Coronavirus

We have set up a dedicated Coronavirus/COVID-19 webpage. Click here or go to www.newcastle.gov.uk/coronavirus

Coronavirus and benefits - what the changes mean for you

The aim of this page is to provide you with useful information and advice on coronavirus and benefits and other related changes and how they affect you. It does not give advice on the virus itself. Also see the City Council information above

We will try to keep it as up to date as we possibly can

Please also see these related pages:

Coronavirus and benefits - guidance and legislation

Coronavirus and benefits - news

Get advice - Benefits and money advice services in Newcastle. These have changed their services due to coronavirus

Note. If you are you a professional or volunteer and want to keep on top of the latest benefit changes sign up to our bi-monthly 'Benefit Bulletin'

Coronavirus and benefits - what the changes mean for you

This relates to the special benefit rules for coronavirus. Don't forget there are other benefits you may be entitled to, so check our other pages such as benefit information and Universal Credit.

Changes are regularly made so keep checking back and also see our page Coronavirus and benefits - news

Contents

Self Employed
- Income Support Scheme
- Universal Credit

Employed
- Job Retention Scheme - 'furloughed'
- Working Tax Credit
- Statutory Sick Pay

Help with rent
- Housing Benefit
- Local Housing Allowance
- Discretionary Housing Payments

Council Tax help

Employment and Support Allowance

Jobseekers Allowance

Universal Credit

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and other disability and sickness benefits
- Reassessments suspended and awards extended

Carers

Older people

Having a baby
- Grants, Child Benefit and so on

Funeral costs and support for the bereaved

Prisoners 

Get help with benefits if you have accessibility needs

Deaf people

Contact with the DWP and Jobcentres: visits suspended, with exceptions and recognising a call from DWP 

Work search requirements and sanctions

Payment of benefit
- Cash delivery payments by post office for those shielding

Deductions from benefits paused

Tribunal service changes

Other related issues and help
- Free school meals
- Free food and foodbanks
- Emergency help
- Employment
  - Including support in Newcastle
- Housing
  - Hostels
  - Residential care
  - Housing advice and support in Newcastle
- Debt and money advice
- Domestic violence
- Energy, fuel and water
- People from abroad

Self-employed

- Income Support Scheme

This scheme allows the self-employed to claim a taxable grant covering March, April and May, worth 80% of trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month, where they have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to coronavirus. They must have submitted a tax return for 2018/19 by 23 April 2020. The scheme may be extended

More details from gov.uk, Contact, Commons Library and Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG)

- Universal Credit

For the first 12 months of self-employment, the Universal Credit calculation takes actual income into account. After 12 months a rule called ‘minimum income floor’ (MIF) is usually applied, where a minimum income from the self-employment is assumed, which is usually the national minimum wage for the number of hours you are expected to work for, usually 35 hours a week. For some this means they are assumed to be earning more than they actually are.

From 13 March, the MIF rules were suspended for those who were ill or self-isolating due to coronavirus and from 6 April it was suspended for all self-employed people – for the duration of the outbreak.

Note.

See 'warning' about claiming Universal Credit below

If you are sick or affected by coronavirus, you may be entitled to claim the sickness benefit - New Style Employment and Support Allowance or if unemployed - New Style Jobseekers Allowance. Both depend on your national insurance contributions. Details below. Statutory Sick Pay is not available for the self employed.

These 'contributory' benefits can be ‘topped up’ by means tested benefits. This could involve claiming Universal Credit from the DWP and Council Tax reduction from your local council. Many self-employed are already on benefits like Working Tax Credit, Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. If income goes down, or if the Income Support scheme doesn’t apply, you should tell those benefit offices. 

More details from the ’Further Measures’ regulations SI 371/2020 which introduced this and other measures and government guidance.

Employed

- Job Retention Scheme – ‘furloughed’

If a business has had to close or scale back due to coronavirus this scheme helps employers keep staff on the payroll until the pandemic passes, rather than lay them off, and pay 80% of their wages of up to £2,500 a month. Scheme extended till the end of October 2020

Note. If this happens to you as an employee and are on a means tested benefit, you should notify the benefit office as drops in income may increase benefit. Also, drops in income may mean other means tested benefits could be claimed such as Universal Credit or Council Tax Reduction.

More details from government guidance and LITRG and below

New HMRC coronavirus contact details

- Working Tax Credit (WTC)

The basic amount of WTC was increased by £20 a week from 6 April 2020. See also Housing Benefit below.

To get Working Tax Credit you have to work a certain number of hours. A temporary drop below those hours are ignored for four weeks. This is extended. The government press release 4 May 2020 says:  'We will treat customers as working their normal hours until the Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme close, even if they are not using either scheme.'

