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Welfare benefits news

The latest welfare rights service news.


Department for Work and Pensions gradually reintroducing normal service as Coronavirus measures ease

In the last few days more details have become available of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) gradually restoring its normal services.

Jobcentres are open again if you need an appointment

If you need a face to face appointment, your Jobcentre will have ‘COVID-proof’ arrangements in the office (hand sanitiser for example), although you can still make contact on the phone or online.

Job-search requirements and the claimant commitment (Universal Credit and Jobseeker’s Allowance) will be re-introduced gradually

If you make a new claim for Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance as a jobseeker, you will be asked to complete a ‘claimant commitment’ and to seek work. Your work coach will work with you, and your job search should reflect the ‘new normal’ of large-scale unemployment and fewer job vacancies.

Reviews and renewals of Personal Independence Payment and Disability Living Allowance will re-start gradually

This will start with claims which were already underway when reviews were suspended. You may be asked to complete paperwork or to speak to health care professional about your claim.

Face to face assessments for disability benefits remain suspended and will continue to be undertaken by others means, usually by phone.

Repayment of benefit overpayments and social fund debts will re-start gradually

You will receive a letter about this, or a message on your journal if you claim Universal Credit. If deductions from your benefit cause hardship, contact the DWP debt management department on tel: 0800 916 0647, or seek advice from our helpline.

‘Conditionality’ and sanctions return in Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and Universal Credit (UC) from 1 July 2020 – but will be adjusted for the ‘new normal’ in the world of work

The government intends to reopen Jobcentres and to bringing back ‘conditionality’ (agreements to seek work, attend training and interviews etc) for people who are seeking work on Universal Credit and Jobseeker’s Allowance.

If you claim UC or JSA you must agree a ‘claimant commitment’ which sets out what you will do to find work. The commitment must always reflect your personal circumstances and should never be ‘one size fits all’. In recognition of the problems caused by the Coronavirus outbreak, Ministers have said that existing commitments will be reviewed gradually and updated to reflect ‘the new normal’ in the employment market.

If you do not follow the terms of the commitment (for example failing to apply for work) without good reason, your claim may be sanctioned – payment reduced or stopped.

If you think your claimant commitment is not reasonable or does not accurately reflect your situation, you can ask for it to be updated.

If you have been sanctioned and you disagree with the decision, you have a right to challenge the decision. There is no time limit on doing so, and Derbyshire Welfare Rights can assist you, including representing you at appeal.

For further information see our leaflets on the Claimant Commitment and Sanctions or contact our Helpline.

Shielded people and Statutory Sick Pay

People who are shielding (vulnerable people remaining at home owing to the risk of COVID-19) will not be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay on that basis from 1 August 2020.

From 1 August, if people who have been shielding are unable to work from home but need to work, they can do so as long as the workplace is COVID safe.

It is important that this group continues to take careful precautions, and employers should do all they can to enable them to work from home where this is possible, including moving them to another role if required.

Where this is not possible, those who have been shielding should be provided with the safest on site roles that enable them to maintain social distancing.

If employers cannot provide a safe working environment, they can continue to use the Job Retention Scheme for shielded employees who have already been furloughed.

There is further guidance from the government.

Suspension of evictions extended by 2 months to 23 August 2020

The current suspension of evictions from social or private rented accommodation is to be extended to 23 August 2020.

The government has said that it is committed to ensuring that no one is evicted from their home this summer due to coronavirus.

Work is also underway to introduce new rules which will mean that courts are better able to address the need for appropriate protection of all parties, including those shielding from coronavirus.

Where tenants do experience financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, the government is clear that landlords and tenants should work together and exhaust all possible options – such as flexible payment plans which take into account a tenant's individual circumstances – to ensure cases only end up in court as an absolute last resort.

If you're having problems with rent arrears, get advice right away from your local Citizen's Advice office.

If you are having problems with Housing Benefit or the rent element of Universal Credit, seek help from our welfare rights team.

Don’t delay seeking advice: help is available right now.

Message from the DWP - how to recognise a call from the DWP

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 May 2020 when we call you. It is tel: 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 tel: 0800 328 5644. We hope the introduction of this new service will allow us to communicate with you more safely from now on.

Post Office cash delivery service to help the most vulnerable

The Post Office has begun to deliver benefit payments direct to the homes of claimants shielding because of the risk of coronavirus infection.

Payments can to be sent to people who have been identified by the Department of Work and Pensions as shielding at home because of the risk of infection from COVID-19 and who agree to the scheme, which will apply first of all to Post Office card account (POCA) customers who are shielding at home and are the most at risk from the virus.

Cash will be sent by Royal Mail special delivery.

If the scheme applies to you, the Post Office will contact you to discuss how it can work for you.

