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No reassessment of benefits for three months - Key changes and commitments from DWP

As of the 24th March 2020 there will be no reassessments across all benefits for three months. If an award is due to end soon, DWP will automatically extend the award by six months so that claimants continue to receive financial support at their current rate.

RNIB’s Legal Rights Service has put together the following list of key changes and commitments from DWP in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Please be aware that changes are happening daily.

CONTACTING DWP.

Q: Customers are trying to contact DWP helplines, but they have been unable to get through, should they keep trying?

A: Customers should try to do as much required contact as possible online. DWP is drafting in staff to manage the demand for new claims and maintaining existing claims but it is likely the helplines will remain very busy for the coming weeks and months.

The Universal Credit Helpline opening times have been changed to 9:30am - 3:30pm Monday to Friday to allow Case Managers time to process payments.

Due to increased pressure on the network provider, HMRC have now changed their helpline number. The new helpline number is 0800 024 1222 and is open from 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday. Calls to the old helpline number will be redirected.

FORM FILLING.

Q: What help is available to customers to complete their benefit form?

A: DWP home visiting service is available in exceptional circumstances for vulnerable claimants who cannot complete a claim for benefits without support. DWP has confirmed that people with sight loss will be considered vulnerable. Referrals to this service can be made in the usual way but DWP will carry out a risk assessment prior to committing to any home visit.

RNIB’s Sight Loss Advisors can support form filling over the phone. They have an agreement in place with DWP that the forms can be emailed directly to the DWP.

DELAYS IN RETURNING FORMS.

Q: What happens if a customer cannot return their completed benefit form before their deadline?

A: DWP has provided a commitment that no one will be disadvantaged if forms are not returned on time and it confirmed that extensions will be offered to those unable to meet their deadline. Presently a recorded message on the PIP enquiry line states that claimants have 3 months to return the form.

NEW CLAIMS FOR BENEFITS.

Disability benefits.

Q: Can customers still make a new claim for disability benefits?

A: Yes, DWP is accepting new claims for all benefits. As all face-to-face assessments have been suspended from 17 March 2020, for the next 3 months any initial assessment will be replaced by a telephony assessment where possible, or in the alternative via a paper-based assessment.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/face-to-face-health-assessments-for-benefits-suspended-amid-coronavirus-outbreak

DWP has confirmed it will “adopt a sympathetic, claimant supportive approach”, recognising that there are increasing challenges to be able to get adequate medical evidence. As the claim will very much rely on the claimant’s case as they explain it, it is recommended that customers provide as much detail as possible in their initial claim. It is also advisable that customers provide DWP with copies of any relevant medical evidence at the earliest opportunity.

Universal Credit. https://www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/coronavirus/

Q: What can a customer do if they are unable to access the online application to apply for Universal Credit?

A: Telephony claims will be accepted if a claimant is unable to use the online service. There is currently a high demand for telephony claims and DWP has confirmed that additional resources are being moved to meet this demand. At this time the priority will be to ensure people can make a new claim and that payments are issued. DWP is exploring how to deal with those who cannot claim without assistance, but a commitment has been made to treat the first contact as the first date of the claim. See our Universal Credit Toolkit series for more information on date of claim and the template letter requesting support to claim.

Q: How do customers verify their identity when they claim Universal Credit?

A: New claimants must go through an identity verification process when they start a new claim for Universal Credit. This can be done through one of three routes:

  1. GOV.UK. This involves contracted companies such as Barclays verifying a claimant’s identity through an online process. The customer will provide unique personal information, for example passport details. More information is available on GOV.UK. DWP has confirmed that UC claimants are experiencing extended waiting times for Verify. They are working to improve the situation as quickly as possible.
  2. Their existing ‘Government Gateway’. This is available to customers who have already registered with, and within the last 12 months used, the Government Gateway to access their personal tax accounts, such as to check their tax credits or send a personal tax return.
  3. Telephone – this is likely to be used only if online verification is not possible. DWP has asked claimants to avoid calling them at the moment due to the pressures on their telephone lines. They have said they will call new claimants if required to complete the verification process. Customers should be advised that this call is likely to be displayed on a mobile phone as from a withheld or 0800 number. We understand that verification can also be conducted by telephone with the claimant answering two out of three security questions.

