Coronavirus: Reviewing benefits

The way you apply and are assessed for different benefits has been adapted over the last few months in order to support more people. Here’s what you need to be aware of going forward.

With rising levels of redundancy and unemployment, the benefits and welfare system has undergone changes to adapt to increasing demands for support during the ongoing pandemic.

Ian Greaves from Disability Rights UK has been following the changes to the benefits system throughout the pandemic, he says: “No two benefits are affected in the same way, and some less than others.

“Some of it is just a degree of tinkering to make the claim process a little bit easier during the outbreak.”

Applications

Changes to the way in which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is operating and an increased demand for financial support has led to benefits applications changing during this time.

At the beginning of the pandemic face-to-face assessments were halted to protect public health and people were encouraged to apply for benefits online rather than over the phone.

“I think the main things with Universal Credit and key disability benefits like Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Attendance Allowance was actually in the process for assessments,” explains Ian.

Due to the pandemic, face-to-face assessments were removed because of the high-risk factors involved.

“Now that has changed back to the kind of old systems, so they are introducing reassessments once more,” he adds.

“But for the foreseeable future, they’re not going to be those face-to-face assessments.”

It is expected that reassessments and assessments for new applications will take place over the phone or be paper-based to continue to protect vulnerable groups from COVID-19.

This can be helpful for some people, but may slow down the process if you have to provide medical evidence during your assessments, Ian says: “For instance, if you’ve got a damaged spine they may want to do a physical assessment of you to get an idea of the support you need.

“If you don’t have any medical evidence to provide them beyond your consultant’s or doctor’s letter that you might have retained, then they would normally do this brief medical examination, those won’t be taking place for the foreseeable future.”

Keeping records

In order to provide accurate information during these remote assessments, both medically and otherwise, Ian recommends keeping a daily diary to present to your assessor.

“Be very patient and record as many things as you can,” advises Ian. “It makes it easy when a doctor talks to you over the phone to get an idea of what you are feeling like on a particular day.

“If you’ve got a variable condition it is more difficult to assess that based on one day, so if you’ve got a diary saying how your mobility has changed from day to day or how your symptoms have changed, it will give you a better idea of how to answer questions.”

Keeping note of the changes to your health condition is important while making claims for any benefit as it allows you to fill out applications easily and accurately, especially when applying in different circumstances than usual. Use this diary to provide a broader, more holistic view of your needs over time, considering both good and bad days.

It is also helpful to note down your work situation, if you will be looking for new work in the future, changes in circumstances and any childminding responsibilities.

Along with the application process and changes to the way assessments are carried out, there has also been fundamental changes to some benefits, in particular with Universal Credit.

Universal credits

During the coronavirus pandemic the number of people applying for universal credit has increased due to job losses, but this need for extra support has meant an increase in the benefit for this tax year.

“One of the consequences of the outbreak is that Universal Credit was raised by roughly £20 a week, so that was a positive,” emphasises Ian.

“Putting that into perspective, it went some way towards offsetting the cuts that we’ve seen over the previous years.”

While this increase will help people financially this year, the extra funding is temporary and it is likely this will end next April. It has been estimated by the Office of Budget Responsibility that this will mean almost seven million people will lose £1,000 a year.

As different aspects of healthcare are reflected on, Ian hopes to see the same for the benefits system, he says: “This time has given us all a chance to consider what our priorities are and you hope that ministers will be doing something similar with the benefits system, looking at those parts that work and those that are not working.”

The ways in which the benefits system continues to adapt will be revealed in the following months alongside how it may impact what you are entitled to, but it is hoped that some of the positive changes made can remain permanently.

Money Navigator

If you are struggling financially as a result of the coronavirus pandemic or changes to the benefits system, the Money Advice Service’s Money Navigator Tool can help.

The tool gives you personalised guidance after asking a short series of questions about your financial situation. Nick Hill, money expert at the Money and Pensions Service, explains: “It will highlight areas where you should consider taking action most urgently to avoid money problems later on.

“The tool is designed to help people who have seen their finances impacted by COVID-19, such as people facing redundancy or job loss, self-employed people whose work has dried up, and people who have had a temporary income drop who need help to get back on track.”

To use the tool and get free, impartial financial guidance, visit www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk

For further information on the changes to the benefits system contact Disability Rights UK or Citizen’s Advice.