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Home Office Letter Template

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Home Office Letter Template

     National Directorate

    PROBATION CIRCULAR

National Probation Directorate

    Horseferry House, Dean Ryle Street, London, SW1P 2AW

    Switchboard: 020 7273 4000

    Fax: 020 7217 0799

    Direct Line: 020 7217 0745

     26 September 2001

To: The Chief Officer

     The Secretary to the Probation Board

     The Regional Manager

PC 137/2001

CHILD SUPPORT, PENSIONS AND SOCIAL SECURITY ACT 2000: BENEFIT

    SANCTIONS - PILOTS

Purpose

    ; To inform all areas of the coming into force of sections 62-66 of the Child Support,

    Pensions and Social Security Act 2000, which provide for a sanction to be imposed on

    specified benefits of those offenders who breach certain community orders.

    ; To provide details of the plans for piloting and evaluating the new powers in Derbyshire,

    Hertfordshire, Teesside and West Midlands probation areas.

; To provide guidance on implementation of the measures.

Action

    ; The information contained in the circular should be disseminated to all staff without

    amendment.

    ; All chief officers should note the action to be taken at paragraphs 15-17 in respect of those

    offenders who, wherever sentenced, are to be supervised in one of the four pilot areas.

Enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection

Background

    3 Sections 62-66 of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 provide powers to withdraw or reduce specified benefits of offenders who are found in breach of certain community orders.

    4 The pilot scheme will start on 15 October 2001. It will apply to recipients of Income Support (IS), Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), and specific training allowances (TA) who are aged

    between 18 and 59 inclusive and who have been found in breach of a community rehabilitation order, a community punishment order, or a community punishment and rehabilitation order.

    5 IS recipients will have their personal benefit entitlement reduced by either 20% or 40% of the single person’s benefit rate, subject to their circumstances. JSA and TA will be withdrawn, although the training ‘premium’ payable in addition to the training allowance will be unaffected.

    6 As with other JSA benefit sanctions, hardship payments will be available to those in defined vulnerable groups from the first day of the sanction. Those who are not in a defined thvulnerable group will have access to hardship payments from the 15 day of the sanction.

Period of the sanction

    7 The sanction will apply for a fixed period of four weeks. On receipt of notification from the Probation Service that there has been a court determination of breach of an order, the Benefits Agency (BA) will examine its computer systems to identify the offender and confirm whether or not the offender is in receipt of any of the relevant benefits. The sanction will come into force on the first day of the next benefit week following this ‘examination day’ and will apply for four weeks from that date. If the offender is not in receipt of the relevant benefits, the BA will check on each of the following three weeks to see if the offender has by then made a subsequent claim. If so, the sanction will apply but only for the remaining part of the original four week period.

    8 The sanction will apply irrespective of where a claim is made provided that formal responsibility for the offender’s supervision remains with one of the pilot probation areas, ie the court order has not been amended to reflect a change in the offender’s residence to another probation area. There may be cases where the offender is being supervised by another probation area prior to outstanding breach action being completed but formal transfer of the case and the hand over of the original files should not take place until breach action has been completed. PC 78/2000 refers.

Exchange of information between the Probation Service and the Benefits Agency

    9 The Social Security (Breach of Community Order) Regulations 2001 set out the statutory requirements for the exchange of information between the Probation Service and the Benefits Agency for the purposes of this measure. The information is prescribed and limited to that which identifies the offender. There are standard forms attached to this circular for use in exchanging information. (See also paragraph 28)

Appeals

    10 The sanction is mandatory once the court has determined that there has been a breach. Enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection

    An offender has the right of appeal or to ask for reconsideration of the decision to impose the sanction but only within narrow parameters, ie the period applied to the sanction, the amount of benefit withdrawn, the disallowance of a JSA hardship application. Any appeal against the breach determination would have to be pursued through the criminal justice system. If the breach were set aside, any benefit that had been sanctioned would be refunded, provided that the claimant had continued to meet the requirements for payment of benefit during the period that the sanction had been applied.

Evaluation

    11 The measure is to be piloted for at least 12 months in four probation areas. It will be independently evaluated by the National Centre for Social Research in consortium with Professor Colin Roberts, Head of Probation Studies, Oxford University.

12 The main aims of the evaluation are:

; to assess the operational impact of the scheme on the agencies involved;

    ; to identify any improvements needed in procedures;

    ; to examine the impact on offenders (compliance with sentence requirements, offending

    behaviour, claiming behaviour, compliance with training schemes, financial circumstances);

    and

    ; to assess any additional costs the scheme incurs.