The Post Office has also made access to cash products available faster to help self-isolating individuals during the pandemic.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

You may claim SSP if you are an employee and you are unable to work owing to illness or disability.

From 16 April 2020, you can also claim SSP if you are an employee and:

  • you are ‘extremely vulnerable’ (as defined in public health guidance)and at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus because of an underlying health condition
  • and you have been notified to follow rigorously shielding measures for the period specified in the notification

You may be able to claim benefits to top up SSP, such as Universal Credit. You should seek advice.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

You may claim ESA if you have an illness or disability which prevents you from working, and you have come to the end of your Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or your are not entitled to SSP.

In the current situation you may also claim ESA where:

  • you or your child think you have Coronavirus or you’re recovering from it
  • you or your child are self-isolating because you came into contact with someone who might have coronavirus
  • you have been told to stay at home for at least 12 weeks by the NHS because you’re at high risk of severe illness

Entitlement to ESA is based upon your National Insurance record (from employment, self-employment or NI credits) and can be paid even if you have savings over £16,000 or other income. If you have a low income and savings under £16,000 you may also be able to claim Universal Credit.

If you already receive Universal Credit, you can apply for ESA can apply via your UC account or by contacting your work coach or case manager.

Claiming Employment and Support Allowance

It is now possible to claim new style ESA online. Find out if you're eligible for new style ESA. To make the claim you will need:

  • your National Insurance number
  • your bank or building society account number and sort code (you can use a friend or family member’s account if you do not have one)
  • your doctor’s name, address and telephone number
  • details of your income if you’re working
  • the date your Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) ends if you’re claiming it

You will be asked a series of questions to check your entitlement to ESA before you make the application.

It is still possible to claim by phone, tel: 0800 328 5644. If you are an appointee for someone else, you must make the claim by phone.

For more details or advice on your full entitlements, email: welfarebenefits@derbyshire.gov.uk or tel: 01629 531535 from 11am to 4pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Suspended the recovery of debts

In order to help with the Coronavirus outbreak, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has suspended the recovery of debts from all benefits for a temporary period.

You do not need to do anything if the DWP is taking deductions from your benefits, these have already been stopped. No new debts will be deducted.

DWP advises that if you are repaying a debt via standing order, bank giro credit or online payments contact your bank to suspend these payments.

The recovery of Universal Credit advances from monthly payments will continue.

Changes to benefit rules to help during the coronavirus outbreak

New temporary rules come into effect from 30 March 2020 to help benefit claimants during the coronavirus crisis:

  • Universal Credit’s basic allowance increases by £20 a week
  • self-employed claimants of Universal Credit may have the ‘Minimum Income Floor’ in UC reduced or removed, allowing them more help from Universal Credit if they have low earnings
  • Universal Credit rent elements and Housing Benefit are made more generous
  • Housing Benefit rules are updated so that the increase in Working Tax Credit of £20 a week is not clawed back accidentally
  • ‘work-search requirements’ are removed from Universal Credit and Jobseeker’s Allowance for at least 3 months
  • people on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) who are infected or contaminated with the virus, are in isolation or caring for a child or young person who is affected, will continue to receive JSA and won’t be moved to another benefit
  • Carer’s Allowance claimants will still get their benefit even if they must stop their caring duties because either they or the person they care for is affected by the virus

Coronavirus scams

The Department of Work and Pensions has issued a warning that criminals are trying to steal money from people by sending out false messages regarding government financial help in the current crisis.

One recent text message claims that the Government has issued a payment of £458 and asks you to click on a link to claim the money. Do not do this - the message is a scam.

There are also reported cases of email messages supposedly from gov.uk, fining people for leaving their homes more than once.

Delete any text or email messages of this sort and do not respond to any messages of this sort on social media.

Gov.uk is the only proper source for information issued by the government. Updated information from the government will also appear here.

If you think you have been a victim of fraud, contact Action Fraud or tel: 0300 123 2040. For further information, or to report a similar scam, contact the Citizens Advice or tel: 0808 233 1133.

Please be aware that it may take longer for your calls to be answered during this difficult time.

Reviews of benefits for sickness and disability are suspended for 3 months

The Department of Work and Pensions has just announced that as of 24 March 2020, there will be no new reviews or reassessments across all sickness and disability benefits for at least the next 3months. This includes Universal Credit, employment and support allowance, personal independence payment, disability living allowance, attendance allowance and industrial injuries disablement benefit.

  • if you are already in the middle of the review process, you will be contacted to take the process forward, but please note, face-to-face examinations are also suspended for 3 months
  • if your award of benefit is due to expire, it will be extended and you will continue to receive benefit at the same rate

Providing proof of coronavirus absence from work

People unable to work for more than 7 days because of coronavirus (COVID-19) can obtain an isolation note through a new online serviceso you do not have to contact your GP. You do not need a fit note or isolation note for ESA or Universal Credit.

