Coronavirus: Face-to-face health assessments for benefits suspended amid outbreak

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Claimants on disability benefits will no longer be required to attend face-to-face assessments. The change also covers health checks for Universal Credit.

The temporary move, effective on Tuesday 17 March 2020, is being taken as a precautionary measure to protect vulnerable people from unnecessary risk of exposure to coronavirus as the country’s response ramps up in the ‘delay’ phase. We will ensure those who are entitled to a benefit continue to receive support, and that new claimants are able to access the safety net.

It affects claimants of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), those on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and some on Universal Credit, and recipients of Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.

The suspension of face-to-face assessments also covers new claims to those benefits.

Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey said: As we move into the next phase of our response to coronavirus, it is right we take steps to protect those with health problems.

Temporarily suspending face-to-face assessments for sickness and disability benefits will allow us to ensure we continue to provide a safety net for those in need, while removing unnecessary risk of exposure to this disease.

Anyone who has a face-to-face assessment appointment scheduled from Tuesday 17 March onwards does not need to attend and will be contacted to discuss next steps and alternative arrangements, which could involve either telephone or paper-based assessments. We expect this measure will be in effect for the next 3 months but we will be regularly reviewing the position in line with Public Health advice.

No further action is required by any claimant as a result of this change. They will be contacted with advice on next steps.

DWP continues to accept new claims for all benefits. Anyone already receiving PIP, ESA, Universal Credit or Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, will continue to receive their current payments as normal while alternative arrangements are put in place to review or reassess their claim.

Suspending face-to-face health assessments is a precautionary measure which reflects the Prime Minister’s decision to trigger the ‘delay’ phase. It is important to note that this change does not affect or change any existing public health advice.

The DWP said face-to-face interviews for employment and support allowance (ESA), personal independence payment (PIP) and universal credit would be suspended for at least three months.

Benefits assessment suspension does not go far enough, says charity

The mental health charity Mind has said the government’s suspension of face-to-face benefit assessments as part of efforts to fight coronavirus does not go far enough in protecting vulnerable people.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on Monday put on hold in-person assessments for disability benefit claimants as a precautionary measure against unnecessary exposure to infection.

Normally, new claimants, along with existing claimants who are being reassessed, would be required to travel to a testing centre and undergo procedures and an interview to help decide whether they are eligible for benefit payments.

Vicki Nash, Mind’s head of policy and campaigns, said: “Now more than ever, it’s vital that disabled people and people with long-term conditions are reassured that they can depend on a stable income. The government should suspend reassessments altogether so that no one faces having their income unfairly and abruptly stopped.

“In coming months many more people may need support from the benefits system. Measures so far have focused on people who are self-isolating but right now people who find themselves out of work longer-term face a complicated assessment process for sickness benefits or waiting five weeks for universal credit.

“The government must act urgently to make sure people can immediately access the help they need to stay afloat.”

Normally, non-attendance for a benefits assessment, without an adequate reason, could trigger financial penalties in the form of sanctions, or benefits being withdrawn.

The work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said: “As we move into the next phase of our response to coronavirus, it is right we take steps to protect those with health problems.

“Temporarily suspending face-to-face assessments for sickness and disability benefits will allow us to ensure we continue to provide a safety net for those in need, while removing the unnecessary risk of exposure to this disease.”

ESA is an out-of-work benefit for people of working age who have limited capacity to work because of disability or ill-health. Pip is paid to help people meet the additional costs of disability and is available to people regardless of whether they work or not.

The tests are notorious for their complexity and unreliability. They are regarded with anxiety and distrust by many vulnerable people who fear they may unfairly lose benefits because of failings in the assessment process. More than two-thirds of claimant appeals against decisions to remove or reduce their entitlement to these benefits are successful.

An all-party MPs inquiry into Pip and ESA assessments in 2018 concluded that failings in the process had contributed to a lack of trust in both benefits and risked undermining claimants’ confidence in their operation.

Read the current NHS guidelines on coronavirus, including advice on those who should stay at home.

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