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.

Update as of 31st March 2020

All NHS staff and care workers in Bristol can now park for free anywhere in the city, in addition to Trenchard Street car park and Horfield Leisure Centre car park.

 Feeding Bristol and various food banks across the city are working with the Council to support those struggling to buy food.

The Council are sending an email to Bristol residents giving them information and advice about coronavirus and any service changes which may impact them.  Please share the newsletter with anyone you think would benefit from it.  There will be an unsubscribe option on each email, and the Council will also publicise on other channels how people can join the mailing list.

 The Council have said they will be launching a public telephone number today, for anyone who is vulnerable, feels isolated and needs support.  The number will be shared widely, both online and through offline communications so that they reach as many people who need the support as possible.  People can also email coronavirus@bristol.gov.uk for support.

Bristol City Council have said they are working closely with health partners to implement national requirements for hospital discharge through a ‘discharge to assess’ model, ensuring that hospital beds are freed up to respond to additional demand. 

They are setting up an Integrated Care Centre in Bristol where social care, Sirona and the voluntary sector will work together to ensure patients are discharged safely to appropriate support.

They have said they are prioritising:

  • Their Rehabilitation Centres, for those needing 24hr care for up to 42 days, when they first leave hospital (Home First);
  • Reablement, short term care support (up to 42 days) and/or adaptations, so you can go straight home; and
  • Home care capacity (the companies the Council has contracts with, to provide care support to people in their own home. 

This means all those who need short term support and want to return home, shouldn’t need to be put in a care home.

If you already get social care support, through and agency, a Direct Payment or a Personal Health Care Budget, your usual support will continue when you return home.

If you and the care provider agree you need more ongoing support than you were getting before going into hospital, you will need to be given a Care Assessment.  If this doesn’t happen before your short term support ends, remind them that you will need that support you to be extended until you have a care package in place.

Help Bristol Disability Equality Forum to provide telephone support to isolated Disabled people while the UK is in lockdown.

In the words of The Beatles ” Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends 2 and you can help us do just that!

From entertainment packages to fitness equipment and more, you can still support Bristol Disability Equality Forum from home, by shopping online through #easyfundraising. Signing up is quick and easy and you’ll raise free donations for us every time you shop online. Visit http://efraising.org/oxK1dDgKqx to get started.

Every donation enable us to provide telephone support to isolated Disabled people while the UK is in lockdown.

Struggling with Lockdown? Talk to someone.

Being in lockdown can be very difficult for some people, and severely impact the mental wellbeing of an individual. Don’t suffer with this by yourselves, reach out to someone.

There are plenty of services out there to help with our mental wellbeing. Take a look at the NHS collection of helplines here.

We at the Forum want to make sure that we are able to be there for our membership during these tough times. Because of this, we will be holding weekly check in telephone calls for those who want them.

If you want to book in a specific time and day (please note – our hours are from 11-4 on a Monday, 11-3 on a Tuesday and 11-4.30 on a Wednesday) for a phone call, please email bristoldef@gmail.com with your name and contact number.

Did you know that, if you have received a letter from the NHS advising you to ‘shield’ (stay indoors for 12 weeks) you still have to register for support?

If you haven’t registered, and do need some support, register online here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus-extremely-vulnerable or by calling 0800 0288327, as soon as you can.

If you have registered but haven’t received a call from Bristol City Council, do you need emergency food? 

If you do, email (or ask someone to email on your behalf explaining you need telephone calls only): coronavirus@bristol.gov.uk , marking the subject heading as URGENT. 

That way they can then contact you directly to assess your needs. As of next week there will be a phone line to call as well.

Have registered but do not need emergency food?

If so, please call the Government on 0800 0288327 to check if your registration happened correctly.

Important

This advice is only for those people who have been written to by the NHS advising them they are at high risk of complications if they get the coronavirus, and to stay home for 12 weeks.

If you haven’t received a letter like this from the NHS but need support go to: https://candobristol.co.uk/ where you can find people happy to help you as a volunteer.      

Latest changes as of 24th March 2020

The number of UK cases of the virus can be viewed on this dashboard.

The Government have announced further measures to stop the disease spreading between households [link]. People will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes:

  • shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
  • one form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
  • any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home

The police will have the powers to enforce these measures, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.

To ensure compliance with the Government’s instruction to stay at home, the Government has:

  • closed all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship
  • stopped all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with
  • stopped all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals

Parks will remain open for exercise but gatherings will be dispersed. The full list of businesses and premises expected to close is available here [link].

The Government has said it will look again at these measures in 3 weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows this is possible.  Updated guidance on staying at home and away from others has been published alongside this announcement [link].

The Foreign Secretary has also advised all British tourists and short-stay travellers currently abroad to return to the UK where commercial flight options are still available [link].

For businesses, the Government has announced additional measures in the emergency Coronavirus Bill to protect commercial tenants from eviction who cannot pay their rent because of coronavirus. The measures will mean no business will be forced out of their premises if they miss a payment in the next 3 months. As commercial tenants will still be liable for the rent after this period, the Government is monitoring the impact on commercial landlords’ cash flow and continues to be in dialogue with them.  [link].

