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Coronavirus & Welfare benefits update

3rd April 2020

Our Welfare Advice service at WAVE Trauma Centre continues to operate

 by telephone and email.

We know that this a difficult time for everyone, we are here to provide you with advice, information and assistance.  If you require assistance with Benefit Forms, we are happy to help you by telephone and/or email. If you have a question, please don’t hesitate to telephone or email your local WAVE Centre and a Welfare adviser contact you.

WAVE Centre Armagh:                                028-37511599      Email:  info.armagh@wavetrauma.org

WAVE Centre Belfast:                                  028-90779922      Email:  adminhq@wavetrauma.org

WAVE Centre Ballymoney:                         028-27669900      Email:  info.ballymoney@wavetrauma.org

WAVE Centre Omagh:                                 028-82252522      Email:  info.omagh@wavetrauma.org

WAVE Centre Derry/Londonderry            028-71266655      Email:  info.derry@wavetrauma.org

 

Changes to the Welfare Benefit system due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

We have highlighted some of the key changes to benefits due to the COVID-19 Pandemic below.  However, as the government are making regular changes, we would encourage you to contact our Welfare Advice Workers if you require advice and information for your own particular circumstances.

To ensure everyone keeps safe the Department of Communities have:

Cancelled all face-to-face assessments and meetings for all benefits from 16th March 2019 for 3 months. This will be kept under regular review and extended if necessary. All appointments at Jobs & Benefits offices have been postponed.

Nobody will have to visit Jobs & Benefits offices at any stage of making a new claim, except in exceptional circumstances. There will be no face to face medical assessments for disability related benefits and face to face appointments for Access to Work (NI) have been temporarily suspended.  If you are already receiving benefits, you will continue to receive payments. You will not be penalised as a result of a postponed appointment.

Suspended all reviews and reassessments for health and disability benefits from 24th March 2020 for three months for current claimants of these benefits.

This applies to all reassessment/renewal activity for all health and disability benefits including Personal Independence Payment; Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, Attendance Allowance, ESA; the Work Capability Assessment for those in receipt of ESA or Universal credit; Disability Living Allowance for both children and those aged 65+.

From 24th March 2020, new claims for disability related benefits (e.g. PIP or ESA) from will be determined by paper and/or telephony assessment only.

From 30 March 2020 for the next three months, work search and work availability requirements will be removed for new and existing claims to Jobseekers’ Allowance and Universal Credit.

The Discretionary Support Scheme has been enhanced and will provide further support to people affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic. A grant payment will be available to assist with short-term living expenses where a person, or a member of their immediate family, has been infected by COVID-19 or told to self-isolate. There is no limit on the amount of an individual award, which will be calculated based on individual circumstances.

Appeal hearings- no oral hearings will be listed and any changes to individual hearings will be communicated directly to those affected, usually by email and/or phone. Arrangements are already in place to use telephone and other technology to continue to deal with urgent cases remotely.  Those who are receiving Welfare Supplementary Payments (WSPs) pending their appeal hearings will have these extended.

Phone lines for Benefit Departments now operate from 10am-4pm but due to reduced staff there may be long waiting times. However due to COVID-19, The Department for Communities is working to allow many benefits to be claimed online:

https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/information-and-services/benefits-and-money/benefits-and- financial-support

We have outlined below how these changes will affect some of the benefits most commonly claimed by clients of WAVE, and additional changes introduced due to COVID-19.  Please contact one of our Welfare Team if you require further information and advice.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

New claims for PIP:  Our Welfare Advice staff can offer your assistance to complete a PIP2 form, and advise you on evidence that could support your claim. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Department of Communities have given a commitment to ensure that no one will be disadvantaged if forms not returned on time, by offering extensions.

There will be no face to face medical assessments due to the COVED-19 Pandemic, therefore your claim will be determined on the paper based evidence you submit, or you may be contacted for an assessment by telephone.   You will receive at least 7 notice of days’ notice of a telephony assessment.  If you require support with this call, you can request a conference call with a family member or your Outreach Support Worker at WAVE Trauma Centre.

