The Government has confimed it is reviewing measures brought in to reduce the spread of Covid-19 among those on benefits.
As the first stage of restrictions began on March 16, the Government announced that face-to-face assessments for all sickness and disability benefits would be suspended for the next three months.
The temporary move, which came into effec on Tuesday March 17, 2020, was “a precautionary measure to protect vulnerable people from unnecessary risk of exposure to coronavirus.”
It affects claimants of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), those on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and some on Universal Credit, along with recipients of Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.
The suspension of face-to-face assessments also covered new claims to those benefits.
Anyone with a face-to-face assessment appointment scheduled from March 17 onwards did not need to attend and was being contacted to discuss next steps and alternative arrangements, which could involve either telephone or paper-based assessments.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Therese Coffey said at the time: “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.”
The measure was expected to be in place for three months but would be reviewed in line with Public Health advice.
That three-month period ends this week.
Claimants are waiting to see what changes might come into effect on Wednesday June 17 or whether the measures will be extended for a further three months.
Justin Tomlinson, minister of state for disabled people, recently confirmed that the suspension of face-to-face assessments was now being reviewed.
He told MPs last week: “As previously announced, all face-to-face assessments for health and disability benefits were suspended from 17 March 2020 for an initial period of three months.
“We are currently in the process of reviewing this measure in light of the latest public health advice and will confirm next steps as soon as possible.”
What might happen?
If the suspension is not extended, it would mean claims are once again referred to an assessment provider who would arrange a face-to-face meeting with a health professional who examines the person’s disability needs.
The assessment for PIP looks at an individual’s ability to carry out a series of everyday activities. It considers the overall impact of a claimant’s health condition or impairment on their functional ability, rather than focusing on a particular diagnosis.
The Government says PIP is not designed as a compensation payment for ill health or disability. It is to help people with the increased costs of daily living, alongside other support provided by the NHS and local authorities.
The activities explored during the PIP assessment are:
Daily living (10 activities):
preparing and cooking a simple meal
managing therapy or monitoring a health condition
washing and bathing
managing toilet needs or incontinence
dressing and undressing
reading and understanding signs, symbols and words
engaging with other people face-to-face
making budgeting decisions
Mobility (2 activities):
The health professional’s role is to assess “the overall functional effects of the claimant’s health condition or impairment on their everyday life over a 12 month period, using the assessment criteria.”
A report is then made to the DWP including the evidence collected during the consultation.
If the claimant is unhappy with the decision, they have the right to ask for it to be reconsidered and, if a claimant disagrees with the result of that, they can take the matter to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service.
Even under normal circumstances, face-to-face appointments aren’t always needed. The health professional carries out an initial review of the case to see if a claim can be assessed just by looking at the existing paperwork.
If it’s decided that meeting in person is required, the professional has to determine any difficulties the claimant may have in attending a consultation.
Steps can be taken to help with these difficulties such as carrying out a home visit instead, booking a ground-floor room for the appointment, getting a British Sign Language interpreter or ensuring there is an accessibility toilet nearby.
We are expecting to hear this week whether such face-to-face meetings will begin again.
Coronavirus has led to huge demand on the welfare system and the Government restrictions have not yet been fully lifted.
Millions of people have been looking to the Government for help since the pandemic gripped the country.
The Department for Work and Pensions received 3.1 million individual claims for Universal Credit between March and June, most of them since lockdown began.
Self-employed people were told to claim Universal Credit while they waited for a special income support to begin, and those who caught Covid-19 but weren’t able to get statutory sick pay were also encouraged to apply for the benefit.
Some of those on disability benefits such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) have said they are facing long waits for money because staff have been diverted to deal with the unprecedented demand for Universal Credit.
The DWP has commented on this, saying: “We have suspended all face-to-face assessments for health and disability benefits. We automatically extended awards for existing claimants that were due to be reassessed and will only undertake reviews or reassessments in specific circumstances.
“Any claim made under the special rules for terminal illness continues to be fast-tracked, taking an average of six days to process these claims.”