Council to write to DfC urging safeguards against sanctions

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Derry City and Strabane District Council has agreed to write to the Department for Communities chief Leo O’Reilly to ask him to implement administrative measures to protect benefits claimants from undue cuts and sanctions.

At the local authority’s monthly meeting on Thursday councillors backed the Right to Work: Right to Welfare (R2W) group’s ‘People’s Proposal’, which is demanding the introduction of a simple but vital checklist for social security decision-makers.

SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly proposed that the authority write to Mr. O’Reilly, the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities.

The council wants guidance issues to all social security decision-makers, requiring them to ensure that both due process and impact assessments are undertaken and fully complied with in the decision-making process.

Colr. Reilly explained: “The Right to Work: Right to Welfare group is made up of unemployed people who have been campaigning since 2012 for the creation of real jobs and for protections in the social security system.”

He said the ‘People’s Proposal’ was developed through years of engagement with people in receipt of social security payments, many of whom were sick and disabled, and who had suffered as a result of rolling welfare reforms.

Colr. Reilly told the council that from June 2015 to August 2016 alone 11,000 decisions were made to remove Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) from people who were sick and disabled

“It’s worth pointing out, given the state of our current political make-up in Stormont, and with a Westminster election ahead of us, that the Department for Communities already have the powers to introduce these administrative steps into the social security system without any need for additional legislative or regulatory amendments and without any further involvement from Westminster.

“It is within the gift of the Department for Communties to make these very much needed changes.”

The Right to Work: Right to Welfare group’s ‘People’s Proposal’, which was launched last month, demands: Due process at all stages of decision making within the social security system, affording people the right to timely information, consultation, representation and full consideration of all the evidence. It also calls for: Impact assessment prior to a financial sanction being imposed in order to determine the likely impact of an individual and their family.