Helen Smith: ‘Because I was working I just didn’t understand why I was sanctioned.’ [Image: Howard Barlow.]

Helen Smith: ‘Because I was working I just didn’t understand why I was sanctioned.’ [Image: Howard Barlow.]

Fines imposed on full-time workers who claim universal credit amount to “punishing the working poor”, experts have suggested, as it emerged that one woman was docked £220 for missing a jobcentre appointment because she took a family holiday.

The fines, part of a little-known “in-work conditionality” programme introduced by the then work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, have been called “political dynamite” by academics, who warn that it may undermine unemployed people taking low-paid jobs.

The Guardian has learned of a case where a single parent was fined after she took a holiday in Spain booked before she was moved on to universal credit in 2015. Although she says she explained to officials why she could not make the meeting, the fine was still imposed.

Helen Smith, 36, of Widnes, who says she regularly works 30-40 hours a week as a bar worker on a zero-hours contract, said that when she appealed against the fine she was told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that being on holiday was not a valid reason not to look for work.

Smith, who says she has been in almost continuous employment since she left school, said: “Because I was working I just didn’t understand why I was sanctioned.”

Source: DWP ‘punishing’ low-paid full-time workers under new benefits rule | Society | The Guardian

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