At the moment customers will not be able to visit a job centre to verify their identity in person. If the customer is visited at home by a DWP officer to help them with their claim they will check their identity documents then. Note the home visiting service is extremely limited in how many appointments are being offered at present.

EXISTING BENEFIT CLAIMANTS.

Recent claims.

Q: If a customer has recently attended a face to face assessment will they still receive a decision?

A: Yes, this will be processed as normal and the customer will receive a decision on their claim. All appeal rights still apply so if they are unhappy with the decision, they can access the dispute process as normal.

Q: What happens to customers who already have a date for their face to face assessments?

A: If a customer has recently made a claim for benefits and already has a date for their face to face assessment, they do not need to attend. Face-to-face assessments have been suspended from 17 March 2020 for the next 3 months. The customer will be contacted by the assessment provider to discuss their appointment and explain the next steps. It is likely the assessment will be replaced by a telephony assessment where possible or in the alternative a paper-based assessment.DWP has confirmed that a friend, family member or trusted partner can be involved in supporting a claimant during their telephone assessment.

Q: What happens to customers who have recently made an application for benefits and are now waiting for a date for their face to face assessment?

A: These customers do not need to do anything. DWP will contact them by telephone or letter to let them know what will happen next. As all face-to-face assessments have been suspended from 17 March 2020 for the next 3 months it is likely the assessment will be replaced by a telephony assessment where possible or in the alternative a paper-based assessment. DWP has confirmed that a friend, family member or trusted partner can be involved in supporting a claimant during their telephone assessment.

Reassessments for benefits.

Q: What will happen to benefit awards that are due to end soon / up for review?

A: From 24 March 2020 there will be no reassessments across all benefits for three months. If an award is due to end soon, DWP will automatically extended the award by six months so that claimants continue to receive financial support at their current rate.

Q: A DLA claimant has recently received their PIP form to complete, what do they do?

A: If a claimant is due to be transferred from DLA to PIP, they do not need to complete the PIP form as they will not be asked to claim PIP at this time.

DWP has confirmed it will extend the DLA adult award and their payments will continue at the current rate. DWP will contact the claimant in the future about claiming PIP.

Reporting change of circumstances.

Q: Can customers continue to report changes in their circumstances?

A: If a customer has a change in their circumstances, they should report this change to DWP as normal. There may be a delay in DWP actioning changes but it is important that customers continue to report to DWP, to ensure that they will receive maximum arrears (if reassessment results in an improved award).

RECONSIDERATIONS AND APPEALS.

Challenging decisions and time limits.

Q: A customer has received a decision on their benefit claim, and they are not happy with the outcome, what can they do?

A: Appeal rights have not been affected. Customers can still request a Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) and submit an appeal. An MR can be requested verbally if necessary. DWP has provided a commitment that late MRs and appeals will be accepted if reasons are related to the Covid-19 situation. Late MRs and appeals can be submitted up to 13 months from the date of decision if the claimant has ‘good reason’ why it is late.

Q: Are there any changes to the time limit for appealing?

A: The one-month time limit on appeals remains, but it is likely that anyone affected by the coronavirus will have a valid reason for their appeal being accepted late, should that happen. Wherever possible however we still recommend submitting appeals within the necessary time limit.

Appeal hearings.

Q: Are appeals still going ahead at present?

A: Many of the Tribunal venues are still open and appeals are still going ahead. There are however considerable restrictions on how appeals can take place at present, due to staff shortages, people being unwell in self-isolation and rules on social distancing.

Q: Can the appellant attend in person now?

A: It is unlikely that many, if indeed any, face-to face hearings will be possible for some time. The use of ‘paper’ hearings or ‘remote’ hearings will be implemented wherever possible.


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