13 The aims will be evaluated by:

; analysis of administrative data;

    ; in-depth interviews/focus groups with key staff in the Department for Work and

    Pensions/Benefits Agency, the Probation Service and the Employment Service; ; in-depth interviews with offenders; and

    ; postal survey of sentencers and justices’ clerks.

14 In addition, a cost-effectiveness analysis will be carried out.

Pilot scheme

Action for all probation areas

    15 The courts currently have a duty at the time of sentencing to explain to the offender the consequences of failing to comply with a community order. Section 64 of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 requires the courts, in addition, to explain the loss of specified benefits for breach of a community rehabilitation order, community punishment order, and community punishment and rehabilitation order.

    16 The pilot scheme will apply to offenders who are to be supervised in one of the four pilot probation areas. Most of these offenders will be sentenced at courts within these areas where the explanation under section 64 will be given by sentencers as a matter of routine. But it will be necessary to identify all those offenders who are sentenced to the relevant community orders outside the pilot areas but who will, nevertheless, be supervised within the pilot areas and be covered by the scheme.

    17 The Lord Chancellor’s Department has been consulted on this matter and guidance has Enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection

    been issued to the courts about the requirement under section 64 so that the necessary explanation will be given at sentence. But all probation areas should also establish which area

    would have responsibility for a relevant community order and where possible bring to the attention of the court, usually in a PSR or SSR where one is requested, those cases where section 64 applies. Where it is not immediately clear from the offender’s address whether or

    not it falls within one of the pilot areas, a check to confirm this should be made with the relevant area.

Action for pilot probation areas

First appointment

    18 At the first appointment, the supervising officer should remind those offenders sentenced to a community rehabilitation order, community punishment order, or a community punishment and rehabilitation order, that one of the consequences of failing to comply with the requirements of the order will be the loss of certain benefits for up to four weeks. The supervising officer should give the offender written information on the sanction (Annex A).

    This will reinforce the explanation at the time of sentencing.

Initiation of breach proceedings

    19 The BA must be notified of all those offenders on community rehabilitation orders, community punishment orders, and community punishment and rehabilitation orders who are referred to court for breach proceedings.

20 Notification must be sent to the BA within one working day of information being laid

    with the court. If this task is designated to court probation staff, notification should be sent within one working day of receipt of the papers at court. Form 1, attached to this circular, should be used for this purpose and may be faxed to the BA. The signatory should be the officer who completed the form. There is an additional box for the offender’s National Insurance number. This information may be exchanged if the offender has previously volunteered it. But the offender must not be asked for his NI number solely for the purposes of this measure.

    21 Local BA areas will provide pilot probation areas with a list of offices, their fax numbers, telephone numbers and the postcodes they cover. BA will acknowledge receipt of the notification and provide the contact details of the correct BA office for future correspondence should the form initially have been sent to the wrong office. The acknowledgement should be retained for the case record.

    22 On receipt of notification that breach proceedings have been initiated, the BA will send a warning letter to all offenders to advise them that should the court find them in breach a sanction will be imposed on specified benefits (example of letter at Annex B).

Offender found in breach by the court

    23 The BA must be notified of all those offenders who are found by the court to be in breach of a community rehabilitation order, a community punishment order, or a community punishment and rehabilitation order.

24 Notification must be sent to the BA within one working day of the date of the court

    determination, or, in those cases where probation staff are not present at the breach hearing, Enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection

    within one working day of receipt of the court determination. Form 2 attached to this circular should be used for this purpose and may be faxed to the BA. As above, the BA will acknowledge receipt of the notification and, if necessary, provide the correct contact details for any future correspondence. The acknowledgement should be retained for the case record.

    25 On receipt of the notification, the BA will check to see if the offender is claiming any of the specified benefits and apply the sanction as appropriate (see paragraph 7 above for further details).

Breach set aside

    26 There may be rare cases where a determination of breach of a relevant order is subsequently set aside by a higher court. The BA must be notified of such cases within three

    working days of the Probation Service itself receiving notification of such a decision. Form 3 attached to this circular should be used for this purpose. The BA will acknowledge receipt of the notification and this should be kept for the case record.

    27 On receipt of the notification, the BA will refund to the offender any sanctioned benefit provided that the offender remained eligible for the benefit during the period of the sanction.

Risk

    28 The Regulations do not allow for any general exchange of information on the possible risk presented by offenders, nor would this be appropriate. Each agency assesses risk on a different basis and exchanging such information would be misleading. But where an incident occurs that is directly related to this benefits sanction, local arrangements should be put in place to alert other agencies of the circumstances and the offender’s reaction. Any necessary steps

    can then be taken to minimise the possible risk to staff when the offender next attends his local BA or ES office or attends a probation appointment.

