Coronavirus and benefits - what the changes mean for you

Coronavirus and benefits - what the changes mean for you

Many of the coronavirus and benefit support measures have ended or ending. This page starts with the measures that are still in and below that, briefly lists the measures that have gone

The aim of this page is to provide you with useful information and advice on coronavirus and social security benefits and other related help and how they affect you. It does not give advice on the virus itself. You may also find our coronavirus information and advice useful. This information is accurate as possible at the time of publishing.

Get advice

For independent benefit and debt advice in Newcastle and local Jobcentre details, see benefits and money advice services in Newcastle.

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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 - the measures that are still in or relevant

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.

A description on the support measures and a withdrawal of those measures by the House of Commons library provides a good background

If you have been affected by the removal of the £20 per week Universal Credit uplift please see our information sheet on what options may be available to you to help you manage this drop in income - on our Debt and money advice page

Self-employed

- Self employment and Universal Credit

The minimum income floor (MIF)

The MIF rules: For the first 12 months of self-employment, the Universal Credit calculation takes actual income into account. After 12 months, the ‘minimum income floor’ (MIF) rule is usually applied, where a minimum income from the self-employment is assumed, whether you are earning it or not (usually the national minimum wage for the number of hours you are expected to work, usually 35 hours a week). This means some people are assumed to be earning more than they actually are and so get less Universal Credit. From 13 March 2020, the MIF rules were temporarily suspended 

The MIF suspension ended August 2021 where the MIF would gradually be phased in with jobcentre Work Coaches.  However, Work Coaches have the discretion not to apply the MIF if the claimant’s earnings continue to be affected by coronavirus.

This was put into law by regulation 2021/313. See also the Government guidance ADM Memo 15/21

The Government said that those who’d already done their 12 months start-up before the start of Covid would be reassessed and contacted in August 2021 and face reductions from their next assessment period. This and more from the Social Security Advisory Committee's July 2021 meeting minutes.

- Tips

See 'warning' and more information about claiming Universal Credit below

If you are sick, 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. See this Government guidance 'If you have coronavirus symptoms'.

These 'contributory' benefits can be ‘topped up’ by means tested benefits. This could involve claiming Universal Credit from the DWP and Council Tax Support 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. 

See also Coronavirus (COVID-19): what to do if you’re self-employed and getting less work or no work from gov.uk

- Help for businesses

See the Government guidance Financial support for businesses during coronavirus

See Newcastle City Council's webpage Covid-19: Support for business

Employed and employment

- Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

Employees who go on the sick and earn £120 or more a week (it’s £123 from April 2022) may be able to get SSP from their employer worth £96.35 a week (£99.35 a week from 6 April 2022). 

From 25 March 2022 special COVID rules were removed. See the Government’s Living with COVID-19 announcement on 22 February 2022. Normal SSP rules now apply.

More details about SSP. See also guidance from LITRG and ACAS. See also Employment and Support Allowance below

- 'Access to Work'

'The Access to Work scheme provides support to help people with disabilities or health conditions start or stay in work.

The support offered is based on individual needs and could include a grant to help cover the costs of practical support in the workplace or for those working from home.

An Access to Work grant does not need to be paid back and could pay for a range of different support, including:

  • Support workers
  • Specialist equipment
  • Help with travel costs to work and back
  • Mental health support.

You can find out more about the Access to Work scheme on gov.uk

- Restart scheme

Part of the government's Plan for Jobs, the Restart scheme will give Universal Credit claimants (and income based JSA claimants from 14 March 2022) who have been out of work for at least 9 months enhanced support to find jobs in their local area. 

Details on these and other measures from the government announcement and responses from TUC and Disability Rights UK

- Tips

If your employer tells you that you are not entitled to SSP because for example you do not earn enough, or 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 ESA below. Or, you may also be entitled to claim New Style Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) - see JSA below.

SSP, New Style ESA or New Style JSA can be ‘topped up’ by means tested benefits. This may involve claiming Universal Credit from the DWP (if not already on 'legacy benefits' - see below) and Council Tax Support from your local council.

Many employees may already on benefits like Working Tax Credit, Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. If wages decrease, you should tell those benefit offices because those benefits might increase.

If you suffer a drop in income and are on a means tested benefit, you should notify the benefit office as changes in income may affect your benefit. Also, drops in income may mean other means tested benefits could be claimed such as Universal Credit or Council Tax Support.

See 'warning' about Universal Credit below

Test and Trace Payment

The Test and Trace Support Payment scheme ended on 24 February 2022.  "If you were told to self-isolate before 24 February you can still make a claim within 42 days of the first day of self-isolation and no later than 6 April."

 Details of the scheme rules and how to apply from Newcastle Council. Details also from gov.uk,  LITRG Q&A, the NHS Test and Trace: how it works from gov.uk

Help with rent

- Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP)

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

More details about Housing Benefit from Shelter

See more details and other help with housing below

Council Tax help

Details on help for residents paying Council Tax: Coronavirus – Information relating to Council Tax

Also you may be entitled to a Council Tax Discount for being classed as living alone or in other circumstances.

More details about Newcastle council's Council Tax Support Scheme

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) - unfit for work

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 low or no 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 Income related ESA but if you are making a new claim you would probably need to claim Universal Credit instead. See our Universal Credit webpage for more details. The other kind is 'Contribution based ESA', now called ‘New Style ESA’ and depends on your national insurance record. You may need to claim 'New Style ESA' if for example, your SSP has run out or you are not entitled to SSP. You may also be able to claim Universal Credit as well as your New Style ESA or if you are not entitled to it.

There were several relaxations due to coronavirus.

From 25 March 2022 special COVID rules were removed. See the Government’s Living with COVID-19 announcement on 22 February 2022, which said:

On the 24 March 2022, "The COVID-19 Employment and Support Allowance provisions within The Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (Coronavirus Disease) Regulations 2020 will automatically expire. From this date, people will no longer be eligible for Employment and Support Allowance because they are self-isolating due to COVID-19. Anyone infected with COVID-19 may, subject to satisfying the conditions of entitlement, still be eligible for Employment and Support Allowance on the basis that they have a health condition or disability that affects their ability to work under the general Employment and Support Allowance regulations." 

However, on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA): Eligibility - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) it says:

"If you had to self-isolate because of coronavirus (COVID-19)

You can apply for ESA if you had to self-isolate or quarantine before 24 March 2022 and were unable to claim Statutory Sick Pay. You can apply if one of the following was true:

  • you or your child might have had COVID-19 or were recovering from it
  • you or your child were self-isolating because you came into contact with someone who might have had COVID-19
  • you were advised by your doctor or healthcare professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery
  • you were quarantining after returning from abroad

You can apply for ‘new style’ ESA up to 3 months after the date you want to claim from.

If you’re claiming ESA because of COVID-19, you’ll need to give evidence to support your claim.

More details on government guidance New Style Employment and Support Allowance: detailed guide and the Capability for work questionnaire.

See also below about contact with the DWP and Jobcentres and work search requirements and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and other disability and sickness benefits

- Tips

For details on the usual ESA criteria (the Work Capability Assessment and 'limited capability for work' test) 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 Universal Credit instead and Council Tax Benefit from the council.

See 'warning' about Universal Credit below

See also work search and work-related activity below

More details are available from Citizens Advice.

Universal Credit

See 'warning' about claiming Universal Credit below

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

If you have been affected by the removal of the £20 per week Universal Credit uplift please see our information sheet on what options may be available to you to help you manage this drop in income -  on our Debt and money advice page

- Calling the DWP

Anyone who cannot get online can ring the UC helpline 0800 328 5644, or Citizens Advice UC Help to Claim service 0800 144 8 444. See also 'Extra help and support under Universal Credit in Newcastle' on our more detailed guide to Universal Credit webpage. 

British Sign Language (BSL) video relay service. 

You can use the BSL video relay service to make a UC claim. Find out what you need to do to use the service. The service is available Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm.

