Coronavirus and benefits - what the changes mean for you

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 social security benefits and other related help 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 services 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

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

Contents

Self Employed
- Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and it's extension and ending
- Self employment and Universal Credit
- Tips
- Help for businesses

Employed and employment
- Job Retention Scheme - 'furloughed'
- Job Support Scheme expansion
- Job Support Scheme
- Job Retention Bonus
- Kickstart Scheme
- Access to Work grant etc
- Restart scheme
- Working Tax Credit
- Statutory Sick Pay
- Tips

Test and Trace Support Payment - and new self isolation duty

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

Council Tax help

Employment and Support Allowance - unfit for work
- Waiting days for ESA
- Medical evidence
- The test of incapacity process. The 'work capability assessment'
- Limited capability for work for ESA and Universal Credit
- Tips

Jobseekers Allowance
- Coronavirus easements
- Tips

Universal Credit
- £20 a week uplift
- Calling the DWP
- Verification
- UC and incapacity for work
- Childcare and UC
- Legacy benefit run on
- Tips including Universal Credit warning

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and other disability and sickness benefits
- Reviews, reassessments, telephone interviews and making a claim
- DLA claimants who have been told to claim PIP
- Warning! DWP re-introduced 'Failure To Attend'

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

Carers

Older people

Having a baby
- Grants, Child Benefit and so on

Funeral costs and support for the bereaved when someone dies

Prisoners 

Get help with benefits if you have accessibility needs

Deaf people

Contact with the DWP and Jobcentres, exceptions, recognising a call from DWP and speaking to the DWP on the claimant's behalf 

Work search and other work related requirements and sanctions - restarted from July 2020

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

Deductions from benefits paused then restarted from July 2020 and maximum recovery rate reduced

Tribunal service changes

Other related issues and help
- Help for families, children, free school meals and education
- Help with computer equipment and connection costs
- Free food and foodbanks
- Emergency help
- Employment
  - Including support in Newcastle
- Housing
  - Hostels
  - Residential care
  - Supported accommodation
  - Housing advice and support in Newcastle
  - Mortgage holidays
- Debt and money advice
- Domestic violence
- Energy, fuel and water
- People from abroad
- Childcare costs
- Students
- Veterans

Self-employed

Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS), it's extensions and ending

The government's Self-Employment Income Support Scheme allows people who are self-employed to claim a taxable grant when they have lost trading / partnership trading profits due to coronavirus (COVID-19). This scheme has been extended to provide five grants.  Details about the fourth and fifth grants were announced on 3 March 2021. The fourth grant covers the period 1 February to 30 April 2021 and can be claimed from late April until 31 May 2021. Details from gov.uk. Applications for fourth grants have closed, with the last date for making a claim on 1 June 2021.

The fifth and probably last grant, was available from late July 2021 and is intended to cover the period from May to September 2021. Rules for the fifth grant.

A good explanation of each of the grants and advice is provided by the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group.

- Self employment and Universal Credit

The minimum income floor

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, whether you are earning it or not, 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 and so get less Universal Credit.

From the 13 March 2020, the MIF rules were temporarily suspended 

On 3 March 2021 Budget 2021 announced the MIF suspension would continue till the end of July 2021 and then the MIF would gradually be phased in from August with jobcentre Work Coaches having the discretion not to apply it if the claimant’s earnings continue to be affected by coronavirus. This was put into law by regulation 2021/313. See the governement guidance ADM Memo 15/21

Those who’ve already done their 12 months start-up before the start of Covid will be reassessed and contacted in August and will face reductions from their next assessment period. This and more from the Social Security Advisory Committee's July 2021 meeting minutes.

Guidance on the reintroduction of Minimum Income Floor for Universal Credit claimants who are self-employed ADM Memo 15/21

(Before this, on 6 April 2020, it had been further suspended for all self-employed people 'for the duration of the outbreak' which meant up to 12 November 2020 and on 3 October 2020 Therese Coffey had announced  in Parliament “… the current easement of the suspension of the Minimum Income Floor in Universal Credit that was due to expire on 12 November 2020 will be extended to the end of April 2021.” Details in DWP Touchbase and press release.)

More details from the ’Further Measures’ regulations which introduced this and other measures and government's Universal Credit guidance.

- Tips

See 'warning' and more information 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 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. 

- Help for businesses

See the Government guidance Financial support for businesses during coronavirus

See Newcastle City Council webpage Covid-19: Business grants and financial support

Employed and employment

- Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme - 'furlough'

This scheme is extended to and will probably end by the 'end of September 2021'

The coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (also known as the 'furlough' scheme) was introduced in March 2020 to help employers pay their worker's wages if they are unable to do so due to coronavirus. Under this scheme employers could claim a grant so the worker that has been 'furloughed' can receive up to 80% of their normal earnings, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. Put another way, 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.

The Budget 2021 announced that the furlough scheme would continue to the end of September 2021 with some changes. For example, employers will be asked to contribute 10% in July and 20% in August and September as the scheme is gradually phased out. Government guidance on the extension.

Previously, the scheme was extended to 31 October 2020 with some changes, such as allowing some furloughed workers to return part time. The Job Support Scheme was to replace the furlough scheme on 1 November 2020 but that was postponed.

For more details see advice from ACAS, government and LITRGHMRC coronavirus contact details and guidance on the extension and below

TIP. 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.

