COVID-19 UPDATE

Information updated as of the 6th July 2020.

We are being updated daily on the changes to Welfare Benefits in relation to the current Covid-19 pandemic. Please ensure you check this section of our website to ensure you are up to date on the latest developments. 

These update specifically relate to how Welfare Benefit such as PIP, ESA, DLA and Universal Credit will be affected. For the official updates from the Government on Covid-19 and their response to the outbreak, please visit https://www.gov.uk.

All of the measures taken below are to relieve the strain on the department of work and pensions due to the influx of unexpected claims and to exercise social distancing during the claim process.

Change to Assessment Due to Covid-19

DWP Minister says that the Department has had to review its commercial approach to the creation of a single, integrated health assessment service as a result of COVID-19
The government has announced that its current contracts for PIP and work capability assessments are to be extended for up to two years.

As part of its ‘Health Transformation Programme’, the DWP has been planning to integrate the services that deliver personal independence payment and work capability assessments. This has been delayed and the current assessment providers will remain contracted to carry out the PIP and WCA independently.

IMPORTANT UPDATE – 6th July

The DWP have announced that reviews and reassessments will gradually resume this month for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA). We are encouraging all claimants to be proactive and BE PREPARED will in advance. Get any new medical evidence together in your bundle and read over the Factsheets and guidance on the VIP Platform.

This temporary suspension, initially brought in for three months to protect people from unnecessary risk of coronavirus at the outset of the pandemic, will remain in place following a consideration of the latest public health guidance. We will announce any changes to this in due course.

Face-to-face assessments to remain suspended, but kept under review. Assessments will either take place over the phone or on paper. Again, use our resources and services to prepare yourself.

 

HMCTS Tribunal Update – 9th July

HMCTS have released a document this week which highlights the response to Covid – 19 and sets our the road to recovery. A number of point we wanted to highlight can be found below.

  • During the course of July, all courts will start to reopen with social distancing in place.
  • Cloud video hearings start being tested in July. We have no date as yet for social security tribunal rollout but it.s likely to be in the next few months.
  • Extended hearing times being rolled out from July usual times are 10am to 4pm mon to Friday for telephone and face to face possible weekend hearings also to speed up the waiting time currently of around 12 months for PIP/ UC and ESA appeals.
  • Telephone hearing look set to continue in place of face to face for social security for near future owing to many Appellants still having to shield.

You can read the full document set out by the government right HERE. 

 

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

As with Universal Credit, there will be no face-to-face assessments for the next 3 months as of the 17th March 2020. If you have not already been contacted by the assessment provider, you will be contacted to be notified of the changes and you will be informed that the assessment will take place via phone call or through a paper based format.

If you are making a new claim no award will be made without an assessment so you will need to have either a phone assessment or will be assessed through a paper based format.

Like other benefits, reviews have been suspended and will be carried out for the next three months. If your conditions worsen in the immediate future and you fee you may be entitled to an increased rate of PIP, you can still request a review on these grounds to ensure you receive the maximum amount when the current Covid-19 situation has improved.

If your PIP is due to expire over the next three months, you will continue to be paid at your current rate.

The recent caselaw that resulted in the DWP conducting silent reviews of all claimants that might be affected has been put on pause, in total Four PIP review exercises of all PIP  are  paused during coronavirus outbreak until the earliest November. This includes the changes made to planning a journey activity 11 which now incorporates overwhelming psychological distress. New claims are not affected and will include the changes made following the upper tier caselaw in all 4 areas.

UPDATE: 15TH JUNE 2020

As of the 15th June 2020, all PIP awards which are due to be reviewed will be extended for SIX months. This means you will continue to be paid your PIP payments as normal. If you have not returned the ‘How Your Disability Affects You’ form, you have 3 months to fill it out and send it back. Please click HERE to see a sample letter to notify this change.

Universal Credit (UC)

If you are claiming Universal Credit do to sickness, there will be no face-to-face assessments for the next 3 months. If you have not already been contacted by the assessment provider, you will be contacted to be notified of the changes and you will be informed that the assessment will take place via phone call or through a paper based format.

