Coronavirus and benefits - what the changes mean for you

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

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

Please also see these related pages:

Coronavirus and benefits - guidance and legislation

Coronavirus and benefits - news

Get advice - Benefits and money advice services in Newcastle. These 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

Contents

Self Employed
- Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and it's extension
- Self employment and Universal Credit

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

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

Jobseekers Allowance

Universal Credit

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and other disability and sickness benefits
- Reviews, reassessments, telephone interviews and making a claim
- Telephone health and work capability assessments. Internal guidance at October 2020

Carers

Older people

Having a baby
- Grants, Child Benefit and so on

Funeral costs and support for the bereaved

Prisoners 

Get help with benefits if you have accessibility needs

Deaf people

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

Work search 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

Tribunal service changes

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

Self-employed

Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) and it's extension

Support through grant 3 of the SEISS scheme will be doubled from 40% to 80% of trading profits and people will be able to apply earlier, from 30 November rather than 14 December.

More details government announcement on 5 November 2020 and also  government increases support for self-employed across the UK  and Low Incomes Tax Reform Group on 2 November 2020.

Earlier announcements on SEISS:

Initially, the SEISS allowed the self-employed to claim a taxable grant covering March, April and May, worth 80% of trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month (capped at £7,500 in total), where they had lost trading/partnership trading profits due to coronavirus. They must have submitted a tax return for 2018/19 by 23 April 2020. This scheme was extended to include a second grant covering June, July and August worth 70% of trading profits (capped at £6,570 in total). The closing date for applications was 19 October 2020.

SEISS extension:

Announced 7 October 2020. The extension will provide two grants and will last for six months, from 1 November 2020 to 30 April 2021. Grants will be paid in two lump sum instalments each covering a three-month period. Find out if you're eligible and how much you can get from gov.uk

More details from government guidance, the Commons Library and the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG)

- Self employment and Universal Credit

For the first 12 months of self-employment, the Universal Credit calculation takes actual income into account. After 12 months a rule called ‘minimum income floor’ (MIF) is usually applied, where a minimum income from the self-employment is assumed, 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 get less Universal Credit.

From 13 March, the MIF rules were suspended for those who were ill or self-isolating due to coronavirus and from 6 April it was suspended for all self-employed people 'for the duration of the outbreak' which meant up to 12 November 2020.

However, on 3 October Therese Coffey announced  in Parliament in Parliament “After careful consideration of the ongoing public health situation and the national working environment, 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. Regulations will be laid and made prior to 12 November 2020.” Details in DWP Touchbase and press release

Note.

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 reduction from your local council. Many self-employed are already on benefits like Working Tax Credit, Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. If income goes down, or if the Income Support scheme doesn’t apply, you should tell those benefit offices. 

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

Employed and employment

- Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

This scheme is 'extended' from 1 November 2020 till 'end of April 2021'

The rules are similar to the previous scheme except employees must have been on an employer’s PAYE payroll by 23:59 on 30 October 2020 but they don't need to have been furloughed before.  “As part of the revised scheme, anyone made redundant after 23 September can be rehired and put back on furlough.” See MSE, and the BBC news.  The '... government expects that publicly funded organisations will not use the scheme ... partially publicly funded organisations may be eligible where their private revenues have been disrupted.'

The Job Support Scheme that was to replace the furlough scheme on 1 November has been postponed until this latest furlough scheme ends.

More details on the announcement, see  'Furlough Scheme Extended and Further Economic Support announced' by the government on 31 October 2020

Some details of the earlier Job Retention Scheme:

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 scheme was extended to 31 October 2020 with some changes, such as allowing some furloughed workers to return part time from August. The deadline for employers to claim was 30 June 2020 (except for military reservists or those returning from statutory parental leave).

Note. 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 Reduction.

For changes to the furlough scheme from 1 August, 1 September and 1 October see ACAS and more details from government guidance, LITRG and below

New HMRC coronavirus contact details and guidance on the extension

- Job Support Scheme (JSS) - from when the 'furlough' scheme ends

The Job retention Scheme (‘furlough’) was due to end 31 October and be replaced by the Job Support Scheme from 1 November, which was ‘extended/upgraded’ by the government on 22 October from the original plan.  However, as detailed above, the furlough scheme continues and the JSS is delayed.

The details of the Job Support Scheme are retained here for future reference: 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. See information from the government

The rules on the Job Support Scheme announced by the government on 9 October and 24 September have been overtaken by the above rules announced on 22 October.

