BENEFITS EXPERT: Considering some measures made as a result of lockdown
As we are approaching the 1st year and hopefully final year of the first lockdown the column today is dealing with a number of common calls the bureau has been receiving.
As always there may be changes announced so our advice is as ever keep an eye and ear on the news for changes and confirmation. We would expect specific mentions will be confirmed on or before the Budget.
£20 increase to basic Universal Credit and Tax Credits. This temporary measure for certain benefits will end on 5th April 2021 and there has been no indication as to whether this will be extended. There has however been numerous calls from charities, welfare organisations, etc. to have this measure extended for at least another 12 months. There has been no indication from the government as to whether this will happen however.
Medical assessments for benefits such as PIP, New Style ESA and Universal Credit (for those claiming on the grounds of inability to work). Face to face medicals were cancelled during the first lockdown and there was some attempts to carry out assessments by phone. There has been no clear guidance from the DWP around this point, we have had client's assessed but no decision made, others have had an assessment and a decision has been made. For renewal or review cases there was a general decision to simply extend payments if a current award was due to lapse but clients were still sent assessment forms. The main ground for concern are for those people who made a claim for New Style ESA at around the start of lockdown. Normally for new ESA claimants you would have a medical assessment after about 13 weeks of getting the benefit and this assessment would decide if you are placed in the Work Related Activity Group or Support Group. Getting placed in the Support Group would increase the amount of ESA, being placed in Work Related Activity Group would not increase the benefit. Furthermore if you are not placed in the Support Group your entitlement to ESA would end after 12 months. So we have the position of claimants not having an assessment and will shortly be approaching the 12 month limit. Again we do not know if the government are proposing to extend this as a temporary measure until face to face assessments begin. If the do decide to extend this period we would also hope the government would not recover any benefit if a claimant failed the assessment completely or were placed in Work Related Activity. Claimants in such a situation would have the normal rights of appeal but again we do not know if they'll be an extension to continue paying the benefit until an appeal is heard. The DWP have announced they are looking to try and carry out my phone based assessments and/or other ways of doing these but there is currently nothing definitive. Again such changes may be announced in the budget. We would advise anyone currently getting New Style ESA and who will be approaching their 12 month period to get a benefit check to see if there is any other help available in case there is no extension to their current award. We would also expect those clients assessed and placed in the Support Group to have benefit arrears paid from the 13 week of the date of the initial claim so they will not suffer financially albeit the payments will be late. This will be true of Universal Credit claimants, they won't be affected by the 12 month rule as this is a means tested benefit and not contribution based.
We will of course update on any changes once we are made aware of these.