More details about Working Tax Credit and also see Universal Credit below

- Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

Employees who go on the sick and earn a certain amount (£120 a week from 6 April 2020) may be able to get SSP from their employer. If you think you have coronavirus or are self-isolating in line with government guidance then you can claim SSP and have it paid from day one, rather than day four - and after seven days of self certifying, you would then use an 'isolation note' - see below

Note.

If you are not entitled to SSP because for example you do not earn enough, or if your SSP has run out, then you may be able to claim the contribution based Employment and Support Allowance – also known as ‘New Style ESA’ – see below. Or, you may also be entitled to claim New Style Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) - see below. SSP, New Style ESA or New Style JSA can be ‘topped up’ by means tested benefits. This could involve claiming Universal Credit from the DWP and Council Tax reduction from your local council.

Many employees are already on benefits like Working Tax Credit, Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. If wages go down, you should tell those benefit offices. 

See 'warning' about Universal Credit below

More details about SSP and getting an 'isolation note'. See Employment and Support Allowance below. See also guide from LITRG

Help with rent

- Housing Benefit

To take into account the above WTC increase, from 6 April 2020, the Housing Benefit disregard of WTC is increased from £17.10 to £37.10 a week

This should be applied automatically by the local authority.

- Local Housing Allowance (LHA)

LHA is Housing Benefit for private tenants.

The maximum rent that is eligible for LHA is ‘capped’ at the 30th ‘percentile’ of local area market levels. This was frozen by the Budget 2015 but has been ‘reset’ - in other words increased, so that more Housing Benefit will be payable from 6 April 2020. The amount various for each area.

If it applies, this increase should be applied automatically by the local authority.

- Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP)

If you receive Housing Benefit or Universal Credit and are finding it difficult to pay your rent you can apply for a DHP.

More details about Housing Benefit from Shelter

See more details and other help with housing below

Council Tax help

The government have recommended that the £500 million they gave to councils in the budget to support vulnerable people during the outbreak should be towards a further reduction in residents’ annual council tax bill of £150 probably in the form of increased benefit.

Note. Remember, if you claim Universal Credit, you should also claim Council Tax support.

More details in government guidance and Newcastle City Council Tax web page

Employment and support Allowance (ESA)

ESA is a benefit for those who are ‘unfit for work’. ESA has two parts. One is ‘means tested’ which tops you up if you have no or low income and is called ‘Income related ESA’. This is one of the six means tested benefits that are being replaced by Universal Credit. Many people still receive it. The other kind is Contribution based ESA, called ‘New Style ESA’ which depends on your national insurance record. Make sure you call it ‘New Style ESA’ when you claim it. There have been several relaxations.

Claimants ‘affected by coronavirus’ do not have to serve the seven waiting days for claiming ESA and do not have to provide a fit note. From the regulation S.I. 2020 No. 289 and government guidance

The New Style ESA claim form can now be claimed online or by ringing the DWP.

Reviews and reassessments and face to face assessments for disability and sickness benefits like ESA have been suspended. More details below

If you have made an appointment with your work coach, you do not need to go to it at the moment because of coronavirus. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will contact you to let you know what you need to do instead.

Note.

For details on the usual ESA criteria and how to get an extra amount, see our 'Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit work capability assessment' factsheet on our benefit information page.

New Style ESA can be topped up by means tested benefits such as income related ESA and Housing Benefit, or you can claim instead Universal Credit from the DWP and also Council Tax Benefit from the council.

See 'warning' about Universal Credit below

More details about ESA from the government and Citizens Advice   

Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) 

Jobseekers Allowance is a benefit for those who are fit for work. As described under ESA above, there are two kinds of Jobseekers Allowance. One is ‘means tested’ which tops you up if you have no or low income and is called ‘Income Based JSA’. This is one of the six means tested benefits that are being replaced by Universal Credit. Many people still receive it. The other kind is Contribution based ESA, called ‘New Style JSA which depends on your national insurance record. There have been several relaxations.

If you or a child of your who have or may have coronavirus, you can still get JSA.

Explained in DWP guidance ADM Memo 04/20 and DMG Memo 06/20

See also ‘Work search for JSA and Universal Credit’ and ‘Jobcentre visits suspended’ below.

Note. New Style JSA can be topped up by means tested benefits such as income based JSA and Housing Benefit, or you can claim instead Universal Credit from the DWP and also Council Tax Benefit from the council.

More details about JSA.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is replacing six means tested ‘legacy’ benefits. Claiming it involves setting up an online Universal Credit account. More details about Universal Credit.