The JSS sits alongside the £1,000 Job Retention Bonus - described below

- Job Retention Bonus

This scheme is to encourage employers to keep on furloughed workers by paying them £1,000 for every employee they keep on until at least January 2021.  More details from gov.uk

- Job Entry Targeted Support (JETS)

Announced 8 Oct 2020. A new government scheme – JETS has been launched, backed by a £238 million investment fund to help those left without jobs due to the pandemic. The government will be 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, provides funding to employers to create job placements for 16 to 24 year olds.  Details from gov.uk

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

'Access to Work'. Support  – from 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. A factsheet explains the support offered, information on eligibility, and how to apply.' 

- Working Tax Credit (WTC)

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

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

This guidance shows this relaxation will continue during the Job Support Scheme too if and when it starts (see above) 

Employees whose hours reduce due to the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to have access to Working Tax Credit and its childcare element for the duration of the JSS scheme.’

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

- Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

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

From 24 December 2020, SI.No.1638/2020 - people who have to self-isolate because they have coronavirus symptoms, have tested positive or are a household contact of a person who has coronavirus, are deemed to be incapable of work for the full period for which they have to isolate, and allow notification to be given orally over phone or in person

Also, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is available from the first day of absence to individuals who are unable to work because they have been advised to shield, for example where they can’t work from home - from DWP's online information

DWP update for clinically vulnerable individuals on 23 December 2020

If clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) individuals live in an area where shielding is reintroduced, they will receive a notification advising them to shield, such as a letter from their doctor or from the Government.

If someone is CEV, they should not work outside the home while shielding is in place. If they cannot work from home, they should speak to their employer to see if there are any alternative arrangements that can be made e.g. using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. From DWP information

On 1 August 2020 the rules changed for clinically vulnerable people who were told they were no longer required to shield and could return to work - as long as it is Covid secure - so were no longer entitled to SSP on that basis, unless they are self-isolating under government guidance. The guidance may be different for those in local lockdown arrangements.  They should get a letter from the government.

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.

From 26 August 2020, SSP was extended by legislation for those self-isolating prior to going into hospital for surgery.

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 Reduction from your local council.

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

See 'warning' about Universal Credit below

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

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

Test and Trace Payment - and new self isolation duty

From 12 October, 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, and ensures that those on low incomes are able to self-isolate without worrying about their finances. 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 scheme is set to be in place until 31 January 2021."

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

Details  from gov.uk

Q&A from LITRG “…covering what we know about the new payment, and what we don’t.”

 Briefing and Q&A for LA’s from the Local Government Association

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, the Housing Benefit disregard of WTC is increased from £17.10 to £37.10 a week. This should be applied automatically by the local authority.

- 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.

- Local Housing Allowance (LHA)

LHA is Housing Benefit for private tenants.

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

- Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP)

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

More details about Housing Benefit from Shelter

See more details and other help with housing including mortgage 'holidays' and protection from evictions below

Council Tax help

The government granted £500 million to councils to provide up to £150 help towards residents annual council tax bills during the pandemic. More details on the council's Council Tax Reduction Scheme

This is in addition to any 'normal' Council Tax Reduction 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 in government guidance (PDF)

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

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

Medical evidence

The requirement to provide medical evidence to support ESA claims was deferred but now reintroduced on a phased basis (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 is extended till 12 May 2021 by this regulation and see this DWP guidance ADM Memo 25/20

Waiting days for ESA

For those affected by coronavirus, ESA is payable from day one rather than waiting the normal 7 'waiting' days. More details. This removal of the 'waiting days' was extended to 12 May 2021 by this regulation and see this DWP guidance ADM Memo 25/20. More details 24 July 2020 DWP Touchbase and government webpage

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

Normally claiming ESA includes a 'Work Capability Assessment' and ongoing reviews. Reviews and reassessments and face to face assessments for disability and sickness benefits like ESA were suspended in March 2020, with some of it taking place over the phone. From July 2020, some of this is reintroduced. Keep an eye out for correspondence from the DWP. More details on government guidance New Style Employment and Support Allowance: detailed guide and the Capability for work questionnaire.

