Ann Innes, Welfare Rights Adviser, ME Association.
Topics discussed in this new leaflet:
- Government distinctions: self-isolation, shielding and distancing
- What you can claim if you are self-isolating
- Statutory sick pay
- New Style Employment and Support Allowance
- Universal Credit
- Carers Allowance
- New claims for benefits
- Face-to-face assessments
- Benefit renewals
- Changes of circumstance
- Jobcentre Plus appointments
- Deemed fit for work
- Changes to benefit rates
- Debt recovery
- Help with mortgage payments
- Eviction safeguards
- Fuel-debt as a result of having to self-isolate
- Further resources
It’s a different world – so what exactly are we talking about?
It is important to note that whenever you see the words “affected by coronavirus” on anything to do with DWP benefits, this means that you must ‘self-isolate’.
For benefits purposes, there are important distinctions between ‘self-isolation’, ‘shielding’, and ‘distancing’.
You are only required to ‘self-isolate’ if you or someone in your household have symptoms of the coronavirus or have actually contracted the disease.
You are not deemed to be self-isolating if you are staying at home due to concerns about contracting the disease.
For people with a “very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus because of an underlying health condition”, the Government has deemed them ‘extremely vulnerable’ and recommended they adopt ‘shielding’.
This means they must not leave their home or have face-to-face contact (except for care or medical needs) for a period of at least 12 weeks. Again, this does not constitute ‘isolation’ for DWP benefit purposes.
In addition, there are only a very limited number of conditions that fall under the heading of being advised to adopt ‘shielding’ measures. M.E. is not one of them.
For everyone else, including people with M.E., here’s how the government defines the vulnerable and ‘social distancing’:
What can you claim?
For people who are unable to work because they are self-isolating, as of 13 March 2020 they may be able to claim either:
- Statutory Sick Pay (if employed and earning on average £118 a week or more),
- New-Style Employment and Support Allowance, or,
- Universal Credit from the first day of sickness (as long as that date is on or after the 13 March 2020).
They would still need to meet all the other conditions for those particular benefits.
They may be automatically treated as having “limited capability for work” without the requirement to provide a fit note and will then be contacted at regular periods by the DWP to assess whether they are still required to isolate.
Presumably, they would still have a duty to inform the DWP as soon as they are no longer required to isolate.
For people who are already claiming New-Style ESA or Universal Credit and either providing fit notes because they have M.E., or have passed the work capability assessment, this will make no difference to their claim.
This guidance is for those people who are not already claiming New-Style ESA but who meet the conditions of entitlement for that benefit at the point of having to self-isolate, or for those who are claiming Universal Credit and not already being treated as having limited capability for work.
The only case I can see where this might apply to someone with M.E. is if they are required to self-isolate and if they were either working and not claiming benefits or are claiming Universal Credit and had been placed in the “all work requirements” group (i.e. not having to provide fit notes or found fit for work after a work capability assessment).
If you are working and required to self-isolate, please seek advice from a welfare rights specialist straight away as to what you should claim as claims for Universal Credit can put an end to claims for certain other means-tested benefits, such as tax credits and Housing Benefit.
If you are currently on Universal Credit and in the “all work requirements” group you should contact Universal Credit straight away to inform them via your online journal.
For people receiving Carer’s Allowance, their Carer’s Allowance will continue as of 30 March 2020 if they take a temporary break in caring (England and Wales) if they or the person they care for is required to isolate.
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