Coronavirus (Covid-19) Changes to the Benefits System

There have been big changes to the disability benefits system, due to the outbreak of Covid-19.  Here are the main ones.

Jobcentre appointments

All jobcentre appointments have been cancelled, for three months, or more.  People will continue to receive their unemployment-related benefits as normal, but all the rules about attending the jobcentre appointments in person are suspended.

Reviews and reassessments for benefits

Last week, the government suspended all face-to-face assessments in order to safeguard potentially vulnerable claimants.  Now (as of Tuesday 24 March) the government has suspended all benefit reviews and reassessments – for up to three months.  More information can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/face-to-face-health-assessments-for-benefits-suspended-amid-coronavirus-outbreak

The government says it has done this to reassure ‘vulnerable’ people about the continuity of their benefits during the coronavirus outbreak and ensure the department’s resources are focused on enabling access to financial support for new claimants.

What this means for claimants:

  • there will be no new reviews or reassessments across all benefits for three months – this includes Universal Credit (UC), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.
  • face-to-face assessments for all sickness and disability benefits have been suspended for the next 3 months including for any new claims.
  • if you have applied for PIP and already had an assessment your claim will continue to be processed.  If an assessment has been planned but not yet happened, claimants will be contacted by the assessment provider to discuss how their claim will be taken forward.
  • ESA and UC claimants whose cases have been referred to the provider will be contacted to take this forward.

However, the DWP is still accepting new claims for all benefits and hopes to cope with the increased numbers of people qualifying for unemployment benefit/Universal Credit by diverting 10,000 jobcentre staff, and recruit 1500 extra people, to deal with new claims.

Those needing to put in a claim for Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance should apply online.  For more information visit the Understanding Universal Credit website.

People are being urged to use online services before turning to the telephone for help with any benefit claim.  The government says that only the most vulnerable claimants who cannot access DWP services by other channels (internet or telephone) will be invited to attend a jobcentre appointment.  The rest of the public must use online services. 

Unfortunately, they have not made it clear what criteria they are using when deciding if a person is vulnerable enough to get an appointment.

Anyone already receiving PIP, ESA, Universal Credit or Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, will continue to receive their current payments as normal.

New Guidance on Statutory Sick Pay

The Government has published guidance on Statutory Sick Pay, job centre appointments, health assessment appointments, changes to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits, Local Housing Allowances and Housing Benefit here: https://www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/coronavirus/

For the first seven days off work, employees can self-certify so they don’t need any evidence for their employer.  After that, employers may ask for evidence of sickness absence.  Where this is related to having symptoms of coronavirus or living with someone who has symptoms, the isolation note can be used to provide evidence of the advice to self-isolate.’

People who need to claim universal credit or employment and support allowance because of coronavirus will not need to produce a fit note or an isolation note.

The government also advises that the note can be accessed through the NHS website and NHS 111 online, and that:

“After answering a few questions, an isolation note will be emailed to the user. If they don’t have an email address, they can have the note sent to a trusted family member or friend, or directly to their employer.  The service can also be used to generate an isolation note on behalf of someone else.”

Government

    Other welfare benefit changes

Other welfare benefit changes include:

  • Increasing the universal credit standard allowance and the working tax credit basic element by £20 a week for the next 12 months.
  • Suspending the minimum income limit for everyone affected by the economic impacts of coronavirus.
  • Suspending the rule that means statutory sick pay (SSP) is not paid for the first three days of work missed because of sickness absence with (retrospective effect from 13 March 2020).
  • Raising the amounts of housing benefit and universal credit, so that the local housing allowance will cover at least 30% of market rents in an area.
  • Removing the universal credit minimum income limit rule for the self-employed.
  • New PIP, ESA and Attendance Allowance claimants will have priority for telephone and paper-based disability assessments to ensure access to support.
  • The DWP has announced that job centres will remain open so they can continue to support people who cannot go online or use the phone to make claims or get support.

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