- Job Support Scheme (JSS) 

The Job retention Scheme (‘furlough’) was originally due to be replaced by the Job Support Scheme, which was ‘extended/upgraded’ by the government on 22 October from the original plans announced on 24 September and 9 October.  However, as detailed above, the furlough scheme continues till the end of September 2021 and the JSS was delayed and it is uncertain it will be introduced. The government guidance on the JSS has been withdrawn.

Brief details of the Job Support Scheme are retained here for future reference in case it is introduced. Briefly, there are two kinds of Job Support Scheme depending on whether your employed by a business which is open ('JSS Open’) or has been forced to close due to coronavirus (‘JSS Closed’). Both initially run for 6 months. For reference, see information from the government

- Job Retention Bonus

The JSS was planned to sit alongside the £1,000 Job Retention Bonus - but has also been delayed.

This scheme's original aim was to encourage employers to keep on furloughed workers by paying them £1,000 for every employee they keep on until at least January 2021.  For reference, see information from the government

- Job Entry Targeted Support (JETS)

Announced 8 Oct 2020. A new government scheme, JETS is backed by a £238 million investment fund to help those left without jobs due to the pandemic. The government are working with the Shaw Trust to deliver the scheme in England.

Read more on  Disability Rights UK's website.

- Kickstart Scheme

From  2 September 2020, this scheme provides funding to employers to create job placements for 16 to 24 year olds.  Details from gov.uk. From 25 January 2021, the government made it easier for employers of all sizes to join the scheme. See the press release.

More employer information can be found here. If you want to find out more about Kickstart, email the Skills Hub skillshub@newcastle.gov.uk. Young people can also speak to their Work Coach at the Jobcentre or view a selection of the vacancies on our Skills Hub (skillshubnewcastle.co.uk portal by registering at www.skillshubnewcastle.co.uk  

- 'Access to Work'. Support from the DWP for employees with health conditions or disabilities

'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 who have been out of work for at least 12 months enhanced support to find jobs in their local area. Updated guidance 26 April 2021 following the signing of the Restart Scheme provider contracts. 

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

- Working Tax Credit (WTC)

  • Uplift

The basic amount of WTC was increased by £20 a week from 6 April 2020. See also Housing Benefit below. Following a lot of pressure to continue this from April 2021, Budget 2021 announced that from April 2021 this extra support for WTC claimants would be in the form of a £500 one-off payment. Guidance on how this will work from the Government and from revenuebenefits

  • Hours easement

To get Working Tax Credit you normally have to work a certain number of hours. In May 2020 the government said that if you cannot work your normal hours due to coronavirus  '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.' In Budget 2021 it was announced this will continue for the duration of the furlough scheme. 

However, HMRC have confirmed this easement will end 25 November 2021

And Working Tax Credit customers must report changes to working hours …  ‘We introduced this measure last year to help support working families. It is vital that Working Tax Credit claimants who have benefitted from it update HMRC with their working hours if they have reduced, and they won’t return to their normal level before 25 November.  Anyone who is no longer eligible for Working Tax Credit due to a change in their circumstances may be able to apply for other UK Government support, including Universal Credit.’  

‘Any changes can be easily reported online on GOV.UK, where customers can also check their current Working Tax Credit claim details.’

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 or more from 6 April 2021) may be able to get SSP from their employer worth £96.35 a week from 6 April 2021. 

If you are self-isolating in line with government guidance (even if you are not ill) then you can claim SSP and have it paid from day one, rather than day four. This includes:

  • having symptoms of coronavirus
  • live with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus
  • are in a support bubble with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus 
  • have been told to self-isolate by test and trace
  • have been told to self isolate because you are due to have an operation. 

This was brought in by regulations including SI.No.1638/2020 from 24 December 2020. 

After seven days of self certifying, you would then use an 'isolation note'. You would need a ‘fit note’ (or sick note) if you’re off sick for another reason.

End date? We will add here when the above two measures are to end as soon as we know

Shielding: On the 1 April 2021 clinically extremely vulnerable people were told by letter they were no longer advised to shield and that shielding was paused. And,  from 1 April 2021, getting SSP (and ESA) solely as a result of having to shield was removed. See Government Guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19.

On 2 February 2021, government guidance for people who are employed and cannot work due to coronavirus was updated to include that your employer can furlough you ('could get a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme grant to help them to carry on paying you') if you’re shielding or have caring responsibilities because of coronavirus. But bear in mind shielding is paused. 

Test and trace. You can get SSP if you have been told to self isolate because of the test and trace system. You can get it on top of the Test and Trace payment. See 'test and trace' below

Anyone having to self-isolate from 1 August 2020 because they have tested positive for coronavirus or have coronavirus symptoms were told by Public Health England to self-isolate for 10 days instead of seven. Therefore, legislation was introduced to provide for SSP for people in that situation, to be extended from seven to ten days in force from 5 August 2020.

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

See also Coronavirus (COVID-19): what to do if you’re employed and cannot work from the government

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

See 'warning' about Universal Credit below

Test and Trace Payment - and new self isolation duty

People on low incomes who cannot work from home and will lose income as a result, can apply for a payment of £500 by completing an online form.

“Test and trace support payments are part of a new legal duty for people to self-isolate, which came into force on 28 September 2020, and ensures that those on low incomes are able to self-isolate without worrying about their finances. The Government has asked local authorities to administer the payments. The payment scheme came into effect at the same time as tougher new sanctions for people who fail to self-isolate could be fined £1,000, with fines rising to £10,000 for multiple breaches."

The £500 support payment scheme has been extended to 30 September 2021. It was initially to run till 31 January 2021.

 Details of the scheme rules and how to apply from Newcastle Council

NB from July and August 2021 certain groups of people do not have to self-isolate . Details in House of Commons Library Briefing

Details from gov.uk,  LITRG Q&A ,  the NHS Test and Trace: how it works from gov.uk.

Help with rent

- Housing Benefit

To take into account the above WTC increase, from 6 April 2020 until 4 April 2021, the Housing Benefit disregard of WTC was increased from £17.10 to £37.10 a week. This is applied automatically by the local authority. Those who have been furloughed, self isolating or shielding may be treated as still being in work for a period by Working Tax Credit so to all those affected by coronavirus are treated equally, the 'additional earnings disregard' would be applied to their Housing Benefit . Details in guidance Circular HB A7/2020 and LA Welfare Direct 9/20.

This disregard returns to £17.10 a week from 4 April 2021 - as planned, and because the WTC increase also ended and was replaced with the £500 lump sum.  See 2020-21 uprating by gov.uk

- Local Housing Allowance (LHA)

LHA is (very simply) 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 was ‘reset’ - in other words increased, from April 2020 so that more Housing Benefit is payable from 6 April 2020. The amount various for each area. If it applies, this increase should be applied automatically by the local authority. However, the government have frozen the LHA rates from April 2021 by regulation 

LHA is restricted for some tenants aged up to 35 years to the average amount for a bedsit – known as the ‘shared accommodation rate’. There are several exemptions from this rule, such as care leavers up to their 22nd birthday. Budget 2021 announced the exemption will be extended to their 25th birthday. Also, the present exemption for 25 to 35-year olds who have been in a homeless hostel for at least three months is extended to those under 25. Those who are exempt have the higher one-bedroom rate applied instead. These measures in the Budget 2021 have been brought forward from October 2023 to June 2021. This is described in new government guidance ADM memo 10/21: Changes to the Exceptions to the Shared Accommodation Rate.

- 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 including mortgage 'holidays' and protection from evictions below

Council Tax help

Newcastle City Council are providing up to £160 extra help towards working age residents' Council Tax bills. More details in our March 2021 Benefit Bulletin

This is in addition to any 'normal' Council Tax Support you may be entitled to - which is based on your income.  

Also you may be entitled to a Council Tax Discount for being classed as living alone and so on.

More details about Newcastle council's Council Tax Support Scheme. 

More details in government guidance (PDF)

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 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 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 ESA or if you are not entitled to it. There have been several relaxations due to coronavirus.

In summary, you can claim ESA and possibly Universal Credit either instead of or on top of ESA if you are incapable of work or you have been affected by coronavirus e.g. self isolating. See 'Anyone ‘affected by coronavirus’' below for what this means.

- Waiting days for ESA

Normally when claiming ESA you have to wait 7 days before payment. For those affected by coronavirus, ESA is payable from day one rather than waiting the normal 7 'waiting' days. This removal of the 'waiting days' has been extended to 24 March 2022 by the regulation SI.No.1158/2021

Before then, it was extended to 12 May 2021 by this regulation  (see internal guidance ADM Memo 25/20 and Touchbasethen extended further to 12 November 2021 by this regulation.

More details from the DWP under: 'making a claim'.

- The test of incapacity process. The 'work capability assessment'

Normally claiming ESA includes a 'work capability assessment' and ongoing reviews to prove you fit the criteria in the 'Limited capability for work'  test (below). Reviews and reassessments and face to face assessments for disability and sickness benefits like ESA were suspended in March 2020 but from July 2020, assessments over the phone were introduced with a 'light touch' and from 2 November 2020 claimants were told they '...must attend telephone health assessments - otherwise benefit may be affected'. See Touchbase (6 November 2020). In March 2021 the DWP announced that some face to face assessments  would be reintroduced for work capability assessments for Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance from May 2021. See DWP press release and updated guidance. See also the DWP guidance on new legislation that allows for medical assessments over the phone and by video from 25 March 2021: ADM Memo 4/21  and DMG Memo 3/21See also the websites of the service that carries out assessments for most benefits such as Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance

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

Regulation SI.No.1158/2021 states that - 'until 24 March 2022':

'ESA claimants who meet the eligibility conditions and are:

  • infected with Covid-19, or
  • self-isolating in line with government guidance, or
  • are looking after a child (or qualifying young person) who falls into either of these categories,

can be treated as having Limited Capability for Work for the purposes of ESA without the requirement to provide any medical evidence or undergo a Work Capability Assessment'

- Medical evidence

The requirement to provide medical evidence (in the form of a 'fit note') to support ESA claims was deferred but was reintroduced on a phased basis (for new claims initially) from 10 July 2020.

However, 'you do not need to send a fit note if you cannot work while you are self-isolating because of coronavirus or because you or your child has coronavirus symptoms or self isolating because you or your child's come into contact with someone who might have coronavirus' - from the regulation S.I. 2020 No. 289 and government guidance here and here.  This has been extended to 24 March 2022 by the regulation SI.No.1158/2021

This was previously extended till 12 May 2021 by this regulation and see this DWP guidance ADM Memo 25/20  then extended further to 12 November 2021 by this regulation.

