COVID-19: Support through the benefits system
Updated 1 April: ICAEW members may need to help clients, friends or family to access support through the benefits system during the coronavirus outbreak. Benefits may be something on which they would not usually advise. The Tax Faculty has created this basic guide on which benefits to consider, together with sources of support.
This guidance covers the benefits provided by the Department of Work and Pensions to individuals of working age who are unable to work, who lose their job or whose income from self-employment reduces or stops. Support provided by employers, such as statutory sick pay, is covered in a separate article.
Contributions based benefits
Contributions based benefits are those where eligibility is based on the individual’s national insurance contributions record.
New style Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
JSA is available to those who are seeking work. Only Class 1 national insurance contributions count for JSA so it is available to those who have been recently employed, but not to most people who have recently been self-employed. The period used to check entitlement is usually the last two complete tax years before the benefit year in which the claim starts.
New style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
ESA is available to those who are unable to work due to illness or disability. Class 1 and 2 national insurance contributions count for ESA so it is available to the recently employed and self-employed. The period used to check entitlement is usually the last two complete tax years before the benefit year in which the claim starts. Class 2 national insurance contributions must be paid by the 31 January following the end of the relevant tax year for that year to qualify for ESA purposes.
At Spring Budget 2020 the government announced that new style ESA will be payable from day one of sickness, rather than day eight, if you have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate.
Means tested benefits
Means tested benefits are those where eligibility is based on the individual’s financial circumstances rather than their national insurance contributions record.
Universal credit (UC)
Universal credit is replacing the following benefits:
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Working Tax Credit
- Child Tax Credit
- Housing Benefit
- Income Support
These legacy benefits are still being claimed by some people but new claims are not usually possible. Individuals must instead make a claim for universal credit.
The government has announced the following COVID-19 related changes to universal credit:
- The requirements of the minimum income floor for the self-employed are temporarily relaxed for anyone applying for universal credit due to the impact of the coronavirus. This change took effect on 13 March 2020 and will last for the duration of the outbreak.
- For those already receiving universal credit the minimum income floor relaxation will take effect on 6 April 2020.
- If you need to claim universal credit, but have COVID-19 or are self-isolating, you will now be able to make a claim and to access advance payments without needing to attend a Jobcentre Plus.
The controversial five week wait, which is a feature of new claims for universal credit, remains.
|Warning: If you are already claiming benefits and find yourself needing extra support you may need to claim universal credit. Existing benefit claimants should seek specialist welfare rights advice before claiming universal credit as doing so will usually end existing claims and it is unlikely you will be able to go back at a later date.|
At Spring Budget 2020 the government announced further support including:
- Hardship Fund - support from local authorities in England, usually for council tax relief.
- Three month mortgage or rental holidays.
- The Financial Conduct Authority has called on lenders to use flexibility built into their rules to support consumers experiencing difficulties paying back personal loans or credit card bills as a result of COVID-19.
These measures are still in development and the government may provide further assistance as the situation develops.
HM Treasury has published a summary of the measures to help individuals and businesses.