The legislation also includes new measures to support Business Improvement  Districts (BID)  – to ensure no area loses its BID during this period, the legislation will allow a delay to ballots between now and 31 December 2020 until March 2021.

Further guidance has also been issued on:

  • Guidance for local authorities on eligibility and delivery of the Small Business Grants Fund (SBGF) and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund (RHLGF) [link]
  • Guidance for apprentices, employers, training providers and assessment organisations in response to the impact of COVID-19 [link]
  • Operational guidance for further education (FE) providers on maintaining education and skills training provision [link]
  • As of today, reviews and reassessments for disability benefits are being suspended for the next three months

 Bristol Cases

  • As of 12.00pm on 24/03/20 there have been 28 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Bristol.
  • Please note, the Government has decided not to test people with mild symptoms who do not require hospitalisation
  • The figures do not reflect the extent of spread within the community, which is now assumed to be widespread.  It is this widespread community transmission which makes the current social distancing measures so vitally important, and why the message for people to self-isolate needs to be continued to be conveyed by Members and Stakeholders
  • Local authority numbers of confirmed cases are reported on this dashboard and updated each afternoon

 Bristol City Council

  • We are advising staff to observe the latest government advice about working from home where they can, although we need to continue delivering essential front line services to our communities.
  • To help manage maintain these services, HR colleagues are working with managers of services that are currently closed to identify colleagues that can be reassigned to work in other parts of the organisation.

Public Communication Updates

  • Mayor Marvin Rees, Jacqui Jensen (Executive Director of People, Bristol City Council) and Sandra (CEO, Voscur) showed a short video last from 6:30pm on the key messages surrounding Can Do Bristol and offering help as a volunteer in an organised way. Jacqui and Sandra then followed up from the video with a live Q+A session on the BCC Facebook page, answering questions from the public. There were almost 100 comments on the video with plenty of questions from keen volunteers looking to get stuck into helping out in their local communities as quickly as possible: https://www.facebook.com/BristolCouncil/videos/583573612243951/
  • Mayor Marvin Rees released another bulletin video, announcing: a call out for 450 places for homeless and rough sleepers, that all parks facilities are now shut, and that NHS staff will be able to use Trenchard Street car park for free: https://www.facebook.com/BristolCouncil/videos/210671416703326/
  • A further statement from the Mayor was released to clarify the closure of parks facilities – we are not able to close parklands: https://www.facebook.com/BristolCouncil/photos/a.533536933346377/3145840972115947/?type=3&theater
  • A press release was issued to reinforce the call out for homeless spaces from Airbnb’s, shelters, hotels, and student accommodation providers. People were encouraged to email covid19.accommodation@bristol.gov.uk if they could help: https://news.bristol.gov.uk/news/bristol-city-council-calls-on
  • Mayor Marvin Rees shared his blog platform with Cllr Steve Pearce to share thanks and gratitude to all of the Bristol Waste staff who do their utmost to keep our city clean and tiday: https://thebristolmayor.com/2020/03/23/big-tidy/
  • Bristol 24/7 have continued their live updates on the Coronavirus situation in Bristol, supporting BCC and Mayoral messages: https://www.bristol247.com/news-and-features/news/coronavirus-live-updates-march-24-2020-uk-goes-into-lockdown
  • Allotments: we know allotments are a good way for many people to exercise, so Bristol City Council are continuing to keep them open for now, although some facilities an site (e.g. toilets) will now be closed.
  • Bristol food businesses still operating: Environmental Health have been in regular contact with businesses and a letter is being sent from our Director of Public Health to give clear advice for businesses that are looking to make provision for takeaways and deliveries.

Bristol Volunteering  

  • The following short-link should be used to direct citizens to helping others and volunteering information: www.bristol.gov.uk/wearebristol
  • Videos about volunteering safely are now available in Arabic, Bengali, Kurdish, Polish, Punjabi, Somali and Urdu at the link above. Please do share them.
  • Questions and answers from Sandra and Jacqui’s Q&A on Facebook last night can be viewed here in comments below the video which is pinned to the top of our page: www.facebook.com/bristolcouncil
  • We are updating ourguidance for volunteering page in light of new guidance from government
  • We are supporting the Communities and Neighbourhoods team to improve functionality of the Can Do Bristol website to make it more accessible and easy to use

Bristol Education Sector

  • Last night’s additional information and advice, in relation to social-distancing, will inevitably create increased pressure for head teachers 
  • The current ask of schools and settings to provide childcare for keyworkers and vulnerable children has not changed and, where possible, continue with the same arrangements as yesterday
  • We do not know if we will receive any further information today, specifically for schools and settings
  • We contacted many head teachers yesterday to discuss individual positions and we will continue with those calls today; their feedback was extremely useful and there were a number of common questions and concerns. We are working on circulating a bulletin to all schools by the end of the day today.
  • The communications team are also working with a number of service leads to co-ordinate key messages to parents.