If you are required to provide a 'fit note' you can Send your fit note for your ESA claim - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

If you need to prove that or your child are self isolating because of coronavirus you can get an ‘isolation note’ online after 7 or more days. You do not have to go to your doctor or a hospital. More details from gov.uk

If you or your child are shielding because of coronavirus a letter from your doctor or health authority is proof of your eligibility for ESA but NOTE shielding was paused from 1 April 2021. More details from gov.uk

- Work related activity for ESA claimants - reintroduced

In June 2021, the DWP announced that the Claimant Commitments and Action Plans would be reintroduced for all ESA Claimants. More details in their Touchbase 18 June 2021

Where people can't undertake a telephone assessment

Internal government guidance says: “Health professionals should adjust their approach if they become aware someone can’t undertake a telephone assessment”. For those without a phone or persistent phone connection issues, “Once all other options for completing an assessment have been exhausted a best endeavours recommendation can be made for those claimants who are unable to undertake a telephone assessment”. More details: Revised Best Endeavours Process Final: Dec 2020

Also see the guidance: COVID Clinical Telephone Assessment & Related Filework Guidance for Work Capability Assessments

- Limited capability for work test for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit (UC)

The ‘limited capability for work’ test in ESA is carried out under the ‘work capability assessment’ and determines whether a person has scored enough points in order to get ESA. This test also applies to Universal Credit with some differences. 

In March 2020, regulations stipulated that for ESA and Universal Credit, anyone ‘affected by coronavirus’ could be treated as having ‘limited capability for work’ until 12 November 2020. Regulations in October 2020 extended this period to 12 May 2021 and then further extended it to 12 November 2021 by this regulation  for ESA but not for Universal Credit. See the Universal Credit section below for more details.

Anyone ‘affected by coronavirus’ means:

  • you or your child think you have coronavirus (COVID-19) or are recovering from it
  • you or your child are self-isolating because you came into contact with someone who might have coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • you have been advised by your GP or another health professional to self isolate before going into hospital for surgery
  • you were advised to shield by the NHS because of high risk of severe illness - before 1 April 2021. Note - shielding was paused from 1 April 2021.

Claimants will be contacted at regular intervals to check if they are still affected by coronavirus and if no other health conditions exist, the DWP may decide they no longer have ‘limited capability for work’ and may terminate the award.

- 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 also Council Tax Benefit from the council.

See 'warning' about Universal Credit below

See also work search and work related activity below

More details about ESA from the government here and here and from Citizens Advice   

- Guide for Healthcare Professionals’

Subjects include:

  • Processes & Guidance to be followed when conducting telephone interviews for Work Capability Assessments
  • General Claimant Welfare
  • Claimant expresses thoughts of self harm or suicide
  • DWP Welfare Checks

‘If a claimant reveals details such as extreme financial difficulties where the DWP may be able to assist, please notify DWP through the procedures outlined in the “Protocol for Illness VCC” within “The Virtual Contact Centre Procedural Guide MED-VCCPG01” available on the knowledge library.’

  • Evidence Gathering and Evaluation in the WCA
  • LCWRA criteria

COVID Clinical Telephone Assessment & Related Filework Guidance for Work Capability Assessments

From a Freedom of Information request

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 children of yours have or may have coronavirus, you can still get JSA. Explained in DWP guidance ADM Memo 04/20 and DMG Memo 06/20

In March 2020, work search and availability for work requirements were suspended but reintroduced in July 2020 - usually over the phone. See work search and work related activity below

See also more details below about contact with the DWP and Jobcentres and work related requirements.

- Tips

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

More details about JSA, including the section 'If you cannot work because of coronavirus'

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.

- £20 a week uplift

The basic amount was increased by £20 a week from 6 April 2020. This increase also applied to WTC until April 2021. The increase should happen automatically. After lots of pressure to continue, this extra 'uplift' from April 2021, the government announced in Budget 2021 that the extra £20 a week would continue until September 2021. Specifically, Regulation 2021/313 said it will ‘apply in (Universal Credit) assessment periods that end before 6 October 2021’

Meanwhile many organisations campaigned to keep the £20 in payment such as Child Poverty Action Group, Save the Children and The Trussell Trust. See also the Cross-committee letter to UK Secretaries of State from parliament.scot. For news on this see our other page Coronavirus and benefits - news

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

From 9 April 2020 people making new claims for Universal Credit no longer needed 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 includes checking what has been said in the claim form and helping with verification. At October 2020 we were advised this was still in place. See also Contact with the DWP and Jobcentres below

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.

- UC and incapacity for work

Universal Credit is replacing income related ESA. So if you are on the sick and not already on ESA, you may have to claim UC (see 'Tips' below for further information).  UC uses the same Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to test your incapacity for work with some differences. Like ESA,  the WCA's in UC were suspended in March 2020, but reintroduced from July 2020 and carried out mainly over the phone. See ESA above for more details. See also Contact with the DWP and Jobcentres below and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and other disability and sickness benefits below. Our advice is to keep an eye out for correspondence from the DWP by letter or your Universal Credit online journal

See also above the change in Self employed and Universal Credit.

- Childcare and UC

The government UC Childcare Guide has been updated to include information on what childcare costs can be claimed during the Coronavirus outbreak

- 'Legacy benefit' run-on for those who claim Universal Credit

From 22 July 2020, if someone’s existing claim of income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Income Support ends due to them applying for Universal Credit they will receive an additional payment, worth up to two weeks of their legacy award. This is similar to the existing Housing Benefit run-on rules. This does not apply to Tax Credits. See the government guidance ADM Memo 15/20 

- Tips

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 have been made redundant, or your income has reduced as a result of coronavirus, or you may have no income at all and so on.  See 'warning' below.

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 UC entitlement and prevent future UC entitlement for a period - by carrying forward and taking in account as income 'surplus earnings' above £2,500. Budget 2021 announced the £2,500 amount will drop to £300 in April 2022. The benefits calculator by 'entitledto' allows you to estimate the effects of surplus earnings. More details from Revenuebenefits. There have been court cases about this and we await the government's response.

