Since March 2020 CASE advisers have seen proliferation of new Welfare Rights problems specifically created by the Covid crisis – in particular the restriction of public services and financial problems caused by the closure of businesses and workplaces.
In addition to the news problems and situations, the need to protect our volunteers has also changed the way we have worked for years. Our Caseworkers currently work from home and give remote WR advice to the public. The public is currently not allowed inside our premises. Giving advice remotely has been harder but our Caseworkers have done an excellent job.
The following is a report we created to let our funders and supporters know about our cases and the work be have been doing.
(Updated 16 February 2021).
Covid-related Case Studies
Furlough money and problems.
Clients had their furlough payments delayed without a specific reason; their employers just waited that the money ‘came through’ from HMRC. People suffered with stress as they did not know when they would be paid or even whether they would be paid at all. In some cases furlough payments were unfairly denied, leaving families with no income for weeks.
- Case study: M‘s hotel job stopped. While her colleagues were furloughed, she was not because she was an agency worker. We disputed this at the beginning of April. Eventually, on 21 April, the agency agreed to pay, but the payment was only made on 15 May. As A initially expected to be furloughed, she did not claim benefits immediately. In April we encouraged her to claim Universal Credit (UC).
Self employed people on ‘Income Support’
Self employed people have needed advice about their rights to receive ‘Income Support’ from HMRC, how to claim and whether they received the right amount. The self employed ‘Income Support’ scheme has failed people, especially women, who have juggled self employed and employed work.
- Case study: A, self employed caterer, claimed ‘income support’ from the tax office and received only £500 in total for the first lockdown period. The calculation was based on B’s previous years’ self employed earning. In those years she had worked part time as self employed and part time as employed, but, according to the scheme, the past employment earnings did not count. After specialist enquiries, we came to the conclusion that the client had no legal grounds for a dispute. However unfair, that was the law.
Need for benefits advice for people on furlough or on ‘Income Support’
Workers on furlough and self employed on income support needed help claiming UC or other benefits to top up reduced benefit; and needed advice on how their furlough payments were assessed for their benefits or Tax Credits. Typical enquiries we received from clients on furlough were, for example, if they could have another temporary job and if a claim for UC as ‘jobseekers’ would undermine their right to furlough.
The second lockdown which started in November 2020 has severely undermined many businesses in Brighton and Hove which hoped to get back on track after the first. We have seen people who have been made redundant during the second lockdown, after a long period on furlough.
- Case study: after her job was suspended, C claimed Carer’s Allowance (CA) as her mother’s carer. Two months later, since the furlough had not been paid yet, she was worried that the receipt of CA had disentitled her to furlough and contacted us. This was not the case, but the furlough money, once paid to her, would disentitle her from her newly claimed benefit.
A large number of EU Workers/self employed persons who lost their work due to the lockdowns could not prove a Rights or Residence to access benefits and denied income – in a period when finding a job was very difficult due to the unprecedented circumstances. We saw clients with no ‘settled status’ and clients who had worked cash in hand for years were denied benefits.
- Case study: A, Italian, lost her care job in October 2020. She has worked and lived in the UK for four years, and has ‘pre-settled’ status. Wishing not to be a burden for the British economy, A used her savings to live while looking for a new job – this was usually easy for her before of the Covid crisis. In January 2021, as A could not find a job and her savings ran out, she made a claim for Universal Credit. She believed that the ‘pre settled’ status was a guarantee to receive benefits. The claim was refused. She was told that her rights in the UK expired because she did not claim benefits immediately after losing her job.
Sick/disabled claimants – delays
The lockdown has caused severe delays in processing new claims of disability benefit PIP, leaving new claimant waiting for months.
- Case study: J claimed PIP in March, just before the lockdown, and already depended on us and other food banks to survive at the time. His PIP assessment was delayed for months, causing desperation. J had a ‘telephone assessment’ only on 7 July. Thanks to our support his benefit is now in payment.
