyone else is required to look for and be available for work. Normally this is full time work   of 35 hours per week unless you have caring responsibilities or health problems.


The latest published DWP statistics show that 6.9% of Universal Credit claimants were being sanctioned in March 2017. JSA and ESA sanctions were at a much lower level 0.4% and 0.3% respectively. 69% of Universal Credit sanctions related to Work Focussed Interviews and   18% to availability for work. (See appendix 1).

I gather 4.7% of Universal Credit claimants were being sanctioned in November 2017, although by then the number of claimants had risen substantially. Some former work coaches have indicated that there is an unofficial 4-5% target within the DWP.

Transitional regulations provide for sanctions to carry over when claimants move to UC from ESA and JSA, but the situation in less clear where there is a move form a live service to full service area.

In February 2017 a Public Accounts Committee report expressed concern about the wide variation in the number of sanctions decisions across the country, and the fact that the DWP did not know how many vulnerable clients were being successfully protected from inappropriate sanctions. A recent study indicated that disabled people were 53% more likely to be sanctioned than non-disabled people.

The latest DWP statistics show that 72% of mandatory reconsideration requests re sanction decisions do not result in a changed decision, but that 81% of appeals are successful!

There are 4 bands of sanctions which apply to different groups

1)High Level Sanctions (UC and JSA only)     Sanction period 91,182 or 1095 days

Failing to apply for or to accept paid work

Ceasing paid work or losing pay for specified reasons

2)Medium Level Sanctions (UC and JSA only) Sanction period 28 or 91 days

       Failing to be available for work or to take all reasonable steps to get paid work

      3)Low Level Sanctions (UC,JSA and ESA) Sanction period until compliance with a requirement plus 7,14 or 28 days

Failing to meet a work focussed interview requirement

Failing to meet a requirement connected to a work related requirement

Failing to meet a work preparation

Failing to take a particular action to get paid work (UC and JSA only

4)Lowest Level Sanctions (UC and ESA only, where claimant is subject to only a WFI requirement) Sanction period until compliance with a requirement

Failing to meet a work focussed interview requirement

Multiple sanctions take effect consecutively. You cannot be sanctioned for more than 3 years but otherwise there is no limit. If you offend again within 2 - 52 weeks the second sanction will normally be for a longer period.

Amount of Sanctions

For Universal Credit the daily reduction is normally the amount of the standard allowance that applies to you (or 50% if you are part of a couple). However it is only 40% of this if during the relevant assessment period you are 16/17, only have to meet a WFI requirement, have a child under 1, are pregnant and within 11 weeks of the expected birth, or had a baby not more than 15 weeks ago.

For JSA and ESA it is 100% of the personal allowance.

You may be able to claim a Hardship Payment representing 60% of the daily deduction rate when you are sanctioned although these are loans and have to be repaid.

See CPAG Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook for more details on sanctions (chapter 48) and hardship payments (chapter 51)


ESA is subject to two forms of conditionality Work Focussed Interviews (WFI’s) and the Work Preparation requirement.

You are exempt from WFI’s if you are in the ESA support group, are a single parent with a child under 1, or are starting or resuming work and a WFI would be unlikely to assist you.

You are exempt from the Work Preparation requirement if you are in the support group, are a single parent with a child under 3 or are in receipt of carers allowance or the ESA carers premium


Once you claimed ESA (IB) you were treated as having limited capability for work until the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) had been completed, providing you submitted medical certificates and had not failed the WCA (and not successfully challenged the decision) within the last 6 months. While the WCA is pending therefore you generally do not have to look for work, although you do have to attend work focussed interviews (WFI’s).

However, the rules are different for Universal Credit.  If you have not been found not to have limited capability for workYou can be sick for two periods of up to 14 days in any rolling 12 month period and work availability requirements have to be removed . After this, whilst you are waiting for the WCA work availability requirements generally do not have to be removed, although there are discretionary powers to do so. On the other hand, if you have been found fit for work before and the medical evidence submitted is substantially the same as provided during the earlier assessment work availability requirements only have to be switched off if you have been referred for another WCA assessment.

There are a number of other situations where it is compulsory to switch off work availability and work related activities requirements, and a number of situations where this is discretionary (see appendix 2)


The HWC is a compulsory interview which was introduced for new ESA claimants in April 2017 and was extended to UC in the autumn.

It is compulsory because it has been introduced as a Work Focussed Interview (WFI) You can be sanctioned for not attending a WFI without good cause, or not fully participating, but not for failing subsequently to do anything you agreed to do at the meeting.

What you are required to do to participate in a WFI is defined in law for ESA (see reg 57 ESA Regulations 2008 attached) Claimants are not specifically required to divulge their health problems by the legislation.

Claimants will be contacted at around the 4 week stage of their ESA claim by their work coach and asked to turn up 10 minutes before the interview to complete an “About Me” questionnaire, which asks questions such as how does your health affect your life and your ability to work. After this has been discussed with the work coach claimants are asked to complete a “My 4 steps” exercise detailing something they want to do. Some claimants will be asked to complete a “My values” exercise before they do this. This is an indication that the work coach is considering sanctioning you.   Finally claimants will be asked to create a “Labour Market system Action Plan” a list of 2/3 things they can do to move closer to goals that relate to work or health.

Dave Ohlson Southwark Law Centre         dave.ohlson@southwarklawcentre.org.uk


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