Warning about Universal Credit 

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.

Internal guidance to Health Professionals & DWP where claimants unable to undertake a telephone assessment for PIP 

Health professionals should adjust their approach if they become aware someone can’t undertake a telephone assessment

For those without a phone or persistent phone connection issues, 'Once all other options for completing an assessment have been exhausted a best endeavours recommendation can be made for those claimants who are unable to undertake a telephone assessment.’

Revised Best Endeavours Process Final: Dec 2020

- Reviews and reassessments - gradually resumed remotely

For Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Attendance Allowance (AA), ESA, UC and Industrial Injuries benefit reviews and reassessments were suspended for three months from 24 March 2020. On 22 June the Government told Parliament Reviews and reassessments remain suspended while we review what activity we can gradually start reintroducing in line with the latest public health advice”. On  6 July 2020, 19 October 2020 and 9 November 2020, the DWP confirmed that “face to face reviews and reassessments remain suspended” and will be carried out over the phone or paper via the post. See also information from the Independent Assessment Services who carry out PIP assessments in the North East and provide more advice about telephone consultations. See also the websites of the service that carries out assessments for most benefits such as Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance

In March 2021 the DWP announced that some face to face assessments  would be reintroduced for PIP assessments from May 2021 and Industrial Injuries from 12 April. See DWP press release and updated guidance. See also the DWP guidance on new legislation that allows for medical assessments over the phone and by video from 25 March 2021: ADM Memo 4/21  and DMG Memo 3/21

In October 2021, changes were made to 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

- Potential for confusion

Normally the DWP send DLA or PIP claimants a renewal form six months before the awards are due to end. Claimants should usually return the completed form as soon as possible and before the award ends. However, the DWP are also telling people that awards are being extended and they don’t need to return the renewal form. In which case, if you get both messages, you should contact DLA or PIP to double check. Err on the side of caution.

On 21 January 2021, there was this answer in Parliament about fixed term awards: 'The Department has been automatically applying extension of awards ... for all claims due to end between March 2020 and January 2021, except those where a new decision has been made since review and reassessment activity resumed in July. Additionally, a small number of awards have not been extended where action on their case is pending. These are not included in Covid-19 easements and will not be extended as part of this exercise.'

- Delays

An consequence is that claimants are not getting their correct entitlement or claims are not being processed because of delays and problems with the assessment process. Welfare Rights and other organisations are pressing the DWP and the service that does the assessments – the Health Assessment Advisory Service – to sort this out.

- DLA claimants who have been told to claim PIP

There are sill some adults getting DLA. If you have been told to claim PIP,  you should claim it by the date on the letter. If you need more time, you can contact the PIP helpline to ask for an extension.

- WARNING! DWP re-introducing 'Failure To Attend' from 14 December 2020

When telephone health assessments were introduced for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in 2020, an easement was put in place so that Failure to Attend (FTA) actions did not take place as a result of someone not attending a scheduled telephone assessment. This was necessary in light of the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic. The government said '...we know it is very important that we are able to correctly assess a claimant’s needs against a set of criteria and a telephone assessment plays a crucial role in gathering the evidence to do this.'

From  14 December, PIP telephone assessment appointment letters made it clear that claimants must attend their telephone appointment. and that FTA action will apply, where benefit may be stopped for those who have been issued with this letter and fail to attend without good reason. The government said 'No one will have their support stopped without being contacted first. People will be contacted to ask them to explain why they did not, or could not attend or participate in the assessment and where good cause is provided and accepted, support will continue.'

From the DWP to national advisers forum:

'A range of factors, including people’s physical and mental health, are always taken into full consideration when deciding good reason and the assessment providers and our decision makers have been provided with additional guidance on the kinds of issues that are particular to telephone assessments – including consideration of technical issues (e.g. mobile phone battery/signal) and environmental factors (e.g. caring responsibilities and noisy home environments). I can assure you that we will always contact anyone who does not attend a telephone assessment and that people’s support will continue wherever there is a good reason for not attending.

PIP, like other benefits, has always had a FTA policy.  As for most benefits, there is a requirement to engage in the process of making a claim for PIP, including providing information and attending appointments when asked to do so.  It is very important that we are able to assess a claimant’s needs against a set of assessment criteria and an assessment can play a crucial role in gathering the necessary evidence. This return to a business-as-usual policy will align PIP with other benefits, including Employment Support Allowance and Universal Credit.'

More information can be found on GOV.UK

- 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 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. If you are not getting a disability benefit and think you are entitled you can still 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. NB that time limit was initially extended to three months in March 2020 but that is not now the case. The month time limit applies. Read the letters from the DWP. However, you can ask for deadlines to be extended.

For more details see  'Disability benefits and coronavirus' by CPAG.

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

Electronic PIP2 form

After the initial phone call to register a PIP claim, a PIP2 form ('How your disability affects you’) is sent to the claimant, which allows them to explain their care and mobility needs. The DWP are piloting an electronic version which can be emailed. We await it's national roll out.

See this form which "... allows you to type up a PIP application and then print it in a format for submission to DWP."

Contact with the DWP

See also Contact with the DWP and Jobcentres... below

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 was extended to apply to to breaks in caring due to the carer or cared for person getting coronavirus or being isolated 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

Changes to the Care Act 2014 to help local authorities prioritise care and support during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Change made 1 September 2020. ‘Care Act easements: guidance for local authorities’ has been updated to include reference to advocates, introduce the Care Act easements notification form and reflect changes to other published guidance. The Care Act easements notification form and ‘Care Act easements: supporting guidance’ have been added to the page.

31 December 2020 Carers UK welcomes new JCVI advice which includes unpaid carers in the vaccination priority list

See Carers UK press release

Older people

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

Having a baby, grants, Child Benefit and so on

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

The government say that if you're not able to register your child's birth because of coronavirus you can still claim Child Benefit and still need to complete the form or phone 0300 200 3100. See Register a birth from gov.uk.

From 25 April 2020, furloughed workers planning to take paid parental or adoption leave are 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. See the government press release and the regulation that brought this in.  This applies for the duration of the furlough scheme - from House of Commons library.

Child Benefit to continue

New rules allow Child Benefit to continue in payment after a young person leaves education early due to exam cancellations due to coronavirus (COVID-19). For more information, see the regulation SI.No.630/2021 which came into force on 31 May 2021.

See also help for children, childcare costs, Healthy Start and so on under Other related issues and help below

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 'what to do when someone dies during the COVID-19 pandemic' on the government page Support for the bereaved 

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 originally applied till 12 November 2020, was extended by regulation to 13 May 2021, and again to 31 August 2021 by this regulation SI.No.476/2021 .

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

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

See above. Making contact with the DWP and getting advice and information can be difficult for deaf people. In April 2020 the government 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 and DWP Touchbase (6 November 2020)

Also see this BSL signed information about coronavirus

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

See also details in the June 2020 Benefit Bulletin

Contact with the DWP and Jobcentres, exceptions, recognising a call from the DWP and speaking to the DWP on someone's behalf

Attending Jobcentres

jobcentres reopened in England and Wales back to 9am - 5pm with the priority being newly-unemployed and young people. But people should only attend when invited and casual callers could be sent away. 

More details:

'From 12 April 2021, in line with the UK Government’s Roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions, face-to-face appointments restarted in England and Wales. Scotland will resume from 26 April. Jobcentres are open to all customers who need to see their work coach whilst priority will be given to new customers and young people (aged 18-24) who are at risk of long term unemployment.

To keep everyone safe, customers won’t need to come into the Jobcentre unless they are asked to. Jobcentres will continue to operate in accordance with current health and safety guidelines, for example social distancing. As a result, capacity limits will be reduced and will differ within each Jobcentre.

The safety of our people and our customers remains paramount. Therefore, if you are considering using any amenities or facilitate any event in the Jobcentre you should contact your local Employer and Partnership Manager to check availability first. 

You may need to consider alternative COVID-secure premises or digital delivery methods if the Jobcentre is unable to accommodate your request. This approach will ensure Jobcentres continue to provide the right level of support for all customers and give everyone the best chance of finding their way back into work.'

See also the websites of the service that carries out assessments for most benefits such as Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance

Previously announced:

New Jobcentre opening times from DWP at 15 January 2021. The DWP said:

“To help keep customers and colleagues as safe as possible in the latest phase of the pandemic, the Department has decided jobcentre opening hours will be 10am to 2pm beginning on Monday the 18th January 2021. This temporary change means we can continue providing safe, essential services for those who need to come into the jobcentre and who are unable to interact with us on the phone or digitally. The opening hours of our phone lines remain as they were. In addition, the Relay UK service and the Video relay service are both still available.

Anyone entering a jobcentre will be required to wear a face covering, unless they are in an exempt category. Please remind your audiences to follow the latest government guidance on meeting with others safely and lockdown restrictions and that if we need to make an appointment with a customer, this will be by the phone. We will leave a message in their journal before we call them.”

See also the Press release Jobcentre guidance on new national COVID restrictions

The main contact with the DWP and Jobcentres remains by telephone and for Universal Credit, the online journal. The DWP said that Jobcentres continue to remain open in a limited way “to provide essential services and support to those whom we cannot help in any other way” and “jobcentre staff will still meet vulnerable customers including those fleeing domestic abuse”.

More details from the Government’s website page Employment and benefits support.

In 23 March 2020 all requirements to attend jobcentres were suspended for a temporary period. Most contact continues to be 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. In early July 2020 the government announced that Jobcentres would begin to re-open, but probably initially for vulnerable people who have IT problems. For details see DWP Touchbase and announcement in Parliament. This government webpage says: "You do not need to attend the jobcentre unless we ask you to do so. If you need to contact us the quickest way to do this is online or by phone. If you need to attend a jobcentre, they are open and one of our colleagues will be able to assist you. Please wear a face covering when entering a jobcentre." We will provide more details as soon as we get them.

See also this internal guidance to Jobcentre staff on the 9 October 2020 in answer to a  Freedom of Information request (in a pdf at the bottom of the webpage)

See this recent Jobcentre guidance from DWP on 9 November 2020

80 new temporary jobcentres announced 

Nearest:  Newcastle (Gateshead) Unit B24, Metro Centre NE11 9YG and Newcastle (North Shields) Kings Court, Royal Quays   NE29 6AR. Details 

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 is 0800 328 5644

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. For details see the June 2020 Benefit Bulletin

Work search and other work related requirements and sanctions - restarted from July 2020

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 were suspended for three months from 30 March 2020 and claimants would be contacted by the jobcentre instead. This avoids such people being sanctioned for those reasons. If those with existing/open ended sanctions, make 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

In early July 2020, the government announced that from July 2020 some work related activity and sanctions would be reintroduced. For details see DWP Touchbase and announcement in Parliament. See also the government guidance which have reintroduced these measures, such as Universal Credit and your Claimant Commitment and New Style Jobseeker's Allowance. Also see this government advice

