Information from Child Poverty Action Group:
You can be required to attend a ‘work-focussed interview’ (WFI) with a DWP work coach or Work Programme personal adviser to discuss your job prospects and barriers to work if you or your partner are claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), incapacity benefit (IB), income support (IS) on the basis of incapacity or being a lone parent, or your partner is getting income-based jobseeker’s allowance (JSA). The rules are set out on p1080-1084 of the Handbook.
If you are claiming JSA, you are normally required to attend regular interviews with an employment officer (‘work coach’) at the Jobcentre in order to ‘sign on’ and / or to show that you are available for and actively seeking work. These are not technically ‘work focussed interviews’, but the rules and tactical issues which arise are similar to WFIs, so for the purposes of this section, these are also referred to as WFIs. The rules are set out on pages 1072-7 of the Handbook.
You can be sanctioned for failing to take part in a WFI. The rules are set out in Chapter 50 of the Handbook. If you are claiming JSA and fail to participate in an interview without a ‘good reason’, the sanction is four weeks loss of JSA (13 weeks for a subsequent sanction within 52 weeks). Note that if you fail to ‘sign on’ for JSA, your entitlement can stop – see p1075 of the Handbook.
If you are claiming ESA, the sanction for failing to take part in a WFI without ‘good cause’ is the loss of your personal allowance until you do take part or are no longer required to take part, plus a further fixed period of one week (or two or four weeks if this is repeat offence within a year). If you are claiming IS or IB, the sanction for failing to take part in a WFI without ‘good cause’ is the loss of a fixed percentage of benefit until you do take part, or you are no longer required to take part.
The following tactics could help you to avoid a WFI sanction:
1. CHECK WHETHER YOU ARE REQUIRED TO ATTEND A WFI
It is always worth checking to see whether you are legally required to take part in a WFI or are exempt e.g. because you are in the ESA support group, or responsible for a child under 1. You should ensure that the DWP and / or your Work Programme provider is fully aware of all your circumstances, including where there is a change which brings you within an exempt group. See p1080-4 of the Handbook for the rules on who is required to attend WFIs.
2. NOTIFY YOUR WORK COACH / PERSONAL ADVISER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU CANNOT ATTEND A WFI
This is important if you are to avoid a possible sanction. The DWP and Work Programme providers have discretion to postpone or rearrange a WFI without the threat of a sanction. The letter you receive requiring you to attend appointments should have a contact number for you to call, allowing you to rearrange an appointment. You should be ready to explain why you are unable to attend.
It may also be wise to follow up a telephone call with written confirmation in a letter or email. If you have any documentary evidence supporting your explanation (e.g. a hospital appointment card), you could send this with your letter (this may be particularly significant if you are unable to attend a subsequent WFI appointment).
3. PARTICIPATING OR TAKING PART IN A WFI
As well as attending, you are required to ‘take part’ in a WFI or ‘participate’ in a JSA interview. This involves answering relevant questions, providing relevant information and engaging in discussion about your qualifications, skills, barriers to finding work and employment aspirations. It may be helpful to prepare for the interview by thinking about these requirements in advance.
If you are sanctioned for failing to attend a WFI, you should be given a new appointment for a further WFI (unless you are no longer required to attend one). It is important that you attend the new appointment as this will trigger the end of the open-ended period of an ESA or IS sanction – see p1128/9 of the Handbook.
4. SHOWING GOOD CAUSE OR GOOD REASON FOR A FAILURE
The DWP will notify you that you will be sanctioned unless you can show ‘good cause’ for failing to take part in a WFI or ‘a good reason’ for failing to participate in a JSA interview. There is no definition of ‘good cause’ or ‘good reason’, but it is clearly important that you fully explain why you were unable to attend and submit any supporting evidence (e.g. of another appointment, illness or caring responsibilities).
You must be properly notified of the requirement to participate in an interview. Notification can be in writing, by telephone or electronically. If you did not receive written notification of an appointment to attend a WFI, you should explain this and give details of any difficulties you have relating to receiving post, telephone calls or email. Your appointment may be rescheduled without the threat of a sanction. If you are threatened with a sanction, you will need to argue that non-receipt of the notification constitutes good reason or good cause.
The law generally assumes that a notification has been received if it has been properly sent, so you will need to put forward good reasons why this assumption should not apply where you are arguing that a notification was not received (e.g. continuing problems with a postal address). There can be no failure if there was no notification, but establishing this is often difficult, particularly where the DWP can show the notification was sent or given. The matter must be decided on the balance of probabilities taking into account all the evidence.
The regulations require you to contact the DWP and show ‘good cause’ or ‘good reason’ within five working days of a failure (in the case of IS And IB this can be extended to up to one month), although arguably, this should not prevent them taking account of representations made after five days.
Work Programme personal advisers have no power to decide whether you had a good reason or good cause for not attending a WFI, although they can take this into account when deciding whether to rearrange an appointment without notifying a compliance failure to the DWP. Once a failure has occurred, they can notify the DWP who decide whether you had good reason or a good cause for the alleged failure. You must make representations about good reason or good cause directly to the DWP after you receive a letter from them about a possible sanction.