Universal Credit: Coronavirus-hit benefit claimants urged to contact DWP to avoid sanction

The coronavirus outbreak has now seen more than 88,000 people being known to be infected worldwide. More than 3,000 deaths have been recorded. At the time of writing, the number of UK cases is reportedly 39.


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People who have returned to or arrived in the UK from certain specified countries and areas – now known as ‘Category 1’ – have been told by Public Health England that they need to self-isolate in a bid to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, those who have recently returned from ‘Category 2’ countries or areas, as listed by Public Health England guidance, do not need to undertake any special measures.

However, if they develop symptoms, they should self-isolate and call NHS 111.

At the time of writing, the NHS advice says that people only need to self-isolate “if advised to by the 111 online coronavirus service or a medical professional”.

Some people may wonder what needing to self-isolate could mean for benefits payments.

Universal Credit recipients must agree to a Claimant Commitment with their work coach in order to receive the payment, and for most claimants, this can include the requirement to fulfil a set number of hours of paid work or job searching.

Failing to meet the commitment, or not reporting a change of circumstances straight away could result in the claim being stopped or reduced – and this is known as a sanction.

The DWP today insisted that none of those directly affected by the outbreak would have their benefits stopped due to the sanction system.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Our staff are ready to support people if they are affected – we urge them to contact us by phone, or their Work Coach via their online journal, to explain their situation.

“Anyone not eligible to receive sick pay is able to claim Universal Credit and/or contributory Employment and Support Allowance.”

A memo to Jobcentres seen by Sky News explains that a claimant’s concerns about interacting with people over fears of getting coronavirus would not be sufficient grounds for missing an appointment at the Jobcentre.

The DWP said that employers have been urged to make sure that they use their discretion, and respect the medical need to self-isolate in making decisions about sick pay.


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However, DWP staff must be aware about the recipient’s situation.

They must also deem that the affected claimant had a “good reason” for missing an interview or a work appointment.

“Gig” workers and people who are on a zero hours contract may be entitled to sick pay.

More information for those wishing to check eligibility can be found at the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) section of the government website.

The DWP has also said that people who are prevented from working due to a risk to public health can claim Universal Credit and/or contributory Employment and Support Allowance.

The Universal Credit payment adjusts depending on a person’s earnings or other income.

Therefore, if a person is self-isolating and doing less hours, they are directed to let the DWP know in the “usual way” via their online journal.

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