Claimant Commitment interviews restarted in July 2020 but only for 30 minutes and over the phone. This will initially be for new Universal Credit claimants but after a while, existing claimants would be contacted. See the latest announcement about Jobcentres and Claimant Commitment interviews by government minister in Parliament 

In June 2021, the DWP announced that the Claimant Commitments and Action Plans would be reintroduced for all ESA Claimants. More details in their Touchbase 18 June 2021

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

Payment of benefit

DWP stopped new benefit and pension claimants from using the Post Office Card Account from 11 May 2020 and Post Office payments to existing claimants will stop on 30 November 2021. This is part of the Government’s attempt to move people onto bank or similar accounts, although the Payment Exception Service is still available “for people who do not have a bank account to collect benefit or pension payments”. The DWP are “writing to everyone who currently receive their State Pension or benefit payments into a Post Office card account (POca). The letter informs them the POca service is closing and asks them to provide alternative account details” . To discuss it with them, you can contact their Customer Service Centre by: Telephone: 0800 085 7133 and Textphone: 0800 085 7146.

More details and what to do instead from gov.uk . See more details on our news webpage and the statement to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

To receive most benefits you usually need an account with a bank or a building society. Post Office card accounts may be too limited for Universal Credit. If you can't use an account, Jobcentre Plus may use a Payment Exception Service or possibly a Credit Union to pay your Universal Credit. Each have their own criteria and limitations. Get more details from the Money Advice Service including how to get an account and what they involve.

Deductions from benefits paused then restarted from July 2020 and maximum recovery rate reduced

In March 2020, deductions for the recovery of Universal Credit and legacy benefit overpayments, Social Fund loans and Tax Credit debts were paused and Local Authorities suspended referral of Housing Benefit overpayments, although recovery of UC advance payments continued. 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 concerns about, such as Inside Housing

From July 2020, recovery of overpayments, social fund loan repayments and so on will recommence. This change is found in various government guidance such as Benefit overpayment recovery: staff guide, Eligible Loan Deduction Scheme and Direct Earnings Attachment - and employer's guide. More details from Disability Rights UK

Note: The DWP say that those who are experiencing 'real financial hardship' can request deferral of repayments by contacting the Debt Management line on 0800 916 0647

Maximum recovery reduced

Deductions can be made from Universal Credit to recover debts such as rent arrears.

Budget 2021 announced that the maximum rate at which deductions can be made will reduce from 30% to 25% from April 2021. Brought forward from October 2021

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 and also from the government here and here.

In a letter to advisers representatives November 2020, the regional Judge said for example:

'As the crisis and local restrictions unfortunately remain, the majority of appeals will continue to be listed via a remote telephone hearing

If a judge determines that it would not be fair and just to determine an oral appeal by way of a remote telephone hearing, he/she will then determine whether the case is suitable to be heard via a video hearing'

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

Other related issues and help

Help for families, children, free school meals and education

Government guidance on:

  • free school meals (FSM) during coronavirus for those in and out of school
  • How those with 'no recourse to public funds' can also now get help with FSM

See also guidance about coronavirus and education and the Contact website for families with disabled children

COVID Local Support Grant

This package from the government to local councils is to provide further support for children and families

It was originally called the COVID Winter Grant Scheme and was Extended to 20 June 21 and then to 30 September 2021 - details:

COVID Local Support Grant and Winter Grant Scheme: guidance for local councils

COVID Local Support Grant extension 21 June to 30 September 2021: guidance for local councils

Earlier information about the COVID Winter Grant:

In a letter to Local Authorities, the following Winter Grant Scheme that was due to end on 31 March was extended to 16 April 2021.

8 November 2020 it was announced that Children and families will get extra support this winter, with councils given new funding to ensure vulnerable households do not go hungry or without essential items

  • is ring-fenced, with at least 80% for support with food and bills;

  • is for period to the end of March 2021; and

  • Is to enable councils to provide food for children who need it over the school holidays, while schools will continue to provide meals for disadvantaged children during term-time

    In addition, the winter package includes - 

  • £220 million to cover a Holiday Activities and Food programme across England during Easter, Summer and Christmas in 2021;

  • an increase to Healthy Start scheme payments (England and Wales), from £3.10 to £4.25 a week from April 2021; and

  • a pledge of an additional £16 million of funding for food distribution charities

More details from government news

 

New Household Support Fund

Government launches £500m support for vulnerable households over winter 2021/22 from gov.uk called ‘The Household Support Fund’. Read the press release describing Local Authorities to administer. 

 Response by JRF Household Support Fund does not come close to scale of challenge facing struggling families

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.”

The website also says: “Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic we’ve temporarily extended the validity of the Healthy Start vouchers by 4 weeks, giving you 12 weeks to use your entitlement, we will keep this under review.”

In its New winter package to provide further support for children and families announced 8 November 2020, the government announced an increase to Healthy Start scheme payments (England and Wales), from £3.10 to £4.25 a week from April 2021

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 the news item on the  Contact webpage

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

When notified by the DWP for example, the Post Office can make an urgent cash delivery payment to those who are shielding because of the risk of infection should they leave their home.

Employment

COVID-19: guidance for employees, employers and businesses

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

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

Advice for employers and employees from ACAS

Financial support for businesses from gov.uk

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 normally based at City Library
- 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
- See
above for Jobcentres and communicating with Work Coaches 

Housing

Government guidance for landlords and tenants in the private and social rented sectors to explain the possession action process in the county courts in England and Wales, with information about how to apply to extend the life of possession warrants which are nearing their expiry date, and to provide links to new Regulations which are in force restricting bailiff enforcement in England and Wales and to new mediation guidance.

