Benefits

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

If you need advice in relation to a benefit query, you can contact one of our member organisations that are spread across Northern Ireland.

You can get more information on benefit changes due to COVID-19 by visiting nidirect.

Appointments and payments

Appointments at Jobs and Benefits offices and medical assessments have been put on hold for the duration of the pandemic. Nobody will have to attend a face-to-face appointment except in exceptional circumstances.

Benefit payments will continue to be issued in the normal manner.

Additional support is available to assist Post Office card account and HM Government Payment Exception Service users who are unable to access their benefit or pension payments. Contact the Make the Call team at makethecall@dfcni.gov.uk or 0800 232 1271

Carers Allowance

Those in receipt of Carers Allowance will still be paid even if they have to temporarily stop caring for someone as a result of either person having to self-isolate.

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

Discretionary Support

 

Depending on the circumstances, an interest free loan or non-repayable grant may be available to address crisis situations. Claims can be made using the online form or by contacting the Finance Support Service by phone.

Further information about the various types of extra financial support, along with eligibility criteria, can be viewed at nidirect.

This includes the Discretionary Support self-isolation grant, which is a non-repayable grant available to households in an extreme, exceptional or crisis situation due to the need to self-isolate in line with current public health guidelines.

Key supportive features of the non-repayable Discretionary Support self-isolation grant are:

  • Awards will be 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.
  • This support is not aligned to any lawful enforcement of self-isolation.

Employment and Support Allowance

New claims for Employment and Support Allowance are not subject to the seven waiting days for the duration of the pandemic, so the benefit can be paid from the first day of ill health.

Those self-isolating under public health guidelines will be treated as being ill and do not need to go to a GP for verification. An isolation note, a notification from the NHS or Public Health or a letter from a hospital regarding a medical procedure are acceptable forms of proof of the requirement to self-isolate.

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

The Department for Communities has produced guidance for landlords and tenants in both the social housing and private rented sectors, including how to deal with loss of income and rent arrears. These documents are regularly updated to reflect changes to the restrictions.

A temporary measure requiring private landlords to give tenants 12 weeks’ notice to quit has been extended to the end of September 2021.

Those in receipt of Housing Benefit or the Universal Credit housing element may be able to get a Discretionary Housing Payment to cover a shortfall in their rent.

Housing Executive offices are only open on a limited basis so enquiries should be made by telephone:

  • 03448 920 900 – General enquiries
  • 03448 920 901 – Repairs
  • 03448 920 902 – Housing Benefit

Updates on changes to procedures are provided in the Housing Executive’s COVID-19 (Coronavirus) FAQs.

 

Jobseeker's Allowance

Signing-on appointments are suspended in line with other appointments at Jobs & Benefits offices. Instead, staff will contact jobseekers by telephone to offer advice and support.

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.

Tax Credits

Those receiving Tax Credits whose income is temporarily reduced may still be able to receive the benefit and will not necessarily need to claim Universal Credit.

Universal Credit

Identity verification for new claims for Universal Credit can now be completed online. Details will be provided as part of the online application.

Coronavirus and isolation

Claimants with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) should inform the Department through their online journal or by calling the Universal Credit Service Centre.

Changes to working hours due to coronavirus (COVID-19) can also be reported via the online journal.

Claimant commitments

Claimant commitments were reintroduced for new claims to Universal Credit from 15 July 2020, and these claimants will be expected to engage with their work coach via telephone and could be subject to sanction if they repeatedly fail to do so. Work search activity will be limited to that which is reasonable given the current restrictions.

Claimant commitments are still suspended for existing claims to Universal Credit.

Self-employed people

The requirements of the Minimum Income Floor for self-employed people have been temporarily relaxed. This change applies to all Universal Credit claimants and has been extended to the end of July 2021.

Income from the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will be treated as earnings in Universal Credit and payments will be adjusted accordingly.