The basic amount increased by £20 a week from 6 April 2020. This increase also applies to WTC. The increase should happen automatically.

From 9 April people making new claims for Universal Credit no longer need to call the DWP as part of the process. This is called ‘Don’t call us we’ll call you’. People just need to make the claim online and they will be contacted by the Jobcentre. This will include checking what has been said in the claim form and helping with verification.

However, anyone who cannot get online can ring the UC helpline 0800 328 5644, or Citizens Advice Help to Claim service 0800 144 8 444

Verification of identity is usually done through certain services. This has been expanded to include Government Gateway.

Like ESA and disability benefits reassessments of incapacity for work in UC is suspended. See also above the change in Universal Credit for the self-employed.

Note.

The benefit cap has not been removed so many won’t see the benefit of the £20 increase as their UC cannot go any higher than the cap. This increase does not apply to other legacy benefits apart from WTC. See CPAG's description of the gaps in support.

There are many reasons why you may need to claim Universal Credit. For example, you have not managed to get help from the self-employed Income Support scheme or the employee’s job retention scheme or been made redundant, or your income has reduced as a result of coronavirus – or for any other reason for that matter. 

Always remember that Universal Credit does not replace Council Tax Benefit, so you should always also claim that as well from your local council.

Watch out for the Universal Credit 'surplus earnings rule' where earning fluctuate and may take them above UC entitlement (by over £2,500) and prevents future UC entitlement for a period. The benefits calculator by 'entitledto' allows you to estimate the effects of surplus earnings. See the Social Security Advisory Committee's letter on 18 May 2020 to the head of DWP about this rule.

Warning. 

There are also reasons why you do not need to or should not claim Universal Credit. The DWP have communicated this 'known issue' via Twitter. For example, you are already on one or more of the benefits that UC is replacing, and you would not be any better off on UC, or you may be worse off. Once you have claimed UC, you cannot normally return to those legacy benefits. Sometimes you may be better off on UC. For example, the extra £20 a week Universal Credit – even though it may be only for a year – is not included in legacy benefits apart from Working Tax Credit. Another example is the extra you can get in UC for having extra health problems. This is the ‘Limited Capability for Work Related Activity’ element and is described in our factsheet: Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit work capability assessment on our benefit information page.

So, if you have a choice you should first find out if you are better off remaining on legacy benefits or claiming UC. This usually involves what is called a ‘better off’ calculation - comparing what you may get under Universal Credit or your legacy benefits. You can ask one of the advice services in Newcastle to do this, or you may be able to do it yourself via an online calculator.

Please check our table which lists some of the main changes in circumstances which may lead to a claim for Universal Credit and when it may not 

More details about Universal Credit

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and other disability and sickness benefits

Reassessments suspended and awards extended

Disability benefits and the incapacity for work test in ESA or UC usually involve regularly having to prove you satisfy the health conditions with regular reviews, reassessments and appointments with health professionals.

  • Reviews and reassessments for the following benefits were suspended initially for three months from 24 March 2020: Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Attendance Allowance (AA), ESA, UC and Industrial Injuries benefit.
  • The deadline for returning the form (PIP2 'How your disability affects you') after the initial phone call to start the PIP claim is extended for three months from the date it was received - but the sooner it's returned the quicker any payment can be paid.
  • Face to face assessments for these benefits were also suspended.
  • Young people on DLA have been asked to renew their benefit have been given an extra 6 months to do so. More details from contact
  • Assessments that are already in process will continue and are taking place over the phone. The assessing service will contact people at some stage. Failure to participate in an arranged phone call may lead to benefit being stopped.
  • If an assessment has already taken place it will continue to be processed

Also, awards that are due to expire will be extended at their current rate during this period. 

DWP minister said to Work and Pensions Committee on 23 April 2020 that disability benefit awards are to be extended by six months if due for reassessment in next three months

More government clarifications

If in doubt, contact the DWP disability benefits helplines

Note.

If you have a change in needs and you think you are entitled to a higher amount of for example PIP, you can still contact the DWP - but do be certain you are entitled to the higher amount as the DWP can relook at the whole award. I if you are not getting a disability benefit and think you are entitled you can still claim them.

For ESA and UC the assessment could also include getting a higher amount. For details on the usual ESA criteria and how to get this extra amount, see our 'Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit work capability assessment' factsheet on our benefit information page.

More details from Disability Rights UK

Carers

This relates to unpaid, informal carers – who are caring for family member or friend.

Carers Allowance is paid to those who earn below a set weekly amount and provide at least 35 hours a week care to people on the highest two levels of Disability Living Allowance care component, either rate of the Personal Independence Payment daily living component or Attendance Allowance.