For the safety of their own staff, the DWP have not returned to full activity after the easing of the lockdown and through the second lockdown, so we will continue to see problems caused by a restricted service.
Face to face interviews/physical access to offices
At the beginning of the pandemic anxious PIP claimants refused to attend face to face assessments, preferring to risk their benefits than their health, and were penalised – we will have new similar cases as soon as the assessment centres reopen to the public.
- Case study: T was summarily assessed ‘on paper’ and disentitled to PIP after he refused to travel to an assessment in Eastbourne in March. After our complaint, on 2 July the DWP reconsidered their original decision pending the Tribunal appeal, and reinstated the client’s benefit. The client was left with no PIP for four months.
The suspension of physical access to the local jobcentres has penalised people who are unable to use IT to communicate, especially elderly people and people mental or language barriers. Many people also suffer from lack of access to computers at their local Jobcentres or community centres, caused by necessary Covid safety measures.
- Case study. M, an elderly gentleman with severe mental health problems, visited CASE Central for help with food and told us that he had lived on nil benefits for weeks, and was unaware of the reason. It emerged that his sickness benefit terminated without a warning when he reached pension age and that he had not claimed his State Pension and Pension Credit. M is unable to use a mobile, let alone a computer, and has serious communication barriers on the telephone. He would have normally visited the local Jobcentre to get help face to face, but this was impossible. Thanks to our representation work, G is now paid the full pensions.
A particular case was caused by a mixture of Covid-related issues, including lack of access to the Jobcentre as well as Covid-related fraudulent activity online.
- Case study: waiting for furlough, R claimed UC. A few days after the claim, she received a fraudulent email that said that HMRC needed her bank details to pay furlough; and she complied with the request. That was a scam – immediately, her bank changed her account. R tried to update the DWP on the phone and online but was unable to go through security questions. She was refused an emergency interview face to face because the local Jobcentre was closed to the public. Then her UC payments ‘bounced back’ twice and her claim was suspended. We had to send her new bank details directly to a local Jobcentre manager via email. For four months she had no income at all.
Telephone assessments and hearings and communications issues
PIP claimants have been asked to undergo long telephone assessments, often reviews of existing claims, at a time when the lockdown prevented them from receiving support face to face, despite the fact that they are too anxious to deal with them. Some client have lost their benefits or gave risked to lose them because of this problem.
- Case study: K panicked during a long PIP assessment on the telephone as she was on her own. The interview was halted but the assessor wanted to call K After our complaint, the DWP promised to wait until face to face interviews were possible to assess K and to continue to pay her PIP meanwhile. However, we later received a call from an assessor, who asked us to interview the client on the telephone, on their behalf!
We have now started seeing cases of Tribunal hearings on the telephone and new problems arising from them.
- Case study: A, a man suffering with severe mental health problems, failed to answer a telephone call from the Tribunal Services because on the day he had no face to face support from his carer. The Tribunal decided ‘in his absence’ and refused the appeal. After our request of Leave for Appeal to the Upper Tribunal, a District Judge set aside the unfavourable decision. A‘s appeal has now been re-listed. During this time he has not received any disability (PIP) payments.
Other unexpected problems caused by the lockdown
The self isolation itself impacted on people’s ability to get basic necessities, or to make payments towards bills.
- Case study: during the first lockdown, T, a benefit claimant who suffers with serious mobility problems, could not stand in the long queue caused by the distancing rules outside her only local supermarket. She had nobody to help and her income was very low as she had been disabled for years. We helped her, delivering food and basic necessities to her door. Her situation worsened a lot during this period as she broke two ribs stumbling at home.
- Case study: M, who suffers with cancer, has been in total self isolation during the first and second lockdown, unable to go out at all. She has depended on deliveries of food and basic necessities.
- Case study: J, a mentally and physically disabled man with a serious lung issue, risked losing his Motability car as he did not want to risk catching Covid to pay instalments of a parking fine a the local Pay Point. He was unable to pay online. The loss of his car would have seriously undermined his physical existence and worsened his mental condition.