Welfare Benefits

Welfare Benefits update: Coronavirus

The Law Centre is still open and while we can’t offer face to face appointments at the moment our specialist solicitor is still available to assist if you have a legal problem with benefits.

Welfare benefits can often be confusing and we know that now more than ever you might need help in understanding what your options are.

There have been a number of developments in welfare benefits in response to coronavirus:

  1. Assessments

For certain benefits like Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment then reassessments have been stopped. If you were due to have one then for now it will not go ahead, and you should continue to receive your current award.

If you’re applying for these benefits for the first time then you can expect to still be sent out a paper form to complete. You should try to put as much information on this as possible. Once this has been returned then at the moment it appears the DWP will carry out an assessment with you over the telephone.

We may be able to help you with the application forms remotely, and you can call us on the details below.

  1. Verifying your identity for Universal Credit

After you’ve created a Universal Credit account you have to verify your identity. There have been reports that this has resulted in people being left on hold for hours.

If you are not able to contact the DWP by telephone then you can use your Universal Credit Journal to leave a message, requesting an appointment to complete your identity checks. You can see what sort of evidence the DWP will require here.

We would strongly suggest keeping copies or screenshots of any Journal entries you make, just in case they are needed if your claim is closed because it has not been possible to verify your identity.

  1. Advance Payments of Universal Credit

After you’ve claimed Universal Credit and verified your identity there is usually a wait until your first payment. The reason for this is that Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears. The months are split into ‘Assessment Periods’ and start from the date of your claim.

For example, if you claim on the 8th of the month then your ‘Assessment Period’ will run from the 8th of one month to the 7th of the next. Your payments are then normally paid a week after the end of your ‘Assessment Period’.

If you need money before this you can ask for an Advance Payment, and you can include this request in the message you are leaving about the identity check above. In effect you are borrowing money from your future payments, and this means that your future payments will be reduced to repay the advance.

At the moment Advance Payments need to be repaid within 12 months, and so if you receive a lot in your Advance Payment then the reductions in your future payments can be very high. This might make future months more even more difficult.

There are details here [link: https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit/get-an-advance-first-payment] on how to ask for an Advance Payment.

  1. Tribunal Hearings

Face to face hearings at the Tribunals have been cancelled. Currently, the Tribunals are doing a triage on cases, and if they think a decision can be made without a hearing they will write to you and tell you what they might do.

If you agree with the decision you can tell the Tribunal, and it might be that is the end of your appeal. However, if this is not possible or you disagree with the proposed decision then a hearing might be arranged over the telephone. You are entitled to have a hearing, so don’t feel pressured into accepting a decision you disagree with.

If you aren’t sure what to expect from a Tribunal hearing, or have received a decision which you don’t understand then call our specialist solicitor who will be glad to explain this to you.

To speak with Stephen about your welfare benefits you can call him between 2 – 5pm on Thursdays on 020 8148 5272. Alternatively, you can email hflaw@hflaw.org.uk or call 020 3880 1727 and leave a voicemail with your name and phone number and we’ll call you back.

You might also find the following helpful:

Information about benefits and calculating what help you might be able to get:

Entitled.to: https://www.entitledto.co.uk

Turn2us: https://www.turn2us.org.uk

Financial issues

Crosslight: https://www.crosslightadvice.org

StepChange: https://www.stepchange.org

Money AdviceS ervice: https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk

Other resources:

Hammersmith & Fulham Citizens Advice: http://cahf.org.uk

Other advice agencies in Hammersmith & Fulham: https://www.advicestation.org.uk/advice/welfare-benefits

Rightsnet posts on benefits and Covid-19: https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/covid19

The Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/