What Are Universal Credit Sanctions?

Universal Credit is a benefit that comes with certain terms and conditions agreed upon between the claimant and the DWP. Through this blog post, we will learn in-depth about UC sanctions, the reasons why they are imposed on individuals, the levels of and duration of sanctions, the commitments that they must keep up with as well as the consequences that a claimant may face if they fail to do so. 

What Are Universal Credit Sanctions?

If a claimant does not attend meetings with their work coach at the Universal Credit Job Centre or fails to keep up with the terms agreed to in the Claimant Commitment, the Department for Work and Pensions will impose sanctions on their Universal Credit payments. This means that claimants will receive reduced payments or they may be stopped altogether on a temporary basis. 

The levels of Universal Credit sanctions are classified below:

Higher: This is a sanction imposed for 91 days (13 weeks) if it is your first higher-level sanction and 182 days (26 weeks) if it is your second (or subsequent) higher level sanction in any 364 day period. It is levied in case claimants fail to apply for jobs that they have committed to, are refused jobs, quit their job or reduced their working hours prior to claiming Universal Credit.

Medium: This is a sanction for 28 days if it is your first one in a 364 day period and 91 days for all subsequent sanctions during the same time period. It is levied in case the claimant fails to make attempts to increase their earnings or attend work search related interviews.

Low: A low-level sanction lasts 7 days if it is your first one, 14 days if it is the second one and 28 days within a 364 day period if it is the third sanction. It is applicable in cases where claimants fail to attend a work-focused interview, a training course, increase their earnings or take a specific action to get paid work.

Lowest: The lowest sanction applies when claimants fail to take part in a work focused interview and will remain in place until you meet your commitment(s).

A sanction reduces the amount of Universal Credit payment that you are generally supposed to receive. However, claimants can apply for a “hardship payment” during the period of sanction if they are unable to bear the costs of the following:

  • rent
  • heating
  • food or hygiene

What Are Acceptable Reasons For Missing A Universal Credit Appointment?

Some of the reasons acceptable for missing out on a Universal Credit appointment include the following:

  • personal emergency due to ill health
  • domestic emergency including serious illness or death of a close relative or friend
  • detained by the police
  • attending court or a tribunal
  • attended a job interview
  • severe weather conditions prevented the commute

If a claimant has faced any of the above listed unfortunate incidents, they must provide evidence of the reason for missing out on an appointment with their work coach. On the other hand, if a claimant is not faced with any of these situations and yet they are unable to meet their work coach as per the scheduled time, they must inform them well in advance so that a meeting can be rescheduled for a later time; since the purpose of such appointments and meeting is to keep the DWP updated with the claimant’s progress on work-related activities.

What Is A Work Search Review For Universal Credit?

A work search interview is a periodic dialogue between a Universal Credit (earlier JSA) claimant and their Work Coach at the Universal Credit Job Centre so that (a) the claimants can update their work coach regarding job search and job preparation activities that they have undertaken and (b) the work coach can provide guidance and support to the claimants to be able to find a job.

A work search review can also help in identifying a change in the claimant’s circumstances that may require changes to their previous claimant commitment and the work search related group assigned to them.

Work search reviews can be held weekly or fortnightly; sometimes held as a 10-minute phone call between a claimant and their work coach and other times as a detailed discussion at the local jobcentre.

Based on the terms of the agreement in the Claimant Commitment of a Universal Credit claimant, the work coach appointed at the UC jobcentre is committed to providing support and guidance to claimants with regard to finding a paid job at the earliest. 

What Happens At A Universal Credit Commitments Review Meeting?

A commitments review meeting is a basic discussion between the work coach from the jobcentre at DWP and a Universal Credit claimant to assess the individual’s ability to keep up with their Claimant Commitment as well as provide support and guidance to encourage progress. If the claimant has experienced a change in circumstances that can potentially affect their Universal Credit claim, they are expected to share such updates with their work coach during this session so that a new Claimant Commitment can be drafted, if need be.

These meetings are held regularly either through a phone call or a visit to the local job centre and it is mandatory for claimants to attend the review to keep their work coach updated on their progress regarding the commitments made with regard to their Universal Credit claim.

During a commitments review meeting, a work coach may inquire the claimant regarding the nature and quality of activities involved in searching for a job, the amount of time spent in such activities as well as the outcomes of such activities. Claimants are advised to keep evidence of their work search ready during such sessions. 