From 2 November 2020 'Claimants must attend telephone health assessments - otherwise benefit may be affected'. Details from DWP Touchbase (6 November 2020)

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

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

ESA is a benefit for those who have a disability or health condition that affects how much they can work. The ‘limited capability for work’ test in ESA (carried out under the ‘work capability assessment’) determines whether a person has scored enough points to get ESA. This test also applies to Universal Credit, so the changes relating to ‘limited capability for work’ here are also shared by Universal Credit, although there are 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 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 is self-isolating because they came into contact with someone who might have coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • you have been told to shield by the NHS because you’re at high risk of severe illness

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.

Note.

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

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

See 'warning' about Universal Credit below

More details about ESA from the government and Citizens Advice   

Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) 

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

If you or 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.

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

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

More details about JSA, 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.

The basic amount increased by £20 a week from 6 April 2020. This increase also applies to WTC. The increase should happen automatically. It is uncertain if this extra will continue from April 2021, although many organisations like CPAG are calling for it.

From 9 April people making new claims for Universal Credit no longer need to call the DWP as part of the process. This is called ‘Don’t call us we’ll call you’. People just need to make the claim online and they will be contacted by the Jobcentre. This will include checking what has been said in the claim form and helping with verification. At October 2020 we have been advised this is still in place. See also Contact with the DWP and Jobcentres below

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

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

Like ESA and disability benefits, reassessments of incapacity for work in UC were suspended in March 2020, but from July 2020, some of this was re-introduced - see Contact with the DWP and Jobcentres and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and other disability and sickness benefits below. And, keep an eye out for correspondence from the DWP including by letter or on your Universal Credit online journal

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

If you are sick and claiming UC this usually involves a similar process of proving you are incapable of work as for ESA above

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 

Note

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

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

Always remember that Universal Credit does not replace Council Tax Benefit, so you should always 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 (by over £2,500) and prevent future UC entitlement for a period. The benefits calculator by 'entitledto' allows you to estimate the effects of surplus earnings and get 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.

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.

Reviews and reassessments - gradually resumed 

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, the government announced some review and reassessment activity would gradually resume from then for PIP and DLA - with the DWP starting to contact people. People are also encouraged not to delay making a claim and they too will be contacted.

The information from DWP is that awards due to expire are extended for possibly 6 months.

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, as mentioned above, the DWP are also telling people that their award has been extended and they don’t need to return the renewal form. In which case, if you get both messages, they should contact DLA or PIP to double check. Err on the side of caution.

DLA claimants who have 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 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) earlier this year, 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. However, 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 week commencing 14 December, PIP telephone assessment appointment letters will make it clear that claimants must attend their telephone appointment. FTA action will apply, e.g. benefit may be stopped for those who have been issued with this letter and fail to attend without good reason.

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

Child on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) approaching 16 - process during COVID

Here are replies by national DWP to an adviser's questions in early November 2020:

"Question 1 - When a child is on DLA and is approaching 16 they would normally be invited to claim PIP, is the award being extended and if so for how long?

Answer - The Rising 16 process is in now back to business as usual. We are now inviting claims to PIP from Rising 16s

Question 2 - What happens if they have already received the invitation but not yet claimed?

Answer - We are now able to take new claims to PIP. Yes, you will need to claim PIP, please call the new claims number. The number is 0800 917 2222. If you make a claim for PIP your DLA payments will continue until we have made a decision on your PIP claim. If you do not contact us to claim PIP your DLA may stop.

Question 3 - what happens if they have already submitted the claim (presuming here that the claimant has already returned the ‘How your Disability affects you’ form?)?

Answer - We are now processing claims to PIP again so we will look at the information you provided in your form to make a decision. We may need you to attend an assessment, if so, the Assessment Provider will contact with you to invite you to an assessment. If you are asked to attend an assessment, it is important that you take part as this helps us to make a decision on your claim.

We will write to you once we have made a decision on your claim”

Face to face assessments still suspended - assessments over the phone or by post 

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 below. See also information from the Independent Assessment Services who carry out PIP assessments in the North East and provide more advice about telephone consultations.

Telephone health and work capability assessments. Internal guidance at October 2020.  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.

Failure to participate in an arranged phone call may lead to benefit being stopped. If you cannot make a date, contact them as soon as possible.

If an assessment has already taken place it will continue to be processed.

If in doubt, contact the DWP disability benefits helplines

Note.

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

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

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 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 applies to breaks in caring due to the carer or cared for person getting coronavirus or being isolated due to coronavirus.  This will apply until 13 May 2021.

The government has also confirmed that emotional support counts for Carers Allowance.