As of the 24th March, reviews for Universal Credit have been suspended for 3 months. Your current award will continue for the next 3 months as normal. The Minimum Income Floor will be suspended. This only applies to some self-employed UC claimants. For the next 3 months, you will not need to attend the Jobcentre for any appointments.

Important Update for New Claimants 

‘Don’t call us – we’ll call you’. People making new claims for Universal Credit will no longer need to call the Department as part of the process. If the DWP need to clarify details about your information, the team will contact you – you do not need to contact them using the UC phone lines. The team will also be messaging claimants on their online journal to confirm details.

The move is designed to take some of the worry and frustration out of submitting a claim, while speeding it up by putting an end to long call wait times.The change is a response to the huge volume of calls to Universal Credit phone lines, which meant some people were faced with an engaged tone when calling or were left waiting for several hours.

Important Update for people on Tax Credits who apply for UC.

An important warning statement from the DWP.

‘If you currently receive tax credits, applying for universal credit will end your tax credit claim. Once closed it is not possible to re-open a tax credit claim or to claim tax credits again in the future. Not all tax credit recipients will be eligible to receive universal credit. If you claim universal credit, your tax credit claim will be closed, even if you aren’t eligible to receive universal credit’

To clarify this statement. If you currently receive tax credits, your benefit will stop as soon as you apply for UC – regardless of the outcome of your UC claim. You will not be able to re apply fo tax credits. The DWP have also warned that the ‘DWP and HMRC cannot advise whether claiming universal credit or tax credits will be better for you.’

If you would like to talk through this with a member of our team and decide the best course of action for your situation, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

NB – on 24 April 2020, the Work and Pensions Committee published findings from its survey into people’s experiences of the benefits system during the coronavirus outbreak, including that ‘people who were already claiming working tax credits told us that it hadn’t been made clear to them that making a claim for universal credit would automatically stop their existing benefits.’

Universal Credit childcare element

It appears that there has been a change regarding which UC claimants can access the childcare costs element during the Covid-19 outbreak. 

‘If you’re already claiming Universal Credit, any childcare costs that you have paid for and reported, for childcare that has been provided, will be reimbursed as part of your Universal Credit claim as normal. Any childcare costs that you have paid for and intend to report, for childcare that has been provided, will also be reimbursed as part of your claim as normal…Whilst the government’s response to coronavirus is in place, unless you are a critical worker you will not be able to access Universal Credit childcare’.

 

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

When you claim you will be entitled from the first day of sickness i.e. there are no waiting days.

As previously mentioned with with PIP and UC, there will be no face-to-face assessments for the next 3 months as of the 17th March 2020. If you have not already been contacted by the assessment provider, you will be contacted to be notified of the changes and you will be informed that the assessment will take place via phone call or through a paper based format.

From March 24th 2020 until June 24th 2020, no reviews will be carried out for ESA. As with PIP, if your condition deteriorates and you feel your should now be in the Support Group, it is vital that you request a review on these grounds. to ensure you receive the maximum arrears when the situation returns to normal.

When you claim you will be treated as having Limited Capability for Work (LCW), you will not have to submit fit notes or undergo a Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

As advised on the 20th of April, New-style employment and support allowance (ESA) can now be claimed online, according to updated DWP guidance.

In ‘New Style’ Employment and Support Allowance: detailed guide‘, the DWP confirms that, as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, new-style ESA can now be claimed where –

  • a person, or their child, thinks they have coronavirus or is recovering from it;
  • a person, or their child, is self-isolating because they came into contact with someone who might have coronavirus;
  • a person has been told to stay at home for at least 12 weeks by the NHS because you’re at high risk of severe illness.
Six Month Extension

The Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP announced yesterday that disability benefit awards have been automatically extended by six months for claimants due to be reassessed within the next three months.

Giving evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee today, Mr Tomlinson said: “What we have done, for those that would be due for a reassessment in the next three months, we’ve automatically extended their benefit by six months.

“If their condition has deteriorated, and they feel they would be entitled to more money, they can still request a reassessment but otherwise they are automatically extended.”

He then goes on to mention DLA and PIP so we have not had confirmation yet that this will apply to ESA however, it is assumed that will be the case.

Blue Badge Holders

Blue Badges that were due to expire have been extended for 3 months. If your blue badge was due to expire in the coming weeks, you will be able to continue using it with no need to renew at the present time.

