We have been carefully considering what steps need to be taken in order to reduce the risk to vulnerable claimants and staff members in light of the escalating Covid-19 outbreak. The safety of these individuals is our number one priority.
We therefore took the decision to suspend all face to face assessments for health and disability related benefits with immediate effect from 17th March. This includes Personal Independence Payment, the Industrial Injuries Scheme and Work Capability Assessments in both Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit. This decision has been taken in order to safeguard the health of individuals claiming these benefits, many of whom are likely to be at greater risk due to their pre-existing health conditions. This is also in line with measures announced yesterday by the Prime Minister.
Due to the immediacy of this change and the need to urgently communicate this to individuals affected, we began communicating this change yesterday. This included contacting affected claimants with appointments booked in the coming days as well as contacting MPs directly, encouraging them to share the information with their constituency members and local organisations. I can however confirm that this measure has only come into place from today, 17th March.
Anyone who has a face-to-face assessment appointment scheduled no longer needs to attend. We are working at pace with our Assessment Providers to put in place alternative arrangements and I am grateful to the Providers for their support in working collaboratively with the Department to provide continuity of service at this critical time. Claimants do not need to take any action, we will be contacting claimants to discuss next steps and alternative arrangements as soon as possible. This may involve either telephone or paper-based assessments.
We expect this measure will be in effect for the next 3 months but we will be regularly reviewing the position in line with Public Health advice. We continue to accept new claims to all benefits and for existing claimants, benefits will remain in payment while alternative arrangements are put in place. Any decisions made under the alternative arrangements will of course also come with Mandatory Reconsideration and Appeal rights as normal, should claimants wish to challenge any decision made.
This change does not affect the existing Public Health advice. The current NHS guidelines on Coronavirus, including advice on those who should stay at home can be found here.
As and when changes in Public Health guidance necessitate other changes, the Department will endeavour to inform Parliament as soon as possible.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords