DWP softens line on mandatory drug tests for benefit claimants

The government has made concessions over plans to force welfare claimants who misuse drugs and alcohol to undertake drug tests and treatment as a condition of their benefits.

It made a number of key amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill yesterday as it passed its third reading in the House of Lords, following criticisms from drugs professionals about plans for mandatory testing and treatment.

The bill originally proposed that where there were reasonable grounds for suspecting that a benefit claimant had a drug problem that was affecting their work prospects they would have to undergo a substance-related assessment. If they had failed to do so, they would have been liable for a mandatory drugs test. The bill in its original form would also have meant people being required to undergo treatment if they were dependent on drugs and this was affecting their work prospects.

Under the proposals unveiled yesterday:

• Individuals would only have a mandatory drug test if they were not in treatment, had not admitted their drug use and had been subject to benefit sanctions for not attending substance-related assessments on two consecutive occasions.

• People who refused or were not ready to enter treatment would have to agree to a rehabilitation plan, including a six-week education and motivational programme. They would be encouraged to enter treatment but if they completed the programme and decided not to enter treatment, no sanction would be imposed.

Professional opinion

Junior work and pensions minister Lord McKenzie said: “In making these amendments, we have taken account of the opinions both of drug professionals who work on these issues and, of course, of noble Lords, with their great experience.

“Mandating individuals to medical treatment is not going to work for those who are not ready, but doing nothing is no longer an option, and problem drug users must be expected to engage with the rehabilitation process where their drug use is a barrier to their finding work.”

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