Coronavirus — temporary benefit changes

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STOP PRESS The DWP has just announced that they are suspending face-to-face interviews for ESA, PIP and Universal Credit. See here

Info for new claimants and people affected by the Coronavirus see here

Previous info: From the i newspaper, the temporary benefit changes announced in the Budget 2020 by the Chancellor about sick pay, hardship funds from your local Council, Universal Credit and face-to-face benefit interviews in general.  See also info from Charlotte Hughes (The Poor Side of Life).

If you have queries about booking or attending a face-to-face benefit interview, get advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau or other welfare rights advice service, as well as call the benefit agency dealing with your appointment, to safeguard your benefits.

You may be able to press for paper-based assessment of your disability benefit claim (including the assessor contacting your GP and others) instead of face-to-face interview at an assessment centre, because of practical precautions to do with the coronavirus.

A lot of women in our network are especially worried about catching the coronavirus because of their existing conditions and their immunity is low.

From the i newspaper:

Budget 2020: Temporary Universal Credit and ESA changes announced by Rishi Sunak amid coronavirus outbreak

The Chancellor also announced changes to sick pay for workers affected by Covid-19


“The Chancellor has announced a series of temporary benefits changes in the Budget to help low earners and self-employed people amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“In a statement that was shaped to respond to Covid-19, which has affected at least 373 people in the UK, Rishi Sunak said it would be quicker and easier for people who cannot get statutory sick pay to access the support they required.

“People who earn less than £118 a week and the self-employed are not eligible for statutory sick pay, but they will now be able to claim contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) from day one of a claim instead of waiting the usual seven days if they test positive for coronavirus or are in self-isolation.

“And to help self-employed workers, the minimum income floor (MIF) system that is used to calculate their Universal Credit award will be temporarily scrapped, the Chancellor said.

“Those on contributory Employment and Support Allowance will be able to claim from day one instead of day eight to make sure that time spent off work due to sickness is reflected in your benefits. I’m also temporarily removing the minimum income floor in Universal Credit,” Mr Sunak said in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

“IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) welcomed the MIF changes.

“The major problem with Universal Credit for the self-employed has always been that the MIF does not account for their fluctuating incomes. If removing it means freelancers and the self-employed can secure the equivalent of their income if they have to self-isolate or are ill during the coronavirus crisis, this is very welcome,” said policy development manager, Alasdair Hutchison.

“The MIF assumes that self-employed people work 35 hours a week and earn the minimum wage. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) compares their real earnings with the MIF to work out their Universal Credit award.

“If they earn below the MIF, the DWP treats individuals as though they have earned the MIF, but the system can leave some claimants struggling financially.

“Providing freelancers and the self-employed are able to access the Government’s £3,000 grant for small businesses and £500m local authority hardship fund, these may also go a long way to mitigating the damage to their incomes during the coronavirus crisis. Together, these measures, as well as the business interruption loan scheme and the deferral of tax payments will be a major support to freelancers and the self-employed through this difficult time,” Mr Hutchison added.

£500m hardship fund

Rishi Sunak said the rules around attending the Jobcentre would be relaxed during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Mr Sunak pledged around £1bn in measures to support people who are self-employed, working in the gig economy and on benefits.

“As part of that, the Chancellor said a hardship fund worth £500m for local authorities would help vulnerable people affected by the virus.

“People will be able to claim Universal Credit and access advance payments without needing to physically attend the Jobcentre if they are in self-isolation because of the virus. Instead they will be able to carry out any necessary communication online or over the phone.

“In addition to those who have been diagnosed with coronavirus, Mr Sunak also announced that anyone who is told to self-isolate, even if they do not show any symptoms associated with Covid-19, would be able to claim statutory sick pay.

It will be possible to obtain sick note alternatives by ringing NHS 111.”

Information from Charlotte Hughes (The Poor Side of Life):

For people already claiming support

Special arrangements will be in place for people in receipt of benefits who cannot attend reassessments or jobcentre appointments because they are required to stay at home or are infected by coronavirus.

• Claimants who cannot attend a reassessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit will continue to receive their payments while their assessment is rearranged.

• People who need to claim ESA or Universal Credit because of coronavirus will not be required to produce a Fit Note.

• When claimants tell us in good time that they are staying at home or that they have been diagnosed with coronavirus, they will not be sanctioned. We will review their conditionality requirements in their claimant commitment, to ensure they are reasonable.

• Claimants who are staying at home as a result of coronavirus will have their mandatory work search and work availability requirements removed to account for a period of sickness.

For people who need to make a new claim for financial support

We understand people who are required to stay at home or are infected by coronavirus may need financial support.

• Those affected by coronavirus will be able to apply for Universal Credit and can receive an advance without physically attending a jobcentre.

• The seven waiting days for Employment and Support Allowance for new claimants suffering from coronavirus or required to stay at home will not apply, so it will be payable from day one.

Employees and self-employed people

To make sure people in work can take the necessary time off to stay at home if they are suffering from coronavirus or to prevent its spread, changes have been made to Statutory Sick Pay and how Universal Credit supports self-employed claimants.

• People who cannot work due to coronavirus and are eligible for Statutory Sick Pay will get it from day one, rather than from the fourth day of their illness. We intend this measure to apply retrospectively from 13 March.

• Statutory Sick Pay will be payable to people who are staying at home on Government advice, not just those who are infected, this measure will apply from 13 March. Employers are urged to use their discretion about what evidence, if any, they ask for.

• If employees need to provide evidence to their employer that they need to stay at home due to coronavirus, they will be able to get it from NHS 111 Online instead of having to get a Fit Note from their doctor. This is currently under development and will be made available soon.

• Self-employed claimants on Universal Credit who are required to stay at home or are ill as a result of coronavirus will not have a Minimum Income Floor (an assumed level of income) applied for a period of time while affected.


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