Carers allowance

If you are a carer that has fallen ill or is having to self-isolate due to coronavirus, your allowance will continue even if there is a temporary break in care. This is also the case if the person you care for has gone into hospital or is having specialist care due to the virus.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

Some employees are entitled to SSP form their employer. Normally you cannot be paid for the first 4 days of sickness, known as ‘waiting days’. There will no longer be any waiting days. You will be deemed to be incapable of work from the moment you fall ill with Coronavirus.

Working Tax Credits (WTC)

Claimants who have been furloughed, or whose hours have been reduced temporarily, will continue to be entitled to WTC as they will be treated as still working their normal hours for eight weeks, after which entitlement will be reviewed – this means they will also continue to be entitled to the additional earnings disregard for the same period. There will be no change to your working tax credit entitlement during the 8 week period. You do not need to tell HMRC about the temporary reduction initially. Check GOV.UK after 8 weeks to see whether the period has been extended or whether you need to report the change at that point.

 

Motability

A statement from motabiltiy.

‘With the ongoing uncertainty that COVID-19 is creating for many of us, we wanted to reassure you that the Scheme will support you where possible to help you remain mobile during this time. 

Our teams have now relocated to enable remote working, but our Customer Services team are dealing with a high volume of calls, so would ask for your support if we are unable to come back to you as soon as usual.’

Please click her to view their most frequently asked questions.

Update on Motability on 1st May

Here’s a quick update for all Motability Scheme customers affected by the Coronavirus outbreak:

Motability are expected to release the latest Advance Payment prices for new vehicles by mid-June (possibly on 4 June).
Car dealerships in England are allowed to reopen showrooms from today.

The Motability Scheme will reopen in phases.
Some Motability vehicle handovers can resume from 1 June.
Motability will automatically send every lease customer a £50 insurance refund in late May / June 2020.

Motability customers who are experiencing ‘temporary and exceptional financial need’ can apply for an advance of the £600 Good Condition Bonus.

Motability have confirmed the cancellation of the One Big Day events for 2020.

The Motability Grants scheme has been paused and the Charity has been temporarily closed.

Partner services including the RAC, Kwik Fit, the insurer RSA Motability and some car dealerships remain open with a reduced capacity.

 

Can I exercise more than once a day if I need to due to a significant health condition?

The latest update from the government regarding exercise is that you are now allowed to exercise more than once a day with no time restrictions. Please remember that if you do feel symptoms of Coronavirus, you must continue to self isolate and avoid others.

 

DWP and Post Office launch joint initiative to deliver cash benefit payments.

New cash delivery option initially available to Post Office Card Account customers in England who are shielding at home due to risk from the virus. The DWP and Post Office have launched a joint initiative to deliver benefit payments direct to the homes of claimants shielding because of the risk of coronavirus infection.

The new service from the Post Office will enable cash benefit payments to be sent to individuals identified by the DWP as shielding at home because of the risk of infection from COVID-19 and who agree to receive payments in this way.

For more information see Post Office launches new cash delivery option to help the most vulnerable from postoffice.co.uk

 

Dealing with a bereavement during COVID-19.

The government have set out new guidelines for bereavements during the current pandemic. Support is available:

The funeral can usually only take place after the death is registered.

There are restrictions in place during the coronavirus outbreak which will affect the type of funeral that can be held. Your funeral director will be able to give more advice about what is possible.

You can find out more about arranging a funeral and finding a funeral director. You can also arrange the funeral yourself by contacting your local council. Please see the dull guidelines HERE.

Help with funeral costs

You could be eligible for help with funeral costs if you have a low income and get certain benefits. The amount you get will depend on your circumstances. It will not usually cover all of the costs of the funeral.

You might be able to get other help to pay for the funeral if you do not get any benefits.

Video Hearings

A of the 26th June, Ministry of Justice have confirmed that video hearings are being made available across all Social Security and Child Support Tribunal regions. Minister advises that judges will determine if cases are suitable for video hearings, taking account of issues including the benefit under appeal and any difficulty the claimant has in using the technology.