- Verification

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

- Tips

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

Watch out for the Universal Credit 'surplus earnings rule' where fluctuating earnings may take you above entitlement to UC and prevent future UC entitlement for a period - by carrying forward and taking into account as income 'surplus earnings' above £2,500 per month. However, the £2,500 amount will drop to £300 in April 2023 - confirmed by the Government. The benefits calculator by 'entitledto' allows you to estimate the effects of surplus earnings. More details from Revenuebenefits

Universal Credit - to claim or not to claim

There are reasons why you should not claim Universal Credit and why you should - as follows:

If you receive one or more of the ‘legacy’ benefits that Universal Credit is replacing, they will stop when you or your partner claim Universal Credit – and you may either be worse or better off. Once you have claimed UC, you cannot normally return to those legacy benefits. The DWP include this warning on their Universal Credit webpages. NB. In June 2020 the Court of Appeal ruled that the failure to provide transitional protection for claimants who were worse off when they transferred to Universal Credit was unlawful.

Sometimes you may be better off on UC rather than on 'legacy' benefits. For example, the extra you can get in UC for having extra health problems is not replicated in 'legacy' benefits. 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.

In addition, if you are on a 'legacy' benefit and your circumstances change you may have to claim UC but you may not. 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.  

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.

See also work search and work related activity below

More details about Universal Credit

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

- Reviews, reassessments, telephone interviews and making a claim

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

Government Guidance about attending face-to-face health assessments for Work Capability Assessment, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and Personal Independence Payment

The DWP have provided internal guidance on how contracted healthcare professionals should correctly carry out assessments without a face-to-face assessment. See the DWP list of documents at the bottom of this Freedom of Information request.

If in doubt, contact the DWP disability benefits helplines

- DLA guidance says: children who remain unwell after 12 weeks after COVID may be entitled to DLA

DWP Guidance was updated to include ‘Long COVID syndrome

‘We know that recovery usually takes place within three to four weeks of onset of COVID-19 and many more children recover within 12 weeks. However, for some children, the recovery will be much longer.’

‘It is those children who have significant functional impairment at 12 weeks and do not seem to be recovering, who may have entitlement to DLA Child.’

‘A child does not have to have had a positive test result to be diagnosed with the syndrome. Testing has not always been easily available.’

- Child on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) approaching 16 - having been told to claim PIP

If this is the case, you should claim PIP by the date on the letter. If you need more time, you can call the PIP helpline 0800 121 4433 who might give you an extension. More details from Disability Rights UK and Citizens Advice.

- Tips

If you have a change in needs and you think you are entitled to a higher amount of a disability benefit, 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. If you are not getting a disability benefit and think you are entitled you should claim it.

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.

Make sure you provide information when asked and in time, for example you have a month to return the PIP2 form ('How your disability affects you’). If you do not, benefit may stop. A month time limit usually applies. Read the letters from the DWP. However, you can ask for deadlines to be extended.

For advice on disability benefits see Disability Rights UK and see our benefits information page

Older people

Can claim Pension Credit online as well as other usual methods

Funeral costs and support for the bereaved when someone dies

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

See also Support for the bereaved from gov.uk

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.

To find out more about using Video Relay Service, watch the video and download the app here

Many DWP benefit offices can be contacted via:

Contact with the DWP and Jobcentres

- Visiting a Jobcentre

The DWP presently say this on the page  'Your jobcentre appointment' on the website Understanding Universal Credit about visiting jobcentres

- Speaking to the DWP on someone's behalf

It is possible to ring the DWP on behalf of someone via a three-way or conference call and other methods.

See Contacting DWP on behalf of someone else - Understanding Universal Credit and Become an appointee for someone claiming benefits from gov.uk and  DWP routinely refuses to implement their own guidance on working with representatives from Z2K

Tribunal service changes

You can appeal most benefit decisions to an independent tribunal service, who are now using telephone and video to conduct social security benefit appeal hearing.

Where possible appeals can be decided without a hearing and ‘triaged’ where a successful outcome for the applicant is highly likely. If it goes against the claimant, they can ask for a hearing. See this tribunals guidance from the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary.

The Newcastle Civil, Family and Tribunals Centre – a major part of the refurbishment of the Civic Centre - officially opened 14 July 2021. They will deal with civil and family work as well as immigration and asylum, employment and social security and child support tribunals.  More from gov.uk

More information is available on gov.uk which says:

“The Prime Minister has announced (21 February 2022) changes to COVID-19 rules in England.

