Which? economist and former head of economics and social policy at influential centre-right think tank Policy Exchange, Matthew Oakley, concluded that the system is not fundamentally broken, but identified a number of areas where improvements need to be made, particularly for more vulnerable individuals.
Oakley reported that one area of concern that came up repeatedly through the review was the impact that adverse sanction decisions had on the receipt of housing benefit. Sanctions considered under the remit of the review should not impact on housing benefit, but the review team heard of instances where local authorities ended a claim for housing benefit after a sanction had been applied.
He recommended that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should work with local authorities to improve the coordination of their approach to delivering housing benefit for claimants who have been sanctioned. In the short-term, all letters and communications informing claimants of the application of a sanction should advise claimants already in receipt of housing benefit to contact their local authority about their claim.
Actions the government has agreed to implement include:
- setting up a specialist team to audit all communications including claimant letters, texts and emails and transform how claimants on all benefits are provided with information about their responsibilities and the support on offer – this team will take on board the latest academic research and innovations in private sector communications
- streamlining the checks and balances that are in place that give claimants the opportunity to provide evidence of why they haven’t complied with the rules
- clarifying guidance and updating the process in which claimants can access hardship payments once they have been sanctioned
- working more closely with local authorities to coordinate their approach to deliver housing benefit for claimants who have been sanctioned for not doing the right thing
- ensuring the contract that claimants sign up to in exchange for their benefits – the Claimant Commitment – in which they agree what they will do to get a job, can be shared with their provider throughout their time on a back to work scheme
- working with providers, stakeholders and advocates for groups to continuously explore alternative formats for all types of communications with claimants.
The government says it will take the recommendations from the Oakley review even further and roll out changes to other types of benefits where practicable.