Carers can retain their Carers Allowance if they have a temporary break in caring. This applies to breaks in caring due to the carer or cared for person getting coronavirus or being isolated due to coronavirus. The government has also confirmed that emotional support counts for Carers Allowance.

Note. Receiving Carers Allowance can sometimes stop the higher amount of benefit the disabled person is getting (called the Severe Disability Premium'). If in doubt seek advice

More details from Carersuk

Older people

Can now claim Pension Credit online as well as other usual methods
 

Having a baby, grants, Child Benefit and so on

New DWP advice for those wanting to claim a Sure Start Maternity Grant. More details 

You do not have to register a birth for Child Benefit but still need to complete the form or phone 0300 200 3100. See also DWP press release

Furloughed workers to receive full parental leave entitlement - SI. No.450/2020

Furloughed workers planning to take paid parental or adoption leave will be entitled to pay based on their usual earnings rather than a furloughed pay rate. For example, Statutory maternity pay, adoption, shared parental pay and so on.From 25 April 2020. See also press release and guidance

Funeral costs and support for the bereaved

From 8th April, help to meet the costs of funeral expenses from the social fund such as coffins and funeral directors’ fees will increase from £700 to £1,000

See also the government webpage Support for the bereaved

Prisoners

Urgent temporary release of prisoners

The law is amended to allow prisoners on temporary release due to coronavirus to claim certain benefits and for others to claim for them. Applies till 12 November 2020.

See DWP guidance A8/2020, DMG Memo 07/20 and ADM Memo 05/20

See also prisoners released early due to coronavirus and benefits by CPAG 

Get help with benefits if you have accessibility needs

New DWP web page for those who have difficulty with:

  • using the phone (advice on relay UK, Textphone, Video Relay Service for BSL, alternatives to the phone including a link to ‘home visits’)
  • using a computer,
  • reading letters or filling in forms,
  • attending face to face meetings
  • managing you own affairs

And how to complain

Deaf people

Making contact with the DWP and getting advice and information can be difficult for deaf people. The government have announced Universal Credit claimants can now access British Sign Language interpreters as part of a free video relay service.

More details: DWP advice for deaf people who use BSL and the Video Relay Service

Also see this BSL signed information about coronavirus

Contact with the DWP and Jobcentres: Jobcentre visits suspended - with exceptions, recognising a call from the DWP

Attending Jobcentres

From 23 March all requirements to attend jobcentres were suspended for three months, which may be extended. Most contact is via phone or the Universal Credit online journal. Visits can be arranged for exceptional purposes: "If you cannot get online, phone us for help and we will only see people face to face in our jobcentres if invited".

More details in the press release

Recognising a call from the DWP.  A message from the DWP to claimants 11 May 2020

"As you are aware, all Jobcentres have had to close their doors during the coronavirus pandemic and we have been contacting you via Journal Message or phone call and this has been from a private or withheld number.

We know that many people are cautious of answering these calls for security purposes. To assist you in recognising a call from Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) either the Jobcentre or Service Centre, a new telephone number will appear on your phone from 06/05/2020 when we call you. It is 0800 023 2635.

For ease, we suggest you add this number to your contacts and rename it to ensure you recognise when we are calling. You will not be able to call us on this number; it is an automated message only.

The contact number to call Universal Credit has not changed, it is 0800 328 5644."

Work search requirements and sanctions

Those claiming new style Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) or Universal Credit who are fit and able to work usually have work search requirements which includes being 'able and willing to immediately take up a job'. Those on old style JSA have to be 'available for work' and 'actively seeking work'. These requirements are suspended, initially for three months from 30 March 2020 and claimants will be contacted by the jobcentre instead.

This avoids such people being sanctioned for those reasons.

Note. However, the claimant commitment and other work-related activity is still in place. We have heard that if those with existing/open ended sanctions, makes contact with DWP (for example, via their Universal Credit journal) for any reason, that contact can be treated as the claimant meeting the compliance condition and the sanction can be ended.

More details and advice on UC, work requirements and sanctions by the Public Law Project and a House of Commons document

Payment of benefit

When notified by the DWP, the Post Office will make an urgent cash delivery payment for those shielding and vulnerable. PO press release 22 April 2020

NB. DWP will stop new benefit and pension claimants from using the Post Office Card Account from 11 May. See more details on our news webpage and the statement to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Deductions from benefits paused

Deductions for the recovery of Universal Credit and legacy benefit overpayments, Social Fund loans and Tax Credit debts were paused. Most were stopped automatically but some people may need to contact their bank to stop repayments made through standing order and so on. Local Authorities will suspend referral of Housing Benefit overpayments. Recovery of UC advance payments will continue. See government press release announcing the change.