We’re working with Public Health officials to determine what this means for our courts and tribunals and will give as much notice as possible of any changes. In the meantime, please continue to wear face coverings in our buildings, wash your hands and keep distancing where practicable.”

Other related issues and help

Household Support Fund

More funding has been provided for a second phase. See the City Council’s webpage on the Household Support Fund

Healthy Start

It is also worth knowing about the national Healthy Start scheme where you get "free vouchers every week to spend on milk, fresh, frozen, and tinned fruit and vegetables, fresh, dried, and tinned pulses, and infant formula milk. You can also get free vitamins.

Pregnant or have children under the age of four? You could qualify if you're on benefits, or if you're pregnant and under 18.”

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     
- Professionals can apply to the council's Supporting Independence Scheme to help their clients
- The VRF Emergency Fund - applications from frontline workers
- Charities and other help is listed on the council's Debt and money advice page and turn2us     

Families with children who have complex needs and disabilities can apply for a grant from the Family Fund for vital equipment to make their lives easier during the pandemic.

See also If you can’t pay your bills because of coronavirus from Citizens Advice

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

Coronavirus and benefits - the measures that have ended

This is a very brief list of the coronavirus and benefit measures that have been removed or ended. For some details see COVID-19 Response: Living with COVID-19 from gov.uk

- Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS)

The fifth and last grant, covered the period from May to September 2021. Rules for the fifth grant which has closed.

- Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

From 25 March 2022:

  • SSP no longer deems people to be sick “where they are self-isolating or shielding due to coronavirus but may only have very mild or no symptoms and would therefore otherwise be considered capable of work.” See regulation: SI.No.380/2022 
  • SSP is no longer paid from day one for those no longer able to work due to coronavirus. Instead the usual four day waiting period applies. This provision ended 24 March 2022. Note that “people who were instructed to self-isolate before this date will still be able to claim support payments within the next 42 days.” 

For historical background, see Coronavirus (COVID-19): what to do if you’re employed and cannot work from the government. See regulation 2 and 3 of The Statutory Sick Pay (Coronavirus) (Suspension of Waiting Days and General Amendment) Regulations 2020.

- Coronavirus Job Retention - 'furlough' – Scheme

Ended 30 September 2021

- Kickstart Scheme

The Kickstart Scheme for 16-24 years old on Universal Credit closed. Updated government page to say applications for Kickstart Scheme funding closed at midday on 17 December 2021.

- Working Tax Credit (WTC)

The basic amount of WTC was increased by £20 a week from 6 April 2020.  Budget 2021 changed this to a £500 one-off payment. The uplift was not continued

The working hours easement ended 25 November 2021

- Test and Trace payment

The Test and Trace Support Payment scheme in England has now closed. “If you were told to self-isolate before 24 February (2022) you can still make a claim within 42 days of the first day of self-isolation and no later than 6 April.” (2022)

- Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Those claiming or entitled to Employment and Support Allowance and 'affected' by coronavirus were treated as incapable of work without having to provide medical evidence or undergo a work capability assessment and forego the 7-day waiting period with ESA paid from day one.  But these provisions ended 24 March 2022. See the Government’s Living with COVID-19 announcement on 22 February 2022.  

- Carers. This relates to unpaid, informal carers.

Carers could retain their Carers Allowance if they have a temporary break in caring due to coronavirus. This applied until 31 August 2021 by this regulation SI.No.476/2021. Its ending was confirmed in a DWP 'Touchbase' on 10 September 2021. 

The government also allowed emotional support to count for Carers Allowance. The above mentioned 'Touchbase' also confirmed this had ended 31 August 2021. 

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

- Prisoners

The law was amended to allow prisoners on temporary release due to coronavirus to claim certain benefits and for others to claim for them. This ended 31 August 2021

- Work search requirements for some benefit claimants

These, and sanctions for failure to comply, were reduced or eased during the pandemic but were reintroduced in June 2020 and 2021.

- Deductions from benefits to repay arrears and so on

These were paused for a while and from July 2020, recovery of overpayments, social fund loan repayments etc recommenced.

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