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. They have also made changes to the financial support people in work can access during the coronavirus outbreak.

Changes to the benefits system

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 if you are unemployed or looking for work, are in work at the moment, or 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 has 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 now been suspended for three months (from 17 March). Anyone with an assessment appointment will be contacted by the assessment provider to discuss what happens next.
  • Reviews: Reviews and reassessments for all disability benefits have been suspended for at least three months (from 23 March). If your benefits are due to expire, the end-date will be extended so will continue to receive your existing level of financial support.
  • Applying for Universal Credit: If you need to make a new claim for Universal Credit, you will no longer need to call the DWP. You should apply online and DWP will call you if they need to check any of the information. They will also message you on your online journal.

Changes to Jobcentre Plus visits

If you are receiving benefits you 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 you can't work because you are unwell, and you have paid enough National Insurance Contributions, you 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 you are 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 about this here.

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 read the open letter here.

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

Financial support for people in work

The Government has also made a number of changes to the financial support people in work can access during the coronavirus outbreak. These changes may have a significant impact on autistic people who are employed or self-employed during this period. We have highlighted the most significant changes that will affect autistic people and their families below and will keep this page updated with the latest information. 

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

On 20 March 2020, the Chancellor announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The scheme aims to help employers who cannot afford to pay staff wages, so they don’t have to make people redundant during the coronavirus outbreak.

The scheme covers 80% of employees’ wages up to £2,500 per month. Employers must put employees on ‘furlough’ to get this support.

Being on furlough means that you can’t do work for your employer during the time you are furloughed. That means you can’t do any work for the organisation you work for or be in paid work elsewhere. You have to be furloughed for at least three weeks. For more information on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, visit the Citizens Advice website.

If you have been on your employer’s payroll since 28 February 2020 and are paid through Pay As You Earn (PAYE) you will be eligible. You can be on any type of contract, including full-time, part-time, temporary or zero-hour contracts.

Support for self-employed people

If your income has dropped because of coronavirus, you might be able to get a grant. If you’re eligible, you could get a grant worth 80% of your average monthly profits to help you with the financial impact of coronavirus. The money - up to a maximum of £2,500 a month - will be paid in a single lump sum but will not begin to arrive until the start of June at the earliest. There’s more information about whether you could be eligible for the grant on the Citizens Advice website.

What happens now?

You can’t apply for the scheme yet, and HMRC will get in touch with you if it thinks you’re eligible. If you’re struggling with your finances in the meantime, visit our benefits web page to see what support you might be able to get.

Going to work (updated 15 May 2020)

If you can work from home you should still do so. But, if you can’t work from home and your workplace is open, the Government is encouraging you to return to work. There’s more information about what to do, and what your rights are on the Acas website. Avoid public transport to travel to work if you can.

Staying safe on the way to and from work

When you walk or cycle, make sure to try and stay two metres away from other people – for example, if you’re waiting at crossings or traffic lights. If you’re using a bike, make sure to wash or sanitise your hands before and after cycling.

If you do have to use public transport, try to avoid really busy times and routes so you can make sure you stay safe. You could talk to your employer about starting earlier or later in the day.

Remember that the Government encourages people to wear face-coverings when they are in enclosed spaces and can’t keep 2 metres away from people that don’t live in their household. Wash your hands before and after your journey and try not to touch your face.

The Government has put more guidance about this online.

Sharing your story

We will keep speaking up and showing the Government the impact of these changes on autistic people and their families during this time. Please share your experiences, and any worries or concerns you have, with us by emailing stories@nas.org.uk.