The government also temporarily suspended direct deductions from benefits to pay 'third parties' for things like rent and fuel arears until 10 May 2020, which some organisations had concern about, such as Inside Housing

More details on deductions from benefits from Shelter

Tribunal service changes

You can appeal most benefit decisions to an independent tribunal service, who are now using telephone and video to conduct appeals. Where possible appeals can be decided without a hearing and ‘triaged’ where a successful outcome for the applicant is highly likely. See government webpage and tribunals guidance from Courts and Tribunals Judiciary 

Other related issues and help

Free school meals and education

Government guidance on:

  • Support for pupils entitled to free school meals (FSM) who have to stay at home e.g. meals, food parcels or vouchers
  • How the 'national voucher scheme' works
  • How those with 'no recourse to public funds' can also now get help with FSM

See also guidance about coronavirus and education

Free food and foodbanks

Food banks and free emergency food in Newcastle from InformationNOW

Emergency help

There are several places to go for one off and emergency help:

- See free food and foodbanks above
- See Discretionary Housing Payments - above
- The council's Crisis Support Scheme     
- Support workers can apply to the council's Supporting Independence Scheme
- The VRF Emergency Fund - applications from frontline workers
- Charities and other help listed on the council's Debt and money advice page      

Employment

COVID-19: guidance for employees, employers and businesses

Guidance for employees, employers and businesses, including SSP, proof of sickness, self employed, furloughed workers, benefits and help with rent. Gets updated

Coronavirus: Employment rights and sick pay

By House of Commons library

FAQs: Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

By House of Commons library

Coronavirus: apprenticeship programme response

Guidance for apprentices, employers, training providers and assessment organisations in response to the impact of coronavirus. New information on continuing training and end point assessment for furloughed apprentices, and pausing new funding audits

See also ACAS advice for employers and employees

Financial support for businesses

Including:

  • Paying your employees
  • Paying sick pay
  • Support for the self employed

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) relief for small and medium sized enterprises

To allow them to reclaim up to two weeks SSP paid to employees due to coronavirus.

Check if your employer can use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Advice for employees

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: step by step guide for employers

Advice for employers

How to calculate the 80% of wages for furloughed staff

Reminder from Contact that the Job Retention Scheme also applies to employees who are unable to come to work due to caring responsibilities resulting from Covid-19

See also Employment support in Newcastle:

- Newcastle City Council’s Supported Employment team provide telephone and email advice for residents they are already working with
- The Skills Hub base at City Library is closed, but the services involved are providing telephone and email support
- Newcastle Futures are still delivering their service to help residents to access key sector jobs now, as well as helping residents to prepare for when employers are fully open for business. This includes Tyne Online
- Routine appointments at Jobcentres have been temporarily suspended, with Work Coaches communicating with residents via their online journals

Housing

Government support for landlords and tenants

"...no renter in either social or private accommodation will be forced out of their home."

Protection for tenants and home owners

e.g. suspending evictions, no new possession proceedings and mortgage holiday 

Government guidance for rented housing sector

For landlords, tenants and local authorities

Coronavirus: Housing support

Describes government measures to assist households retain their homes and local authorities. By House of Commons library

Guidance for hostel or day centres for people rough sleeping

Guidance on residential care, supported living and home care provision

Housing advice and support in Newcastle: See Newcastle City Council's Housing advice service and Private rented service plus Crisis Skylight and Shelter North East

Debt and money advice

See Newcastle Council's webpage on debt advice, budgeting and other help if worried about money.

- Includes information sheet on coronavirus and paying your bills and managing debts (pdf, 123kb)

Domestic Violence

Free train travel for those fleeing domestic abuse

Any woman who needs to travel to find refuge from domestic violence can do so for free on any UK train. The cost of the ticket will be covered by the relevant train operator. Email railtorefuge@womensaid.org.uk. Find out more on Womens Aid webpage

Energy, fuel and water

Utility suppliers have agreed with the government to help customers in financial distress and suspend disconnection from supply

Also see help for residents from Newcastle City Council's Energy Service

Northumberland Water offer a payment break - but note those missed payments will be collected later

People from abroad

House of Commons briefing on those with no recourse to public funds and coronavirus and state support

Guidance on immigration provisions made by the Home Office for individuals affected by travel restrictions associated with coronavirus

Every effort is made to make this information as accurate as possible but changes are happening quite quickly and information about benefits must be seen alongside their other rules. That is why we link to the government guidance and other benefit information.

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