Bristol Social Care Sector

  • The majority of frontline Social Work/Occupational Therapy teams are now working from home and only undertaking essential visits.  We are prioritising resources to respond to urgent need – and supporting the demand in hospitals and ‘front door’ provision.  We are no longer undertaking any non-urgent Deprivation of Liberty Assessments (DOLS) as most care homes are closed.
  • There is a dedicated response set up for Direct Payment users, to ensure they have enough support and can access Protective Personal Equipment (packs are being made available). We have also raised this nationally for advice.
  • Care services are now operating with increasing staff absence due to self-isolation or sickness (25% or more) – we are deploying care staff across all services to keep services running.  We have requested urgent redeployment of staff and are working with HR on recruitment drive through Proud to Care.
  • The Commissioning team is working closely with all care providers to ensure they are operating safely, managing and sharing resources and supporting individual homes where there are several residents with Covid-19 (currently 2).
  • We are working closely with health partners to implement the national requirements for hospital discharge.
  • Additional Government funding is available for Local Authorities for emergency response – a proposal has been prepared for internal BCC sign-off.

Bristol Children’s Services Sector

  • The Children’s Services team are reviewing all risk assessments and adjusting the way in which we see/work with children and families with statutory intervention changing to virtual and telephone contact where possible.
  • PPE is in place where face to face visits are still required and COVID-19 symptoms are present.
  • A reduced capacity across the service means that the Early Help Offer is currently limited.
  • We are pushing information out through local networks and the local offer website for parents and practitioners.
  • Dynamic assessment and reprioritisation is being carried out daily.
  • Assessment and reprioritisation with partners is taking place twice – three times each week.
  • Significant concerns are being raised re: food distribution, costs to families of keeping children home (utility, rent and other bills), inability of poorer families to stay in touch as access to things like free Wi-Fi through communal settings is limited/non-existent.
  • We are attending to contextual risks for young people through reviewed risk assessment and multiagency safety plans – community safety measures are being reviewed (including risk of domestic violence and impact on children).

Bristol Business Sector and Economy

  • The City Office is working with the Economic Development Team, One City Economy Board and Business West to establish mechanisms for city partner organisations to strategically support the city’s economic recovery
  • A current priority for Bristol City Council is to cancel the payments due to be called by direct debit in April for businesses entitled to 100% relief. Discounts will apply as per following guidance: https://www.bristol.gov.uk/business-rates/budget-2020-new-rate-discounts
  • The council is looking to process small business grants (£25k) ASAP. We know that we have circa 5k business who could benefit from this based on those paying business rates. However only 400 have actively requested this so far. Where possible we want to make this available to all ASAP. All we require are business rate account number and bank details for payment by BACs. Please do highlight via your networks to ensure all businesses can benefit. As a council we will promote via our networks and social channels
  • Support can be found at WECA’s Growth Hub which has has set up key information and contacts here https://www.wearegrowth.co.uk
  • We are working with local networks and awaiting further guidance to address key sectors and areas such as the self-employed and help available beyond universal credit and income tax / VAT relief

Bristol Travel Sector

  • Effective from 30th March – First West of England will introduce an emergency timetable to apply on Monday to Saturday. This is a reduction in frequencies to all services, mostly to half hourly or hourly frequency. These frequencies could reduce further in the evenings.
  • We are awaiting schedules for full details and will summarise the picture when we receive them.
  • It is envisaged that an emergency timetable for Sundays / Public Holidays will be introduced for Sunday 5 April 2020.
  • The service changes planned for 5 April have been suspended, including the proposed introduction of service 2A.
  • Travelwest is the main source of information for bus service updates – Real Time Information screens are not predicting and are referring passengers to Travelwest for up to date information. Travelwest will be updated as service levels change.
  • Should we have stability of timetable we will review how best to utilise the RTI screens.
  • To be aware – an issue raised recently about handwashing facilities at Bristol bus station has now been resolved.

The Forum’s first coronavirus success!


We have just read that Bristol City Councilb has responded to our calls for more support to those on Direct Payments.  In particular they have set up a dedicated response for Direct Payment users, to ensure they have enough support and can access Protective Personal Equipment (packs are being made available).

Bristol City Council tells us they have also raised this nationally for advice – something else we asked them to do.


It is good to know that the Council is responding positively when we lay out what our coronavirus-related needs are. 


Let us hope they continue to do so after the government suspends the Care Act!

Disability Advice and Support

The world is full of uncertainty right now, if you are a Disabled person help can still be available to you.

Advice for those on Direct Payments

General advice:

Worship

Places of Worship are off limits as a part of being a ‘Public Gathering’. Well some places are bringing the services to you in the comfort of your own home!

Ebeneezer Church will be hosting online Sunday Services at this web address https://www.ebe.org.uk/onlinesundayservice

The Bristol Oratory will be going ‘Live’ daily over on Facebook for Daily Broadcasts of Vespers 17:30 and Compline 21:00 – https://www.facebook.com/bristoloratory/