MORE than 1,500 people have had their Job Seekers’ Allowance withheld while an investigation is carried out into whether they have broken eligibility rules – only to later win their appeal.
During this period many have no form of income, which is one of the reasons being put forward to explain the increased use of the Swindon Foodbank.
Between September 2012 and 2013 there was a total of 1,586 appeals lodged by applicants with a positive outcome, which is slightly more than those made against.
There are a number of reasons a suspension of benefits might be triggered, such as missing a meeting or leaving a job. However, while investigations are being carried out payment is stopped, often leaving applicants with no other option but to turn to the Foodbank for help.
David Hartridge, project manager at the Foodbank, said: “It is something we have seen much more of recently. Before a decision on an appeal is made it can be a very worrying time for people. They are often left with nothing coming in and are in limbo.
“These people do not know whether their appeal is going to be successful or not so there is that added worry.
“This is occurring across all types of people as well, from single young men, to couples and even families and expecting families.”
A BBC Panorama programme on Monday said that almost 140 local authorities provide funding to foodbanks but Swindon Council does not. Options have been explored on how to provide help but this is limited due to the charitable status of the Trussell Trust, which is behind the Foodbanks.
However, David said he is in regular contact with the council, Jobcentre Plus and Department of Work and Pensions, who refer people to the Foodbank.
The council has a scheme in which it gives out food parcels to those who need it, giving out 1,500 since April 1 last year. Any who are not eligible are passed on to the Foodbank.
David said: “We are happy to be working with these organisations and it is a good thing they refer people to us. It is of a benefit to everyone if we work together.
“The Foodbank just wants to help people who are in need of help and is not a political organisation.”
One accusation levelled at the Foodbank on the programme was that the Foodbank acts as a disincentive for people to buy food as it is provided free, something David denies.
He said: “I think that is a judgement which is made with the belief that people have the money to pay for food and heating and other items. Very often this is not the case and people are forced to make a choice between the two.
“The service the Foodbank provides has wider implications. It can help people who may have wider health problems as it solves the pressures they may have to find food or we can help keep people who may be forced to steal food from committing a crime.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Every day Jobcentre Plus advisers are successfully supporting people to move off benefits and into work as part of the Government’s long-term economic plan to help people secure their future.
“It is only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work if they are able. The rules regarding someone’s entitlement to Jobseekers’ Allowance – and what could happen to their benefits if they don’t stick to those rules – are made very clear at the start of their claim.
“We have a well-established system of hardship provision for sanctioned claimants, who have little or no other resources available to them, to ensure they are supported throughout the duration of a sanction.”