    29 Pilot areas will know which offenders will have received a warning letter from the Benefits Agency prior to a breach hearing and also those who have subsequently been found in breach by the court and are, therefore, at risk of a sanction. This will enable staff to take a view of any potential risk prior to each appointment with the offender.

Liaison with the BA

    30 Local arrangements should be put in place to nominate one or more representatives from the Probation Service and the BA to act as liaison points in each area during the course of the pilots. Any local issues should initially be channelled through these representatives rather than taken up directly with staff in local offices, unless there is a query on the detail of a notification or acknowledgement form.

    31 It is important that probation staff do not attempt to advise offenders on benefits issues on the basis of this or any other note. Such matters are properly the responsibility of BA staff who have the necessary expertise and knowledge of the offender’s case. Similarly, BA staff will be advised to refer to the Probation Service any matter raised by the offender about breach of an order or other criminal justice issues. Information notes at Annex C and Annex D, for probation staff and BA staff respectively, provide further general information about the work of each agency when dealing with sanctions and breaches.

    32 Any problems which may affect the smooth running of the pilots should be brought to Enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection

the immediate attention of the National Probation Directorate and the Department for Work

    and Pensions.

Previous relevant circulars

     Benefit Sanctions. 33 PC 53/2001: Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000

    PC 78/2000: Case Transfer Instructions.

Contact for enquiries

     st34 Any queries about this Circular should be directed to Alison Foulds, 1 Floor,

    Horseferry House, Dean Ryle Street, London SW1P 2AW; telephone number 020 7217 0745;

    or e-mail alison.foulds@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk.

KEIR HOPLEY

    Head of Policy

    National Probation Directorate

Enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection

    ANNEX A

    POSSIBLE LOSS OF BENEFIT OR TRAINING ALLOWANCE IF YOU BREACH

    YOUR COMMUNITY ORDER

If you do not keep your appointments, or do not do what your supervising officer asks you to

    do, you may have to go back to court. If the court decides that you are in breach of your order,

    the law says that you will lose all or part of some benefits for up to four weeks.

This will only happen if you are:

; aged 18-59; and

    ; you are on a community rehabilitation order, or

    a community punishment order, or

    a community rehabilitation and punishment order; and ; you are claiming these benefits

    Jobseeker’s Allowance

    Income Support; or

    ; you are claiming these training allowances

    Work Based Learning for Adults

    New Deal for Young Persons

    New Deal 25+

    Intensive Activity Period

    Intensive Activity Period 50+

If your case is returned to court, the Benefits Agency will write to you to explain what will

    happen.

    Enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection

    ANNEX B

    BA WARNING LETTER

     DWP website address

Mr. A Smith Our address Office

    Any Street Building

    Any Town Street

    Any County Town

    AA1 1AA Postcode

    Section

     Our phone number 01234 567 890

     My extension number 2468

     If you have a

    textphone 01234 987 654

     Date XX Xxxxx XXXX

    Dear

Warning of possible loss of benefit or training allowance

    I am writing because the Probation Service has told us that it has sent your case back to court. This is because you have failed to comply with the requirements of your community sentence.

    The law says that if the court decides that you are in breach of your community sentence, you will lose all or part of some benefits or allowances for up to four weeks. This will only happen if you are claiming one of these benefits or allowances:

Benefits:

; Jobseeker’s Allowance for people aged 18 to 59

    ; Income Support for people aged 18 to 59

Training allowances:

; Work Based Learning for Adults

    ; New Deal for Young Persons

    ; New Deal 25+

    ; Intensive Activity Period

    ; Intensive Activity Period 50+

    Nothing will happen until the court has decided your case. We understand that this letter may not apply to you, but if the court decides that you have breached your community sentence and you are claiming one of the benefits or training allowances listed above, we will write to you again about your benefit position.

    If you want more information, please get in touch with us. Our address and telephone number are at the top of this letter.

    Yours sincerely

    Enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection

    ANNEX C

    INFORMATION ABOUT BENEFIT SANCTIONS IN GENERAL AND

    GUIDANCE ON THE PILOT PROVISIONS

What is a benefit sanction?

