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Disability Benefit Consortium calls for emergency covid-19 benefit changes

27 March 2020

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) has written an open letter to Therese Coffey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to call for emergency changes to the benefits system to ensure disabled and seriously unwell people are protected from further physical and financial harm during the covid-19 crisis.

The DBC is a network of over 100 organisations, including Disability Rights UK, with an interest in disability and social security. 

In its letter, the DBC welcomes the recently announced measures designed to protect the incomes of large numbers of people whose livelihoods have been adversely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.

However, it says that these support measures need to go further:

“People living with a disability and those with long-term health conditions tend to have lower real incomes and higher costs than the general population and we are calling on the Government to produce a more comprehensive package of support, to better protect these individuals and their families, at this difficult time.”

Among the measures the DBC is urging be implemented include that:

  • a very high priority should be given to urgently resolve Universal Credit (UC) technical and capacity issues and clear guidance be issued (to the public and to staff) regarding the correct process to make digital claim and non-digital UC claims;
  • new UC claims should be processed in a manner whereby people are able to access benefits without needing to do anything in person (for example, processing identification for UC claims);
  • the time requirements for claimants to return paperwork should be extended;
  • interim payments should be made from day one where a claim has been lodged for UC (or PIP) and where entitlement is eventually established, these should not be repayable;
  • all debt repayment deductions from UC should be suspended, to ease financial hardship for the duration of the current crisis;
  • work-related conditionality and associated sanctions should explicitly be suspended;
  • the increase in the UC standard allowance should be matched by a corresponding uplift of “legacy” and similar benefits (including, for ESA and UC, the restoration of the Work-Related Activity Group and UC equivalent Limited Capability for Work addition;
  • any Working Tax Credit (WTC) claimant who loses their job over the coming few months will not be able to continue claiming WTC and will have to claim UC instead;
  • people with a terminal illness will temporarily be able to apply for UC, ESA, PIP and Attendance Allowance via the Special Rules without the DWP needing sight of a DS1500 form (a form signed by a medical professional to say that the person has a reasonable expectation of death within six months);
  • there should be a strengthening of discretionary funds, specifically:
  • restoration of the central Discretionary Social Fund, but providing grants rather than loans; an increase in Discretionary Housing Payment allocations to Local Authorities; an increase in the new Hardship Fund (designed to provide additional Council Tax relief);
  • Local Authorities should be encouraged to remove features such as the Two-Child Policy and the self-employed claimants’ Minimum Income Floor from their local Council Tax Support/ Reduction schemes.

The DBC says:

“We hope that, when something like a normal life returns, the support package outlined, which suggests achievable and positive temporary improvements, to be introduced in response to a crisis, might prove a focus for longer-term policy discussion.

Meanwhile, we commend to the Government the above proposals to make immediate changes to complement the emergency measures already taken.”

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Officer said:

 “The Government has sensibly introduced interim measures that we warmly welcome. Such as the suspension of face-to-face assessments for all ESA and disability benefits and not requiring DLA and PIP claimants to complete and return renewal claim packs issued to them.

However, even before the covid-19 crisis benefit cuts and austerity hit disabled people the hardest.

The emergency measures proposed by the DBC are urgently needed to ensure the disabled people are fully protected during this crisis.

Reforms such as the uprating of legacy benefits in line with the new UC personal allowance together with the restoration of the addition for those with a limited capability for work are urgently needed."  

The DBC’s letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is available in full @ disabilitybenefitsconsortium.wordpress.com