As a result of the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, the Government has made changes to the employment and disability benefits system. This 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 get 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. Face-to-face assessments for sickness and disability benefits are not happening at the moment to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Anyone with an assessment appointment will be contacted by phone or email to discuss how the assessment will go ahead.
  • Reviews: Reviews and reassessments for all disability benefits have been suspended. If your benefits are due to expire the end-date will be extended by 6 months. This means you’ll continue to receive your existing level of financial support. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should write to you and tell you the end date has changed – if you haven’t received this, get in touch with them as soon as you can.
  • 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 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 being brought back

As of Tuesday 30 June, the Government has brought back sanctions on benefits, if you are not looking for work or not available for work. This had been temporarily suspended because Jobcentres were closed, but these have now reopened.

Financial support for people in work

The Government has also made a number of changes to the financial support people in work can get 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. You have to be furloughed for at least three weeks.

After 10 June 2020, employers could no longer furlough people who hadn’t previously been under the furlough scheme. This means that after this date, your employer can’t furlough you if you haven’t already been on furlough.

From 1 July 2020, you and your employer can agree to be put on 'flexible furlough'. This means you can work some of your usual hours and be put on furlough for the hours you don’t work.
For more information on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, visit the Citizens Advice website.

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 covering three months’ worth of profits up to £7,500 in total. You have until 13 July 2020 to apply.

The Government’s also extended the scheme for another three months, which means you might be able to get another grant for the period from July to August. You can make a claim from 17 August 2020, and can apply for the grant even if you haven’t applied in the first round.

There’s more information about whether you could be eligible for the grant on the Citizens Advice website.

Going to work

The Government’s said that 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, if you are using public transport in England, you have to wear a face covering on public transport unless you have a good reason not to. See our page on ‘going out and restrictions in England’ to find out what the exceptions are for autistic people, and tools that may be helpful when using public transport. There are different rules about this in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

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.