 See also government guidance COVID-19 and renting: guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities

Ban on evictions extended to 31 May 2021

See the  government announce the ban on bailiffs taking possession of properties

Stayed possession proceedings extended till 30 July 2021

and extends period for filing and service of a 'reactivation notice' to 30 April 2021

Some earlier announcements have been retained for reference:

 See 29 January 2021 amendments to Practice Direction 55C approved by Master of Rolls and news from Thompson Reuters

13 January 2021: The ban on enforcing evictions is extended

'The government has changed the law in England to ensure bailiffs do not enforce evictions for 6 weeks until 22 February, with no evictions expected to 8 March at the earliest. This will be kept under review.’

The government ban on evictions was further extended for another 4 weeks and new 6 month notice periods to be in place until at least 31 March 2021. See ‘Comprehensive measures’ announced by the government 10 September 2020, to support renters affected by coronavirus over the winter.

And see other new protections for renters over duration of national restrictions from gov.uk on 5 November 2020.

New regulations reintroduce a stay on bailiff enforcement from 17 Nov 2020 until 11 Jan 2021.

Except in specified circumstances, they prevent a bailiff's attendance at a dwelling house for the purpose of executing a writ or warrant of possession, executing a writ or warrant of restitution or delivering a notice of eviction.

the regulations also introduce a nationwide prohibition on bailiffs taking control of goods inside residential properties until the expiry of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.4) Regulations 2020 (that provide for the current lockdown in England that is due to run until 2 December 2020).  SI.No.1290/2020 is available from gov.uk. See also this letter to the Chair of the Justice Committee from the Lord Chancellor from parliament.uk

6 June 2020 Moratorium on evictions in England and Wales extended until 23 August 2020 and 27 July 2020.

Further information on housing 

Government guidance:

COVID-19 and renting: guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities

Understanding the possession action process: guidance for landlords and tenants 

Extra covid protections for rough sleepers and renters  at January 2021.

Guidance for hostel or day centres for people rough sleeping 

Other information:

From Crisis Skylight and Shelter North East and Coronavirus: Support for landlords and tenants - by the House of Commons library March 2021

Housing advice and support in Newcastle: See Newcastle City Council's Housing advice service and Private rented service 

Supported living services during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Government guidance for providers of supported living settings. Added a new document: ‘Working with people in supported living this winter’. 22 January 2021

Mortgage help and mortgage holidays

These were to end on 31 October but continued until 31 March 2021, due to the increased national restrictions

'Borrowers who have been impacted by coronavirus and have not yet had a mortgage payment holiday will be entitled to a six month holiday, and those that have already started a mortgage payment holiday will be able to top up to six months without this being recorded on their credit file.'

More details on the mortgage holidays from the Financial Conduct Authority.

Previously, the Financial Conduct Authority had published guidance which enabled home owners to extend a mortgage holiday for a further 3 months and extend the application deadline for a mortgage holiday until 31 October. In March 2020, the government gave this Protection for tenants and home owners e.g. suspending evictions, no new possession proceedings and mortgage holiday 

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

You should also see the advice provided by your lender

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'

- Breathing Space (The Debt Respite Scheme)

From 4 May 2021 some people in problem debt can be protected from creditor action for up to 60 days. For those who are receiving mental health crisis treatment the protection continues as long as the person's mental health crisis treatment, plus 30 days (no matter how long the crisis treatment lasts). 

Guidance about Breathing Space and who it applies to from the government and Step Change 

- Earlier news on 2 November 2020

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have proposed for another ‘up to 6 months’ payment deferral for consumer credit debts (so means if you took advantage of the last one and this one then in total you could have up to 12 months deferred). See FCA announces further proposals to support mortgage borrowers impacted by coronavirus and Stepchange’s press release on it - 2 November 2020.

For the latest news and advice on the above see the FCA Coronavirus and consumer support webpage

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. Find out more on Womens Aid webpage

Energy, fuel and water

From 15 December 2020, energy suppliers are required to do more to identify and support vulnerable customers who are struggling to top-up and are running out of emergency credit, such as offering friendly-hours credit or considering offering additional credit where appropriate. Details from the BBC and advice from Ofgem and Citizens Advice

See the agreement between the government and energy industry to support vulnerable people in March 2020. However around June 2020 many suppliers resumed debt recovery activities.

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 from April 2020.

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

Government guidance on what you can do and who you can contact if you need financial assistance abroad, including during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

EU Settlement Scheme.  Advice from the government and Citizens Advice

Childcare costs

See Universal Credit above about what help with childcare costs can be claimed during coronavirus and also see Newcastle Council's webpage: Free early education and childcare

Students

5 Oct 2020 updated information on details on a 'range of opportunities to gain new skills, undertake work placements, additional learning and career development support' from gov.uk

Other related student information from the  government and Office for Students

See students and benefits from CPAG

“DWP unlawfully blocked tens of thousands of disabled students from Universal Credit (for 7 years!) Two of the affected group have won their High Court legal challenge." Tweet by CPAG barrister 10 Nov 20. Details from gcn Chambers and Disability Rights UK and CPAG

Veterans

Support available to armed forces veterans in Great Britain and Northern Ireland by the House of Commons Library 5 November 2020

See also help and support from Veterans' Gateway

Disclaimer

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. Please let us know if you spot an error.

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