The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to say whether it could strip out-of-work benefits from disabled people who are fighting coronavirus while trying to meet strict deadlines for assessment of their eligibility.
DWP’s refusal to clarify the situation came after Disability News Service (DNS) was contacted by a 41-year-old woman with highly active MS, who has been “very unwell” for two weeks with COVID-19-like symptoms.
She was unable to meet this week’s deadline to return her work capability questionnaire because she had earlier been unwell with a kidney infection and now has suspected coronavirus.
Even without the illness, she would need to self-isolate and so would not have been able to photocopy the supporting medical evidence or post the form to DWP in time for the deadline she had been given of Tuesday this week (24 March).
She has been unable to confirm if DWP will take account of her situation, and that of many other disabled people who are now caught in the middle of an employment and support allowance (ESA) assessment or reassessment process.
DWP announced this week that it was suspending all new reviews and reassessments for disability benefits for three months, but the announcement does not say what the position is for claimants if their assessment process has already begun, like hers.
Rebecca*, who is on immunosuppression drugs and has been told by her GP she is likely to have COVID-19, said she fears her ESA will now be stopped because she was unable to return her completed paperwork by the deadline.
Because she is taking immunosuppressants, she is one of the 1.5 million people who are at higher risk of severe illness if they contract coronavirus and who were told by the government this week that they should stay at home for at least 12 weeks.
She contacted Jobcentre Plus before this week’s announcement by DWP on suspending new reviews and reassessments, but she was told they could not help.
Now she is waiting to see whether she will have her ESA stopped.
A DWP spokesperson refused to comment on the situation Rebecca and many other disabled claimants face, other than to point DNS in the direction of the announcement on new reviews and reassessments and to recommend that she “gets in touch with DWP asap to discuss”.
When DNS asked for clarity on whether the DWP announcement applied to situations like Rebecca’s, where a reassessment was already underway, he said: “Nothing further to add at this point, I’m afraid.”
Rebecca, who also receives personal independence payment at the enhanced rate for both daily living and mobility, said: “I feel like I’ve been forgotten, and the current situation is only amplifying my stress during this unprecedented time.
“I’m doing my best to manage on my own, but this lack of clarity is causing me to fear the loss of support when I need it most.”
*Not her real name
**Sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…