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

More details from Carersuk

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.

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. More details 

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

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.   See also FAQ's in this government guidance

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

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 the government webpage 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 but was extended by regulation to 13 May 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

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

More details: DWP advice for deaf people who use BSL and the Video Relay Service and DWP Touchbase (6 November 2020)

Also see this BSL signed information about coronavirus

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

From 23 March all requirements to attend jobcentres were suspended for three months. Most contact being 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 the government announced that from July 2020 Jobcentres will 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

Jobcentre opening hours

As part of an ongoing plan to extend Jobcentre opening hours, we have been told that the government has also extended the hours that Jobcentres are open till 6.30pm weekdays and plan to open on Saturdays in December in selected sites.  This ESA page shows when some benefit advice lines are open.

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

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

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

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

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

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 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 will restart 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 13 July 2020

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

Payment of benefit

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

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

Post Office payments to existing claimants will stop on 30 November 2021 - more details and what to do instead from gov.uk

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

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

Advice on deductions from benefits from Shelter

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

Tribunal service changes

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

See amended practice direction 14 September 2021, extending arrangements till 18 March 2021

News from 9 November 2020

In a letter to advisers representatives , 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

...we have recently conducted a successful pilot in relation to video hearings. The feedback from the Tribunal users that took part in this pilot has been extremely positive and we will therefore soon be offering video hearings as an option for some appellants

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'

More information is available on GOV.UK

Other related issues and help

Help for families, children, free school meals and education

Government guidance on:

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

See also guidance about coronavirus and education and this government guidance  

'Newcastle unites to ensure children don’t go hungry over school holidays'

 See this information by Newcastle Council on help with school meals following Parliament’s  decision in October on free school meals.

On 23 October 2020, in response to the Parliament decision on free school meals, Newcastle council issued this news item with details of help with meals in Newcastle.

Details of other support can also be found at www.kidsmealmap.co.uk . Details of organisations offering emergency, free or low cost food are also listed on Information Now  www.informationnow.org.uk.

New winter package to provide further support for children and families

8 November 2020. 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

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

From 19 May 2020, 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. This is from £10 million of government funding to help disabled or seriously ill children in England during the pandemic

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

When notified by the DWP, 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
- Routine appointments at Jobcentres have been temporarily suspended, with Work Coaches communicating with residents via their online journals. More details above. 

Housing

21 August 2020. 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

See also this updated guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities in the private and social rented sectors in the context of Coronavirus (COVID-19). COVID-19 and renting: guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities and Understanding the possession action process: guidance for landlords and tenants

Earlier announcement on the evictions ban: 6 June 2020 Moratorium on evictions in England and Wales extended until 23 August 2020 and 27 July 2020. Coronavirus: A ban on evictions and help for rough sleepers - a briefing paper by the House of Commons library September 2020.

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

Guidance for hostel or day centres for people rough sleeping

Guidance on residential care, supported living and home care provision

Independent information from Crisis Skylight and Shelter North East

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

Mortgage help and mortgage holidays

These were to end on 31 October but will continue, due to the increased national restrictions - the government announced on 31 October 2020.

'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
  • Extend the application deadline for a mortgage holiday until 31 October 

Customers were be able request reduced payments or switch to interest only mortgages and extend their mortgage terms to enable them to pay similar instalments to before the coronavirus outbreak. The new guidance also states “Firms should not commence or continue repossession proceedings against customers before 31 October 2020”

Earlier announcements in March 2020: Government support for landlords and tenants "...no renter in either social or private accommodation will be forced out of their home." Protection for tenants and home owners e.g. suspending evictions, no new possession proceedings and mortgage holiday 

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

On 2 November, the FCA announced further proposals to support mortgage borrowers impacted by coronavirus

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'

Extended debt proposals 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 on the above see the FCA news page

Domestic Violence

Free train travel for those fleeing domestic abuse

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

Energy, fuel and water

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.

In March, Utility suppliers agreed with the government to help customers in financial distress and suspend disconnection from supply and around July 2020 most or 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

Financial assistance abroad

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

Financial support for when you are waiting to return to the UK during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Guidance on the financial support from the government available for British people who are unable to return home due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Childcare

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

Students

Package of support for students who have to defer their studies

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. More details from gov.uk

“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

Veterans

Support for UK Veterans

This 5 November 2020 House of Commons on briefing paper details the support available to armed forces veterans in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

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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