moneyJobseekers who are homeless or have a mental health condition will now be able to access hardship payments immediately if they receive a benefit sanction, the government has announced.

Hardship payments act as a safety net to cover day-to-day living costs, and are issued immediately to individuals who have their benefits sanctioned and meet certain criteria like having children or a long-term health condition. Other jobseekers cannot claim payments for the first 14 days of a sanction. The criteria will now extend immediate access to homeless people and individuals with a mental health condition.

The government estimates that the change will help about 10,000 people over 4 years from 2017/18 to 2020.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green said: “Sanctions are an important part of the benefits system, but it’s right that people with mental health conditions as well as those who are homeless have immediate access to hardship payments should they need it.

“We want our jobseekers to focus on getting into work and enjoying the dignity and security of a good job.

“Our plan to help the most vulnerable into work is a key step towards building a great meritocracy where all that matters is the talent you have and how hard you are prepared to work.”

Mind’s head of policy and campaigns, Vicki Nash, welcomed the “long overdue” announcement. “Too many people with mental health problems have been cruelly sanctioned facing hardship and leaving them with tough decisions about how to survive,” she said.

“We are also pleased to see the acknowledgement from Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green, in his speech this morning [November 16], that there are still fundamental problems with the benefits system which must be urgently addressed by government. However, Mind believes that abolishing sanctions for people with mental health problems is the only option if you want to properly support and engage people. There is no evidence that sanctions when someone has a mental health problem are effective in helping them to return to work, in fact, it pushes them further from the workplace.     

“Sanctions do not work for people with mental health problems and are destroying lives, causing distress and anxiety for many.” 

“The upcoming green paper is an opportunity for change. We urge all people with mental health problems to make their voices heard.”