DfC: COVID-19 and Benefits

COVID-19: Benefits

This page provides the latest information about COVID-19 and the Department's Benefits services. It will be updated regularly with the latest information.

This information is for Northern Ireland only, if you live in England, Scotland or Wales please visit GOV.UK

For general heath advice relating to COVID-19, please visit the Public Health Agency's website. Key information is also available in Sign Language on this PHA page.

We have become aware that fake emails are being sent pretending to be from Government organisations with a Gov.uk email address being used. Read on for more advice as to how DfC customers can protect themselves.   


Benefits Services

Depending on your situation, you might be able to get additional financial support from the Department for Communities during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

From 30 March 2020 until further notice, attendance at Jobs and Benefits offices for the purposes of signing for benefits has been excused. Work search and work availability requirements have however been reinstated from 3 August 2020 for new claims to Jobseeker’s Allowance.  

Staff in the Jobs & Benefits offices will be making calls to Jobseeker’s Allowance recipients to complete Claimant Commitments and to assist and advise on available employment services and ensure that claimants have the support they need.


For those already receiving benefits, you will continue to receive your payments and rather than attend the office for appointments, Work Coaches will communicate with you via your on-line journal, the phone, or will simply reschedule appointments for a later date. You will not be penalised as a result of a postponed appointment.

Arrangements will be put in place to extend awards that have an end date to ensure benefit remains in payment. If people experience a change in their needs they are still encouraged to contact the Department to ensure they are receiving the correct level of support.

If you are having difficulty getting through on the phone, please try again later, do not visit your local office unless you have been instructed to do so or in an emergency situation.

Attending appointments/assessments

All appointments at local Jobs & Benefits offices and all face-to-face assessments have been postponed from 16 March 2020.

If you are due to sign-on you will be excused from signing. For those already receiving benefits, you will continue to receive your payments and rather than attend the office for routine appointments, Work Coaches will communicate with you via your on-line journal, the phone, or will simply re-schedule appointments for a later date. Nobody will be penalised for not attending the office.

Assessments for benefits will be carried out by telephone, or by considering medical evidence submitted by post. If you already have an appointment for assessment scheduled you will be contacted to cancel your appointment.

 

Universal Credit (UC)

New claims to Universal Credit will still be made on-line. All follow up activities that would ordinarily have been undertaken in the office, will be managed on-line or over the phone. If you are unable to make your claim online, or need help with your claim, please telephone the Universal Credit Helpline on 0800 012 1331.

You can now use your Government Gateway account to confirm your identity, helping to speed up your claim. You can do this if you’ve used the Government Gateway within the past 12 months to access your Personal Tax Accounts, check your tax credits or to send a personal tax return.

If you don’t have a Government Gateway account you can confirm your identity using gov.uk/verify

If the Department needs information to progress your claim we will contact you.

You will not need to attend any assessments during the COVID-19 outbreak and from 30 March 2020, work search and work availability requirements were removed for new and existing claims to Universal Credit.

Claimant commitments were introduced for new Universal Credit claims only from 15 July 2020. 

Work search and work availability requirements will continue to be removed for existing claims to Universal Credit

Existing claimants can still Contact your Work Coach via your online journal or by phone if necessary.

 

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

If you are already getting PIP your payments will continue to be made. PIP award reviews are suspended with award dates extended accordingly. Award Review activity has now resumed from 21 July 2020, however measures have been put in place to ensure PIP payments continue as normal until the review has concluded

If you require an assessment it will be conducted by phone rather than having to undergo a face to face assessment. Children reaching age 16 will continue receiving DLA and payments will continue as normal until further notice. 

To claim PIP contact the PIP Centre.

 

 

Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)

All appointments at local Jobs & Benefits offices have been postponed. If you are already receiving benefits, you will continue to receive your payments. 

From 30 March 2020 until further notice, attendance at Jobs & Benefits offices for the purposes of signing for benefits has been excused. 

Work search and work availability requirements have however been reinstated from 3 August 2020 for new claims to Jobseeker’s Allowance.  

