Welfare benefits changes due to Covid-19

The Government have brought in/or are about to regarding Covid 19 and some welfare benefits changes.  Please note the information provided below is for guidance only, based on the information available at time of writing and will no doubt change over time.

Summary of welfare benefit and other changes introduced because of Covid-19

Universal Credit changes

  • The Standard Allowance has increased by £20 a week for 12 months.
  • The minimum income floor will not be applied to self-employed UC claimants who are required to stay at home or are ill as a result of Coronavirus.  The minimum income floor is the minimum the DWP expects most self-employed UC claimants to earn from their business.  UC will be assess using actual income rather than the minimum income floor.
  • JSA and UC work availability and work search requirements are suspended for at least 3 months.
  • The DWP have postponed all medical assessments for UC until at least 19th June 2020.  The DWP have said that it will contact claimants by letter or telephone to let them know what happens next but in the meantime current payments will continue as normal.
  • All requirements to attend the Jobcentre in person are suspended for at least 3 months, starting from Thursday 19th March 2020.
  • You can receive a repayable advance UC Payment without having to physically attend a Jobcentre.

Working Tax Credit changes:

  • Standard rate increased by £20 a week – the basic rate of Working Tax Credit increases from £1,960 to £3,040.
  • Existing Tax Credit claimants will receive this increase within the first few weeks of April for 12 months.

Debt

  • The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have brought in new rules to offer support with payment of credit cards, loans and overdrafts. If you ask, firms should be offering temporary payment freezes on loans and credit cards for up to three months, for people negatively impacted by coronavirus.
  • If you are struggling financially because of Coronavirus, you can ask for the first £500 of your authorised overdraft to be interest-free for 3 months.
  • Deductions from UC and other DWP benefits, such as JSA/Income Support, for the repayment of benefit overpayment, Social Fund Loans and Tax Credit debts have been paused for 3 months.  These deductions will be suspended automatically. 

Statutory Sick Pay

  • Payable from day 1 of sickness (rather than day 4).  As getting a fit note could be problematic, employers are urged to use their discretion about what evidence, if any, they ask for.
  • A system is now in operation whereby claimants who need one can get an ‘isolation note’ from the NHS 111 Online service replacing the usual need to provide a ‘fit note’, sometimes called a ‘sick note’.
  • You are not required to produce a ‘fit note’ or ‘isolation note’ if affected by Coronavirus.

Carers

  • Will remain entitled to Carers Allowance if they have a temporary break in caring as a result of isolation due to, or infection or contamination with, coronavirus disease of either the carer or the person cared for. This regulation applies to England and Wales only.

Other benefit changes.

  • Claimants on disability benefits will no longer be required to attend face-to-face assessments.
  • Face-to-face assessments for all sickness and disability benefits will be suspended for the next 3 months effective on Tuesday 17 March 2020.  The DWP have said they will contact those affected, by letter or phone, with next steps.
  • New claims for disability benefits are being accepted and the DWP have extended the time to get the application forms back to them by 90 days.
  • The government have given councils in England funding to support council tax relief for vulnerable households affected by coronavirus. A new Council Tax Hardship Fund across Cheshire West and Chester will reduce Council Tax Bills by up to £150 for anyone in receipt of Council Tax Support / Reduction.

Free school meals

  • Those children eligible for free school meals on the grounds of low income who are not attending school will still receive help - generally in the form of a voucher issued by your school.

Fuel bills

  • The government have agreed new measures with the energy industry to protect the gas and electric supply of those affected by Coronavirus.
  • Customers with pre-payment meters who may not be able to add credit can speak to their supplier about options to keep them supplied.
  • This includes having a discretionary payment added to your account or being sent a pre-loaded top up card, so your energy supply is not lost.
  • More generally, any customers in financial distress will be supported by their supplier which cold include debt repayments and bill payments and disconnection of credit meters will be suspended.

New Job Retention Scheme

  • Provides a grant to employers to enable them to pay the wages of their workforce who remain on payroll but are temporarily not working during the coronavirus outbreak i.e. ‘furloughed’.
  • HMRC will reimburse employers with 80% if employees’ wages, up to £2,500 per month.

New Self Employment Income Support Scheme

  • Will allow self-employed workers to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of their trading profits, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
  • Those entitled will receive a taxable lump sum to cover March, April and May but payments won’t be made until June.  A claim for Universal Credit may be relevant in the meantime.

If you have any further questions please call us on 0300 303 9848 and speak to our Income Management Team.