Do I Have To Spend 35 Hours In Job Search To Claim Universal Credit?

If you have agreed in your Claimant Commitment for Universal Credit that you will spend 35 hours per week working or looking for work, you will be required to keep up with this commitment to continue claiming Universal Credit payments. This includes the following activities:

  • drafting an appropriate CV and cover note
  • customising your CV and cover note to each job that you apply for
  • conducting research on employers and transport links
  • setting up online job alerts
  • creating an online employee profile
  • applying for suitable positions
  • following up on job applications
  • social networking with the intent to look for a job
  • preparing for your interview

You must record your activities in order to track your progress and share the results with your work coach. This will serve as evidence that you have managed to keep up with your Claimant Commitment of spending 35 hours looking for a job. Once you do start a job, you can keep the authorities updated on your working hours.

What Do They Ask You In A Universal Credit Phone Appointment?

In addition to your personal identification details, you can be asked about any of the following areas of your life during a phone appointment with regards to the Universal Credit claim:

  • your identification details from your passport or driving license
  • your postcode
  • your NI number
  • your bank account, building society or credit union account number 
  • your monthly rental payments
  • your landlord’s address 
  • details of your savings and capital investments
  • details of your income and benefits
  • details of any child care payments made by you
  • child benefit reference numbers (if any)

This is a preliminary session that is usually held via telephonic conversation. The purpose of this meeting is for the DWP officer to assess the claim made by a UC applicant.

What Is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a state benefit for UK citizens above the age of 18 and below the state pension age. It aims to provide financial assistance to individuals who are either out of work or on a low income. It is a monthly payment that claimants receive to help them to cover living costs.

Universal Credit has replaced six benefits, referred to as the “legacy benefits” by serving a single payment for households and helping them meet housing and childcare costs. These include:

  • Income Support
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Housing Benefit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit

Additionally, it provides support for health conditions, disabilities or the role of a carer that prevents claimants from working full time or working at all.

Who Is Eligible For Universal Credit?

To qualify for Universal Credit, claimants must be able to fulfil the below eligibility criteria:

  • aged between 18 (in some cases it may be 16 or 17) and state pension age
  • unemployed or on low income
  • between the claimant and their partner, total savings are less than £6,000
  • experiencing high costs for childcare
  • suffering from a disability or health condition
  • caring for someone else

The amount of Universal Credit that an individual receives depends on their personal circumstances and income (if any). For instance, someone who is single and younger than 25 years of age will be eligible for Universal Credit amounting to around £257 per month. Meanwhile, this amount will rise to around £509 for someone who is living with a partner and either one of them or both of them are above the age of 25.


This detailed discussion has made clear the different situations under which sanctions may be imposed on Universal Credit payments for a claimant. We have also learnt about the different levels of sanctions, their severity and duration as well as the reasons why they may be imposed. While hardship payments can support claimants during a sanction period, it is best for claimants to avoid being sanctioned by meeting the terms of their claimant commitment.

FAQs: What Are Universal Credit Sanctions?

How long is Universal Credit sanctioned?

If a claimant fails to keep up with their claimant commitment, their Universal Credit payments can be sanctioned for up to 6 months.

How many hours does Universal Credit want you to work?

Unless you are a mother with the youngest child under 4 years of age, the Department for Work and Pension will expect you to work or be involved in work search activities between 16 hours to 25 hours per week if you claim Universal Credit.

How much can Universal Credit sanction me?

The maximum sanction that can be imposed on a claimant is not more than half of the standard allowance of their Universal Credit claim. Additional elements that they receive will not be affected by sanctions.

What are the types of sanctions?

Depending on the severity of the matter, UC sanctions can be classified as high, medium, low or lowest level.

How much can a single person earn on Universal Credit?

If you are single and under 25 years of age, you can earn £344.00 on Universal Credit and if you are single and 25 or older, you can claim £411.51.


Understanding Universal Credit – Sanctions

Understanding Universal Credit – What you need to do on Universal Credit

Find out about money taken off your Universal Credit payment – GOV.UK

Universal Credit and you – GOV.UK

Fail to attend UC.pdf

Universal Credit and your claimant commitment – GOV.UK

Understanding Universal Credit – What you need to do on Universal Credit.

Universal credit and you

Universal credit interviews

Work Search Reviews Universal Credit

Claimant Commitment and UC Work Coach – Renfrewshire Website

What does “35 hours job search” mean?