    Sanctions have a long history with two of the employment-related sanctions (leaving work voluntarily and misconduct) dating from the introduction of Unemployment Benefit in 1911. There are various types of benefit sanction, ranging in length from 1 week to 26 weeks, which are imposed if specific criteria for benefit conditions are not met. The aim of the Community Sentences and Benefits pilots is to link the receipt of benefit more closely to the fulfilment of responsibilities to society and to encourage greater compliance with community sentences.

What is a Community Sentence sanction?

    2 It is the reduction or withdrawal of specific benefits or allowances from those offenders who breach the requirements of certain community sentences. It will apply to recipients of Income Support (IS), Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), and specific training allowances (TA), who are aged 18 to 59, and who have been found in breach of a community rehabilitation order, a community punishment order, or a community punishment and rehabilitation order. National Insurance Credits, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit will not be affected.

When will the sanction be triggered?

    3 From 15 October 2001, the courts have a statutory responsibility to explain to all relevant offenders, at the time of sentencing, that a benefit sanction will be imposed if a court finds that the community sentence has been breached. A relevant offender is someone who is sentenced to a specified community order and who is resident, and therefore will be supervised, in one of the pilot areas. Probation Service (PS) officials will reinforce this explanation, both orally and in writing, to each offender at the first probation appointment.

    4 Where the PS deems an offender to be in breach of the requirements of the community sentence it refers the case to court (usually, but not exclusively, after the second unacceptable failure to comply), and informs the offender that it has initiated breach action, and why. The court issues a summons for the offender to appear before it to answer the breach allegation. At the same time as the PS initiates breach action, it will issue a notification by post or fax, to the Benefits Agency (BA) to advise it that this action has been taken.

    5 On receipt of the notification from PS, the BA will issue a warning letter to the offender explaining that, if a court determines that there has been in breach of the order, and the offender is in receipt of one of the relevant benefits or training allowances at that time, the offender will lose all or part of that benefit or allowance for up to four weeks.

How will the sanction work?

    6 If the court decides that a breach has occurred, the PS will issue a notification form by post or fax to the BA. The BA will then check to confirm whether the offender is in receipt of one of the relevant benefits or training allowances. If appropriate, the sanction will be imposed for a period of four weeks. Where there is an existing claim to a relevant benefit or allowance, the sanction will start from the first benefit week on or after notification is received to start the sanction. Where there is no benefit in payment at this time, the BA will retain the notification Enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection

    and check on a weekly basis for a further three weeks to see if a claim for a relevant benefit is made and, where appropriate, apply the sanction for the remaining part of the four week period. The BA will notify ES of any sanction imposed.

    7 IS claimants will have their benefit entitlement reduced by 40% of the single person’s allowance or 20% where the claimant or a member of his family is either pregnant or seriously ill.

    8 JSA claimants will have the whole amount of their benefit entitlement withdrawn. Hardship payments of JSA may be available to protect vulnerable people and their families. The amount of a hardship payment would be equivalent to the claimant’s normal entitlement (including premiums for children, disability, etc) less 40% of the single person’s allowance, or 20% where the claimant or a member of the family is either pregnant or seriously ill.

    9 Those in receipt of a relevant TA will have an amount equivalent to the allowance withdrawn. The training premium or top-up grant, which is paid in addition to the allowance, will be exempt from the sanction. Hardship payments of JSA may be available to protect vulnerable people and their families as detailed above: any calculation for a hardship payment will exclude the premium or top-up grant as a form of income.

    10 Those in defined vulnerable groups have immediate access to hardship payments from the start of the sanction. For those who are not in a defined vulnerable group, there is no access for the first two weeks of the sanction period, but an offender can apply for hardship thpayments in the normal way from the 15 day of the sanction.

How sanctions are applied

    11 Sanctioning benefits is not new to the Benefits Agency or Employment Service, and in most cases the sanction will not come as a surprise to the individual concerned. The most common sanctions are labour-market sanctions, and these are normally only implemented after an interview with the jobseeker. In some cases the sanction can be avoided if the jobseeker agrees to comply with the conditions/terms of the jobseeker’s agreement.

    12 With other sanctions, such as community sentence or benefit fraud sanctions, benefit will only be stopped or reduced after an individual has been warned, either verbally or in writing, of the consequences of certain actions. The sanction will only be imposed if the offender knowingly breaches a community sentence order, or goes on to commit a second benefit fraud.

    13 In all sanction cases the individual has a right of appeal to an independent tribunal (see ‘Appeals’).

Responsibilities

14 The Court is responsible for:

    ; Explaining to the offender at the time of sentencing the possible loss of benefits if the

    offender does not comply with the requirements of the community order (where that order

    is a specified order).

15 PS are responsible for:

    Enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection

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