05/02/2004

Benefits sanction scheme for offenders extended

A pilot exercise where offenders who breach their community sentences face losing benefits will be extended for another year, it has been announced.

An independent evaluation report on the sanctions policy tested in four pilot areas – Derbyshire, Hertfordshire, Teesside and West Midlands – showed that there has been a small (1.8%) increase in the number of people who complied with their community sentence because of the sanctions policy. This equates one less breach for every 50 community sentences given to those on the certain benefits.

The pilot scheme applies to recipients of Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance and specific training allowances, aged 18 to 59, and who have been referred to court for: a breach of a specified community sentence; a community rehabilitation order; a community punishment order; or a community punishment and rehabilitation order.

The period of sanction is four weeks, in which 100% of Jobseeker's Allowance is withdrawn and Income Support is reduced by 20% or 40% depending on the offender's circumstances.

The Home Office estimates that there are around 130,000 community sentences given in a year in England and Wales. Of these, around a quarter, or 35,000 cases a year are subject to breach action.

Work and Pensions Minister Chris Pond said: "These sanctions aim to reinforce the principle that the right to benefit brings with it responsibilities.

"We wanted to test whether the threat of losing benefits or having them reduced would have a deterrent effect on those who fail to comply with their community punishment orders.

"However the evaluation showed that both DWP and the Home Office need to do more work to improve the processes involved in the sanction policy and raise awareness of its potential impact."

The Correctional Services Minister, Paul Goggins said that the policy of benefit sanctions for offenders who breach community sentences was "innovative, and the evaluation has highlighted some lessons to be learnt".

(gmcg)

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