As a result of the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, the Government has made changes to the employment and disability benefits system, which could affect the support autistic people are able to access.

Both the process of applying for and receiving benefits have changed, as well as the level of support people receive during this period. These changes apply to people who are unemployed or looking for work, people who are in work at the moment, and people who need disability benefits.

Changes to the process of applying for disability benefits

The Government has announced measures aimed at speeding up access to certain benefits and making sure people can access these benefits safely from their own home during the coronavirus outbreak. This is what’s changed:

  • Assessments: For many benefits, claimants have to attend assessments to determine their eligibility and the level of support they need. All face-to-face assessments for sickness and disability benefits have been suspended for three months (from 17 March). Anyone with an assessment appointment will be contacted to discuss what happens next.- Reviews: Reviews and reassessments” for all disability benefits have been suspended for at least three months (from 23 March). Where benefit awards are due to expire, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will extend end-dates so that claimants continue to receive their existing level of support.
  • Applying for Universal Credit: People making new claims for Universal Credit will no longer need to call the DWP as part of the process. Instead the DWP will call claimants if they need to check any of the information provided as part of the online claim, as well as messaging them on their online journal to confirm details. 

Changes to Jobcentre Plus visits

People receiving benefits do not have to attend jobcentre appointments for at least three months, starting from Thursday 19 March 2020. You will continue to receive your benefits as normal, but all requirements to attend the jobcentre in person are suspended. You can still make applications for benefits online if you are eligible. Jobcentres remain open, but you should not attend unless you’re told to do so.

Changes to benefits entitlements

The Government has changed the amount of money some people are entitled to during the coronavirus outbreak. It made these changes because lots of people are facing increased uncertainty with their jobs in the current environment.

  • Changes to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits: From 6 April, the Universal Credit standard allowance and the Working Tax Credit basic element increased by £20 a week (above the planned increase that happens every year). This applies to all Universal Credit claimants and to existing Working Tax Credit claimants.
  • Changes to Employment and Support Allowance: If coronavirus means a person can't work because they’re unwell, and they’ve paid enough National Insurance Contributions, they might be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance. The Government has said that people who qualify will now get paid from the first day of the claim, rather than after eight days. You can find out more information about Employment and Support Allowance on our website.
  • Statutory Sick Pay: Employees can get Statutory Sick Pay if they fall ill due to coronavirus, worth £95.85 a week. As a temporary measure, it will be paid from the first day of sickness absence, rather than the fourth. The Government says people who are not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay should claim Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance.
  • Support for people who are self-employed: If a person is self-employed and claiming Universal Credit, the Minimum Income Floor has been temporarily relaxed. This change applies to all Universal Credit claimants and will last for the duration of the outbreak. There is more information on the Citizens Advice website.

Benefits sanctions stopped temporarily

Benefits sanctions happen when people who receive benefits have their money cut, for example if they miss appointments or meetings. The Government has said that it will not sanction benefits claimants for not looking for work, or not being available for work, up until the end of May. It’s not yet clear whether sanctions might still be applied for other reasons, such as failing to meet work-preparation requirements. If you have questions about this, you can ask your Jobcentre Work Coach.

What does the National Autistic Society think about these changes?

We are concerned that despite these changes, many autistic people could still face barriers to getting benefits. As a member of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), a national coalition of over 100 different organisations committed to working towards a fair benefits system, we have written an open letter to Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The letter calls for urgent changes to the benefits system during the coronavirus outbreak. 

You can find more advice about coronavirus and what it means for you on the Citizen’s Advice website.