Staff in the Jobs & Benefits offices will be making calls to Jobseeker’s Allowance recipients to complete Claimant Commitments and to assist and advise on available employment services and ensure that claimants have the support they need.

 

 

Employment & Support Allowance (ESA)

All appointments at local Jobs & Benefits offices and assessment centres have been suspended, including re-referrals for Work Capability Assessments.

Anyone in receipt of ESA whose cases have been referred to the Work Capability Assessment provider will be contacted to take this forward.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) offers support and financial help so you can do suitable work if you are able to. Apply on nidirect.

 

 

 

If you’re in work and not claiming benefits

If you work on a short term contract or a zero hours contract, you may be entitled to sick pay. You can get £94.25 a week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks.

The law is changing so that if you’ve been ill from COVID-19 on or after 13 March 2020 and you’re eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, you will get a backdated payment.

If you are not eligible to receive sick pay you can apply for Universal Credit and/or New Style Employment & Support Allowance.

Anyone self-isolating who is self-employed can apply for Universal Credit or new-style Employment & Support Allowance.

You can also apply for these if you are prevented from working because of a risk to public health.

Recovery of benefit overpayments and loans 

 

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Department for Communities paused recovery of overpayments and loans for three months. From July 2020 DfC will restart the recovery of overpayments and over a period of months will reinstate repayment arrangements that were previously agreed.

More information on the recovery of benefit overpayments and loans suspension is available.

 

Making a new claim to Universal Credit and/or new style Employment & Support Allowance (ESA)

You can apply for Universal Credit online and ESA by telephone. If you need to make an appointment, call the number you are given when you submit your claim, and explain the situation. If you need to self-isolate, we are ready to provide help and support.

Anyone self-isolating who is self-employed can apply for Universal Credit or new-style ESA. You can also apply for these if you are prevented from working because of a risk to public health.

Due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), you will be treated as having limited capability for work from the start of your claim without a fit note, an assessment or some form of statutory public health notice.

For more information, visit nidirect:

New Style Jobseeker's Allowance

Universal Credit replaced income-based Jobseeker's Allowance. However if you have been credited with enough National Insurance contributions, you may be entitled to 'New Style' Jobseeker's Allowance. You can apply on nidirect. 

If you’re already claiming Universal Credit

If you’re already claiming Universal Credit and think you may have been affected by COVID-19 (coronavirus), please contact your Work Coach as soon as possible. You can do this via your online journal or by phone to explain your situation.

If you are in work and already claiming Universal Credit, and are self-isolating, you should report this in the usual way via your online journal. If this means you are working fewer hours, the amount of Universal Credit you receive will adjust as your earnings change.

You must tell us about any changes to your circumstances. You can do this via your online journal.

From 6 April 2020, the standard allowance for a single Universal Credit claimant (aged 25 and over) will increase from £317.82 to £409.89 per month.

Tax Credits   

If you currently receive Working Tax Credits please read the information on GOV.UK before making a claim to Universal Credit.

If you already receive Tax Credits and have a drop in your income or are ill because of COVID-19 you may be able to continue to claim Tax Credits for a period of time.  For further information, see GOV.UK

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.

If you are Self-Employed

If you or a member of your household has symptoms of COVID-19 you must stay at home. If you’re self-employed and cannot work due to coronavirus (COVID-19), you can make a new claim online for Universal Credit and/or by telephone for New Style Employment & Support Allowance. 

  • You should not visit any of our Jobs & Benefits offices.
  • You do not need to get an isolation note from NHS 111.
  • The Minimum Income Floor will not be applied if you have been affected by COVID-19.
  • From 6 April 2020, the Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed and will last for the duration of the outbreak. 

The Self-employment Income Support Scheme will be treated as earnings in Universal Credit and your Universal Credit payment will be adjusted in response to changes in your earnings. This means payments will be taken into account in the Assessment Period (AP) in which they are received.  In this way UC provides support whilst the claimant has no earnings.

Extra Financial Support

If you are in a crisis situation you can apply for financial help by contacting the Department’s Finance Support service on 0800 587 2750 (Freephone) or 0800 587 2751 (textphone for customers with hearing difficulties).

