There have been some changes to the benefit system as a result of COVID-19.

Appointments and Payments 

All appointments at Jobs and Benefits offices have been postponed. Nobody will have to visit Jobs and Benefits offices at any stage of making a new claim, except in exceptional circumstances.

If you're already receiving benefits, you will continue to receive payments. Payments will still be processed as usual.

The Department for Communities has put additional support in place to assist Post Office card account and HM Government Payment Exception Service customers who are unable to access their benefit or pension payments during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Department will offer a range of options including:

  • Switching customers to a bank account to allow the purchase of items over the phone or online
  • Setting up a permanent agent or appointee to collect their money on their behalf, or
  • Issuing a voucher payment via SMS/email to a trusted friend to collect their money for them.

The Make the Call team can be contacted by emailing or phoning 0800 232 1271.

You do not need to attend any medical assessments during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, even if you do not have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). ​You will not be penalised as a result of a postponed appointment.

Carers Allowance

If you claim Carer's Allowance you will still be paid even if you have to temporarily stop caring as a result of either yourself or the person you care for having to self-isolate.

Emotional support will also be counted towards the care you provide for someone during the COVID-19 crisis.

Discretionary Support

Claim Form (DS1a) – Claim for Items and/or Living Expenses from Discretionary Support, Universal Credit Contingency Fund, COVID-19 scheme or Short Term Benefit Advance

Discretionary Support payments are a means of financial support to help in a crisis situation. Support may be in the form of an interest free loan or non-repayable grant.

Please note this form is for people living in Northern Ireland only.

You will need:
  • your National Insurance number
  • details of money you receive
Who can apply for a Discretionary Support payment?

You may be eligible for a Discretionary Support payment if:
  • you are facing an extreme, exceptional or crisis situation which presents a significant risk to the health, safety or wellbeing of you and/or your immediate family; and
  • you and if applicable, your family, can demonstrate that you are resident in and ordinarily live in Northern Ireland; and
  • you are 18 years old at the date of the claim except in the case of a young person who is without parental support, in which case minimum age is 16 years old; and
  • your need for a Discretionary Support payment has arisen in Northern Ireland and is to be used within Northern Ireland; and
  • your income or in the case of a couple, the joint income less any allowable disregards, does not exceed the annual national minimum wage (currently set at £20,404.08 per year); and
  • your need cannot be met from another source

Discretionary Support COVID-19 Grant

The non-repayable Discretionary Support COVID-19 Grant introduced last March, nearly 7 months ago is specifically designed as supportive intervention for people on low incomes diagnosed with COVID-19 or told to self-isolate. 

Covid-19 Grant available to people with low incomes who need to self-isolate, they should apply to Scheme online via NIDirect or by phone 0800 587 2750.
Key Supportive Features of the non-repayable DS COVID19 grant are:
  • Awards will have calculated after considering each person’s individual circumstances 
  • Awards will include a specific amount for all of the children in the household
  • There are no restrictions on the number of Discretionary Support COVID-19 grants that can be awarded
  • Any Discretionary Support COVID19 award made will not affect any future application to Discretionary Support or the Universal Credit contingency fund.
  • Awards are disregarded for benefit purposes
  • Awards are not subject to income tax.
  • DfC will continue providing support to people affected by COVID-19 into the future
  • This support provided by DfC is not aligned to any lawful enforcement on self-isolation.

Employment and Support Allowance

There is temporary removal of the seven waiting days if you are making a New Style ESA claim. If you need to self isolate you will be treated as being ill and do not need to go to a GP.

All appointments and assessments for ESA have been postponed and you will not be penalised as a result of a postponed appointment.

If you need to claim ESA or have a query you can contact the ESA centre.

Free School Meals

Families of young people who are entitled to Free School Meals will receive food grants during school holidays from Christmas 2020. The scheme which will run until Easter 2022.


Housing Benefit payments will continue as normal and anybody wishing to make a new claim or advise of a change in circumstances should phone the Housing Benefit number, 03448-920-902.
All public Housing Executive offices are closed but you can still get in touch by telephone:
  • 03448 920 900 – General enquiries.
  • 03448 920 901 – Repairs.
  • 03448 920 902 – Housing Benefit.
A phased resumption of the full maintenance service has started. Repairs can be reported by telephone at 03448-920-901 or online at

Jobseekers Allowance

If you are due to sign-on you are excused from signing.

Work search and work availability requirements have however been reinstated from 3 August 2020 for new claims to Jobseeker’s Allowance.  

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

 All Personal Independence Payment (PIP) appointments at assessment centres have been postponed.

You can still make a new claim for PIP by contacting the PIP Centre.

Universal Credit

New claims to Universal Credit can still be made online with additional telephone support available via the Universal Credit Service Centre if you need help with a new claim.

If you're already claiming Universal Credit, tell your work coach in your online journal if you have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). If you do not have an online account, you can call the Universal Credit Service Centre.

You’ll continue to receive your Universal Credit payments as normal.

If you’re working while claiming Universal Credit, your payment will be adjusted if you can no longer work due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Self-employed people can claim Universal Credit. From 6 April the requirements of the Minimum Income Floor have been temporarily relaxed. This change applies to all Universal Credit claimants and will last for the duration of the outbreak. The current easement of the suspension of the Minimum Income Floor in Universal Credit that was due to expire on 12th November 2020 will be extended to the end of April 2021.

The Self-employment Income Support Scheme will be treated as earnings in Universal Credit and your Universal Credit payment will be adjusted in response to changes in your earnings.

Find an Advice NI Member

Our members are spread across Northern Ireland and can help with any benefit queries you have. To view our members as a list, visit this link ->

Some information on this page contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.