Existing PIP claimants who have an award coming to an end in the 3 months after 24 March 2020.

If you are already getting PIP your payments will continue to be made. PIP award reviews are suspended until further notice with award dates extended accordingly to ensure benefit remains in payment. If you experience a change in your needs during this time you are advised to contact the Department to ensure you are receiving the correct level of support.  You can discuss your changes with one of our Welfare Advisers for further advice.

Appeals:  Oral hearings have been suspended.  Any changes to individual hearings will be communicated directly to those affected, usually by email and/or phone.

Disability Living Allowance

Existing claimants:   Those currently receiving DLA who are turning 16 years usually move onto Personal Independence Payment (PIP), but this migration to PIP has been suspended due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and DLA payments will continue until further notice.

If you currently receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and you experience a change in your needs during this time, you are advised to contact the Department to ensure you are receiving the correct level of support.  You can discuss your changes with one of our Welfare Advisers for further advice.

Carer’s Allowance

Carers allowance is a benefit for people who regularly spend at least 35 hours per week caring for a severely disabled person.

Existing Claimants:  Carers will continue to be paid Carer’s Allowance when they have temporarily ceased to care for a severely disabled person due to either of them self-isolating or being infected with coronavirus.  During the COVID-19 pandemic emotional support can also count towards the 35 hours a week you spend caring for someone who is ill or has a disability.

New Claims: You can make a new claim online or download a form from the nidirect website or by phoning up for an application form.    0800 587 0912  Text phone number: 0800 012 1574  (for deaf or hard of hearing users and customers with speech difficulties)

Employment and Support Allowance

New claims: There is temporary removal of the seven waiting days if you are making a new claim.

ESA & COVID-19:  If you need to self-isolate you will be treated as being ill and do not need to go to a GP.  ESA Claims connected to Coronavirus (COVID-19) will automatically be placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) from the start of your claim without any requirements to submit medical evidence (fit note), or undergo an assessment.

Claiming ESA for non-COVID-19 illness/disability:  Face to face assessments medical assessments for ESA have been suspended and paper based assessments will take place where possible. Some cases may require a telephony assessment.  If you require support with a telephony assessment, please contact our Welfare Advice Team.

If you experience difficulties obtaining or sending in sickliness at this time for an illness or disability other than COVID- 19 it is important to telephone the ESA Department and keep them updated.

Existing claimants:  If your case would have been subject to review/renewal on 24 March 2020 or in the 3 months following this date, assessments are suspended and you will continue to be paid as usual.

Working Tax Credits

If your working hours have been reduced because of coronavirus (COVID-19) will still receive your usual tax credits payments.  Those being furloughed by their employer will not have their tax credits payments affected if they are still employed or self-employed.  These customers do not need to contact HMRC about this change. HMRC have confirmed they 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.  They will use the information already held about the number of hours you normally work.  Customers can still report any other changes in income, childcare and hours in the normal way. However, they you must still inform HMRC if you or your partner lose their job, are made redundant or cease trading.

If you currently receive Working Tax Credits and are considering making a claim for Universal Credit, please contact the Welfare Advice team to discuss if this is the best option for you.  Once you claim Universal Credit you cannot return to the Tax Credits system.

If you lose your job, your Tax Credit payments will stop and you will need to make a claim for Universal Credit. You can’t receive Universal Credit and Tax Credits at the same time.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a payment for people over 18 but under State Pension age who are on a low income or out of work. It includes support for the cost of housing, children and childcare, and financial support for people with disabilities, carers and people too ill to work. It takes 5 weeks to process a UC award before you will be paid.  If you require money in the meantime you can apply for a UC Advance (repayable) or apply to the UC Contingency Fund (non-repayable)- see below for more information).

New to UC?  Claiming UC may not be the best option for you.  We advise you to telephone our Welfare Advice Team before making a claim for Universal Credit to discuss if you will be better off on another benefit.