You can also apply for assistance with living expenses only by using the online Discretionary Support form.

Universal Credit Contingency Fund Grant

If you have made a new claim to Universal Credit you can apply for a Universal Credit Contingency Fund Grant from the Finance Support service using the freephone number or online form options above.

 

COVID-19 Grant

Since 25 March 2020 if you or a member of your immediate family has been affected by COVID-19 because you have been:

  • diagnosed with COVID-19,
  • advised to self isolate due to personally displaying symptoms of COVID-19,
  • advised to self isolate because you live in a household with a person who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19,
  • advised by the Test, Trace, Protect Service from the Public Health Agency (PHA) to self isolate because you have been in contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19,
  • advised by PHA guidance to self isolate for 14 days upon return from a prescribed area, or
  • advised by PHA to self isolate as you have been identified as being part of a COVID-19 cluster;

you can apply for a COVID-19 grant payment to assist with short-term living expenses. There is no limit on the amount of an individual award, which will be calculated based on individual circumstances.

 

Discretionary Support

On 21 April 2020, a change to legislation raised the Annual Income Threshold to £20,405 (this is the level of income below which a person is eligible for Discretionary Support).

Arrangements have also been put in place to avoid anyone claiming Discretionary Support from having to visit their local office as part of that claim.

If you require this assistance with short term living expenses you should complete and return the Discretionary Support form on nidirect. You can use a digital signature on this form by typing in the signature box. If you use this form you do not need to ring the Discretionary Support Freephone line, someone will contact you. 

Make the Call, compliance and benefit review interviews, and Access to Work Programme

Also with immediate effect, all routine appointments for the Make the Call Service, compliance and benefit review interviews will cease and face to face appointments and assessments for the delivery of provision under work and wellbeing.

Face to face appointments for relate to Access to Work (NI) have been temporarily suspended.  Payments to participants on the programme will continue to be processed by a limited number of available staff and contingencies have been put in place to ensure this continues.  The programme works with a number of key stakeholders who provide support to Access to Work (NI) participants and subsequently this may change the level of support available to all participants due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation.   

Post Office card accounts

The Department for Communities has put additional support in place to assist Post Office card account and HM Government Payment Exception Service customers who are unable to access their benefit or pension payments during the Coronavirus pandemic.  A single point of contact has been established within the Department’s ‘Make the Call’ team to receive referrals from the NI COVID19 Helpline or Post Office Ltd for immediate action.

The Department will offer a range of options including,

  • Switching customers to a bank account to allow the purchase of items over the phone or on line
  • Setting up a permanent agent or appointee to collect their money on their behalf, or
  • Issuing a voucher payment via SMS/email to a trusted friend to collect their money for them.

The COVID-19 Community Helpline can be contacted on 0808 802 0020 or the Make the Call team can be contacted by emailing makethecall@dfcni.gov.uk or by phoning 0800 232 1271

Health & Disability benefits

Reassessment/renewal activity for Disability Living Allowance had been suspended from 24 March 2020, but resumed from July 2020.

 

All face to face reassessment/renewal activity on Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit has been suspended from 24 March 2020 until further notice.

All reassessment/renewal activity on Attendance Allowance has been suspended from 24 March until further notice.

Carer’s Allowance

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 COVID-19.

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.

Free School Meals payment

A direct payments scheme will ensure families eligible for free school meals will receive direct payments into bank accounts during the period of term time school closures. Families will receive £2.70 per child per day for each day of term the schools are closed.  This money will be paid to families on a fortnightly basis.

Payments will be issued in the same way they are for uniform grants. The Education Authority already holds the bank details for the majority of those in receipt of free school meals so there is no need for anyone to apply.  For a small number of families for whom bank details are not held, they will be contacted via a text message and advised to complete an online form which will be made available on the Education Authority website

National Insurance Numbers

You cannot currently apply for a National Insurance number because of coronavirus (COVID-19). You can start work without one if you can prove you can work in the UK. You can however, still apply for benefits or a student loan without a National Insurance Number.


Return to COVID-19: DfC Service Updates 

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