Protection for employees who cannot go to work or work at home

To protect jobs, employers may take a government grant which will cover 80% of the salary of retained workers up to a total of £2,500 a month, with employers being able to top up salaries further if they choose to.

Support with the cost of wages will be backdated to 1 March 2020 and will initially be available for at least 3 months, with the option for the scheme to be extended if necessary. Grants are expected to be available ‘within weeks’.

Help for self-employed people through Tax Credits/Universal Credit

The Universal Credit standard allowance and the working tax credit ‘basic elements’ will be increased by £20 a week for the next 12 months.

The ‘Minimum Income Floor’ for self-employed people on UC is suspended for 12 months for everyone affected by the economic impacts of coronavirus.

Help for people renting

Housing Benefit and the ‘rent element’ of Universal Credit will be increased to cover at least 30% of ‘market rents’ in an area. Private tenants cannot be evicted for a period of three months under emergency legislation.

No requirement to attend jobcentre appointments for 3 months

People receiving benefits do not have to attend jobcentre appointments for 3 months, starting from Thursday 19 March 2020. People will continue to receive their benefits as normal, but all requirements to attend the jobcentre in person are suspended.

Jobcentres remain open, and will continue to support people who are not able to use phones and online, including homeless people. People can still make applications for benefits online if they are eligible.

Walk-in access to jobcentres

Walk-in access to jobcentres is now not generally.

Contact the Department for Work and Pensions by telephone or online where possible.

If you are vulnerable and you need to see someone at the Jobcentre, access will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Coronavirus and benefit claims

If you have a query about your entitlement to benefits, contact our Welfare Rights Service:

There are lots of advice leaflets throughout the welfare benefits section.

The following is a summary of the current news relating to benefits:

If you are already receiving benefits and are notified that you should ’self-isolate’:

  • inform Department for Work and Pensions, tel: 0800 169 0310 or 0800 328 5644 or by online journal for Universal Credit
  • ask for the requirements to attend meetings at the Jobcentre or to attend job interviews to be suspended for the time being and for contact to be limited to the telephone, or online

Getting medical proof that you are self-isolating

You can ‘self-certificate’ for the first seven days, after which you normally need a letter from your GP. The government is expected to ease this requirement.

If you have to ‘self-isolate’ and you have no income

You may be able to claim benefits such as:

  • Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you are an employee and you usually earn £118 or more a week
  • ‘new-style’ Employment and Support Allowance (NSESA) if you have paid National Insurance Contributions – this includes self-employed people
  • Universal Credit (UC) if your income is low, also if you need help with the cost of renting - UC can act as a top up for SSP and NSESA
  • if you are in temporary accommodation under homelessness rules or you live in certain accommodation where care, support or supervision is given, you may still be able to claim Housing Benefit
  • some severely disabled claimants may be able to claim other benefits - seek advice

Claiming

  • Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – by notifying your employer
  • ‘new-style’ Employment and Support Allowance (NSESA) can be claimed by phone, tel: 0800 328 5644 or textphone: 0800 328 1344
  • claim Universal Credit - if you cannot claim online ask to make a claim by phone, tel: 0800 328 5644

Citizen’s Advice offers a help to claim service, but for the moment this is only available via telephone or web chat. Tel: 03444 111 444. Text relay: 03444 111 445.

You will be entitled to SSP and NSESA from day one. Under normal circumstances, there are waiting days’ for SSP (3 days) and NSESA (7 days). These waiting periods don’t apply of you claim because you are self-isolating.

You can also request a ‘short term benefit advance’ of NSESA if you need money quickly. This is repayable.

Getting advance payments when you claim Universal Credit

When you make a claim for UC, you cannot receive your first payment for at least 5 weeks. It is possible to request an advance payment of up to one month’s money. This is repayable over 12 months. You will not have to attend the Jobcentre to obtain an advance payment.

You will be treated as being ‘off sick’ when self-isolating

For SSP, NSESA and UC, you will be treated as being off sick even if you have self-isolated but you are not showing any symptoms. This will mean that you do not have to produce further medical evidence.

For UC, any requirements in your claim to seek work are suspended. DWP will contact you by phone or via your UC Journal to discuss what to do next.

If you are self-employed an on UC, the ‘minimum income floor’ is suspended while you are self-isolating, and DWP has discretion to continue this suspension for a time after you return to work.

If you have made a claim for benefit and you should usually attend an appointment at the Jobcentre to discuss your claim – changed arrangements

DWP will try to deal with your claim over the phone or online so that you do not have to go to the Jobcentre. From Tuesday 17 March 2020, face to face assessments for disability benefits are suspended for 3 months. This applies to claims for:

  • Personal Independence Payment
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Industrial Disablement Benefit
  • Universal Credit - if you are going through the ‘Work Capability Assessment’, DWP should contact you to discuss what to do next