Existing UC Claimants:  There are currently no face to face appointments.  Your Work Coach will communicate with you via your on-line journal, or by phone and will reschedule appointments for a later date.

New claims:  You must normally claim Universal Credit online:

https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/claim-universal-credit-online

If you need help, or need to make a telephone claim please Tel: 0800 012 1331

Verification of identity is to be conducted by telephone with a need for the claimant to answer two out of three security questions.  UC will phone claimants back, usually within a couple of days to confirm verification. Please note that UC calls will appear as a withheld number.

The ‘claimant commitment’ that is usually agreed face to face will be agreed online or by phone.

UC Advanced payment debts can currently be deferred for a three-month period when a claimant is in financial hardship.  You can request a deferral in your journal.

Payments received in lieu of free school meals is ignored as income.

It has been confirmed that early release prisoners will be entitled to UC from the first day of release.

The Standard UC allowance has been increased by £87 per month and the surplus earnings rate of £2,500 has been extended to this financial year.

Making a claim for Universal Credit as you are unfit to work due to COVID-19: 

Universal Credit claims connected to Coronavirus (COVID-19) will automatically be placed in the Limited Capability for Work (LCW) group without medical evidence.

Requiring financial assistance while waiting on Universal Credit Payments?  You can apply for a Universal Credit Advance Payment (which you will have to repay from your UC award) or a Universal Credit Contingency Fund Payment which you don’t have to repay. To ask for a Universal Credit Contingency Fund payment, contact the Finance Support Service Tel 0800 587 2750 or contact your Work Coach in your online journal.

For further information on these sources of help, please contact our Welfare Advice Team.

Extra Financial Support

Financial support may be available if you are in a financial crisis or need support including Discretionary Support, Universal Credit Contingency Fund payment, Budget Advances; Sure Start Maternity Grants, Budgeting Loans and Cold Weather Payments. Find out about the options available to you by contacting one of our Welfare Advisers.  Further information can also be found at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/extra-financial-support

Discretionary Support Scheme: 

You can apply to the Discretionary Support Scheme if you require a grant or interest free loan. Awards can be made as either a loan or a non-repayable grant to assist with a range of crisis situations. This can include an award to assist with living expenses where a person has no means of meeting immediate costs for themselves or their immediate family.  To apply for Discretionary Support Tel 0800 587 2750

Discretionary Support for living expenses for those affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

From 25 March 2020, the Discretionary Support scheme will provide further support to people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. A non-repayable grant payment will be available to assist with short-term living expenses where a person, or a member of their immediate family, has been infected by COVID-19 or told to self-isolate. There is no limit on the amount of an individual award, which will be calculated based on individual circumstances.  You can apply online for living expenses at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/publications/discretionary-support-form

Job seekers Allowance

You can claim Jobseekers Allowance online at  https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/jobseekers-allowance or by contacting the Department for Communities on 0800 022 4250.

Please note if you are deaf or suffer from hearing loss, you can make contact by using Text phone to ring 0800 587 1297.

Child Benefit

HMRC has announced that parents of new-borns can claim child benefit without registering the child’s birth while General Register Offices are closed as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

First time parents will need to fill in Child Benefit Claim form CH2  (see link below) and send it to the Child Benefit Office, they should add a note to the claim if they have been unable to register the birth because of COVID-19.

HMRC also advises that, if people are already in receipt of child benefit, they can complete the form or add their new-born’s details over the phone on 0300 200 3100.  Child benefit Can be backdated 3 months.  It is important to claim not only for the extra financial assistance but to ensure people don’t miss out on national insurance credits that will help protect their pension.  It also helps children to get their national insurance number automatically at 16.  For more information, please click on the following link.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/dont-miss-out-claim-child-benefit-by-phone-or-post-hmrc-tells-new-parents

Although every effort is made to ensure the information below is accurate, we cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies or their consequences.  Please contact our welfare Advice Team for free welfare advice by contacting advisers on any of the telephone numbers listed above.

Last updated 11.05.2020