Coronavirus and its impact on benefits for people experiencing multiple disadvantages
By Julie Holdcroft, Welfare Benefits Caseworker, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North & Stoke on Trent
The DWP has made many changes in the last 2 months to the benefit system in response to the Coronavirus. Some are short term changes and some will last up to a year.
- Firstly, DWP have closed all Jobcentres to most people, apart from the most vulnerable (e.g. homeless people) who cannot access the DWP over the phone/internet.
- Those with work search and work availability requirements will have them removed, and will not be required to meet with a Work Coach for 3 months from 30/3/20 and then will be reviewed.
- For those making new UC claims they will not have to attend a Jobcentre to verify their claim. This will be done over the phone
- For those on ESA or UC who are self-isolating due to being high risk, having symptoms or living with someone with symptoms, the DWP will treat these people as having limited capability for work (LCW) without the requirement for any medical evidence or having to undergo a work capability assessment.
Disability and Sickness Assessments
- New reviews and reassessments (including face to face assessments) of benefits such as PIP will be suspended for 3 months and claims that are due to be reviewed will be automatically extended for 6 months (except for short term fixed term awards which require a new claim).
- However for those reviews/reassessments that have already been started claimants may have a paper or telephone assessment.
- Those appealing a benefit decision may also have a telephone or video hearing if a decision cannot be made on the paperwork by a Judge. If appellants are unhappy with a provisional decision made by a Judge they can request a telephone/video hearing instead.
- UC is being increased by the equivalent of £20 a week from 6 April for 1 year to help people cope with the crisis. This will apply to all new and existing claimants. While initially very helpful, this could lead to issues next year when the amount will reduce again, if people get used to having this regular income.
- There is no such increase in legacy benefits such as JSA or ESA, which might lead people to believe they are better off claiming UC. Advice should always be sought from an Independent Benefits Specialist before claiming UC due to the potential risks involved.
Debt Recovery Suspension
- Debts being recovered from benefits by the DWP for overpayments and by Third Parties for arrears are temporarily suspended, however UC Advance Payment deductions will continue.
Local Housing Allowance and Council Tax Support
- From April 2020, Local Housing Allowance rates will increase in line with the 30th percentile of market rents. This applies to all private renters who are new or existing Universal Credit Housing Element or Housing Benefit claimants. This has increased LHA in North Staffs from £350pcm for a 1 bedroom property to nearly £375pcm. This will hopefully make renting in the private sector slightly more affordable. However, landlords might just put their rents up further.
- Those claiming Council Tax Support will also receive up to an additional £150 support towards their bill reducing a major source of debt for those on the lowest incomes.
*correct as of 6/5/2020. Guidance is currently subject to change.