 

Face Coverings – Update 21st June 2020

A new set of rules came into force last week which require members of the public to wear face coverings in some public places and on public transport. Those with impairments that prevent them from wearing masks are exempt, as are children under the age of 11. The list of impairments which allows exemption includes:

  • Breathing Difficulty/Respiratory
  • Conditions affecting dexterity
  • Mental Health condition or panic disorders
  • Autism
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Visual impairment – including restricted field of view if the mask would make this worse
  • Impairments that make it difficult to put on or take off face coverings (such as skin conditions)
  • Dementia
  • Where someone can wear a mask for some of the journey but might need to take it off
  • Carers or someone who is with someone that relies on lip reading
  • If medication / eating is essential during a journey

For more guidance on the face covering updates, please refer the Gov.co.uk updates here – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-safer-travel-guidance-for-passengers

Job Retention and Self-Employment Income Support schemes to an end.

On 29th May 2020, the government outlined its plan to bring the Coronavirus Job Retention and Self-Employment Income Support schemes to an end. Whist both schemes have been extended, plans have now been put in place to help people get back to work as we ease out of lockdown.

You can read the government plans in full by visiting the Gov.uk site. 

 

End of Shielding

Over two million clinically vulnerable people in England who were advised to ‘shield’ at home during the coronavirus pandemic have been told they can return to work from 1 August 2020 – and, as a result, those who are employed will no longer be eligible for statutory sick pay.

The Government today announced it will be easing its guidance over the next few weeks for those with severe underlying health conditions who have been advised to stay at home and avoid non-essential face-to-face contact during the pandemic.

Access to Work video guide (Updated 5th July)

DR UK has collaborated with Diversity and Ability and Evenbreak to create a video guide to the Access to Work application process. If the help you need at work is not covered by your employer making reasonable adjustments, you may be able to get help from the Access to Work scheme. Please click HERE for full video guidance.

Reintroduction of work conditionality and sanctions (Updated 5th July)

Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey has announced conditionality and benefit sanctions will be reintroduced this week as jobcentres in England start to reopen after lockdown.

SSP ends for people shielding after 1st August. (Updated 5th July)

The Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson has announced that people who are currently ‘shielding’ due to being clinically extremely vulnerable as a result of the coronavirus outbreak will not be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) on that basis from 1 August 2020. This means the clinically extremely vulnerable individuals who are unable to work from home or on work premesis will no longer be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay on the basis of being clinically extremely vulnerable.

Mr. Tomlinson said that for those shielding, they will continue to remain eligible for SSP if they are unable to work and:

  • are required to self-isolate because they, or someone in their household, has symptoms of COVID-19; or
  • because they have been notified by the NHS or public health authorities that they have come into contact with someone who has coronavirus.

Video hearings to be made available for Social Security and Child Support Tribunals (Updated 5th July)

Justice Minister Chris Philip MP has announced that plans are bring put in place to make video hearings available across all Social Security and Child Support Tribunal regions.

In answer to a  parliamentary question on 25th June, the Minister said:

“In line with government guidance, face to face hearings in the First-tier Tribunal (Social Security and Child Support) (SSCS) have been replaced with telephone hearings and the use of other remote hearing technology to facilitate as many hearings as possible being held remotely. All parties to the hearings are being contacted directly to confirm new hearing arrangements.

After a number of successful tests, arrangements are currently being made to introduce and make available Cloud Video Platform (CVP) hearings in all SSCS Tribunal regions.

 

No sanctions will be used until claimants have an up-to-date claimant commitment. (Updated 6th July)

The DWP has confirmed that no sanctions will be used until claimants have an up-to-date claimant commitment. They have also confiremed that those ‘who are shielding, have childcare responsibilities because of COVID restrictions, etc’ will not be asked to do anything unreasonable. This news comes after the announcement that jobcentres in England started to reopen this week, as part of the government’s plan to lift the lockdowm measures.

 

Helpful Information From Other Sources

What to do if you’re already getting benefits.

What to do if you were employed and have lost your job.

 

We understand many people will still have concerns and worries about the current pandemic and how it will affect them financially and health wise. Please remember that our team a highly experienced and are here to help you. We have an excellent track record when it comes to fighting for justice on behalf of our clients. We are always on hand so please feel free to contact us if you require assistance. Our VIP Platform is an excellent source of help when it comes to welfare benefits. If you would like to become a member, click HERE

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