Coronavirus: welfare benefits
Published 22/10/2020   |   Last Updated 18/12/2020   |   Reading Time minutes
This article was last updated on 16 November 2020.
Many people have lost income or been made redundant because of the pandemic, and may need to claim benefits to make ends meet.
This article provides an overview of the main benefits that people may be able to claim (depending on their circumstances), and sources of specialist advice.
We’ve also updated our blog post on business support, which provides an overview of support available from the Welsh and UK governments.
Universal Credit is a benefit for working age people who are in or out of work, and on a low income.
Universal Credit replaces six existing means-tested benefits. All new applicants to these benefits have to claim Universal Credit, and existing claimants are gradually being moved onto it.
Universal Credit is made up of a ‘standard’ allowance, and additional money for households with children and for childcare. Households that include people with disabilities or health conditions may also get extra money each month. People in rented housing could also be eligible for help with housing costs.
Universal Credit is not available to households that have more than £16,000 in savings.
Universal Credit can be applied for online, but the first payment take up to five weeks to be paid (which is a design feature of the benefit, not a processing period). Advances are available, but they have to be paid back.
People in Wales can apply to the Discretionary Assistance Fund for help with essential costs if they are in financial hardship while waiting for their first Universal Credit payment (see below for details).
Employment and Support Allowance
‘New Style’ Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is available to people whose disability or health condition affects how much they can work, whether they have a job or not.
ESA cannot be claimed at the same time as statutory sick pay, but it can be claimed alongside or instead of Universal Credit.
The basic ESA rate is up to £58.90 a week for people under 25, and £74.35 a week for people over 25. Other components to the benefit can be added for specific circumstances.
ESA is only available to people who have paid enough National Insurance contributions in the last 2 to 3 years. It can be applied for online.
‘New Style’ Jobseeker’s Allowance
People who are unemployed or work less than 16 hours a week might be able to claim ‘New Style’ Jobseeker’s Allowance if they have made enough National Insurance contributions for the past two years.
New Style JSA is a fortnightly payment that can be claimed on its own or at the same time as Universal Credit. A claimant’s capital and savings (and their partner’s capital, savings and income) are not taken into account. It can be applied for online.
Discretionary Assistance Fund
The Welsh Government’s Discretionary Assistance Fund (DAF) provides non-repayable grants to people on low incomes in Wales who:
- need help with essential costs (such as food, gas, electricity, clothing and emergency travel) following ‘emergency situations’, or who are in extreme financial hardship for reasons including delays in benefit payments, or
- need help to live independently rather than in a care home or hospital.
While the grant is not designed to cover ongoing financial shortfalls, it could provide help to people in hardship who are awaiting their first Universal Credit (or other benefit) payment. It can be applied for online.
£500 self-isolation support payment
People in receipt of certain benefits who are required to self-isolate can apply for a £500 payment to help with loss of earnings if they cannot work from home. Applications (via local authorities) are open from 3pm on 16 November, and can be backdated to 23 October.
Further information is available on the Welsh Government’s website.
Council tax reductions
People in Wales may be entitled to pay less council tax if their income is affected by coronavirus or if they receive certain benefits. The Welsh Government has an online eligibility checker. To apply for a reduction people should contact their local council.
Discretionary housing payments
Discretionary housing payments (DHPs) provide short term support to people receiving Housing Benefit or Universal Credit and are struggling with housing costs.
Local councils administer DHPs (with considerable discretion), although the general rules are set by the UK Government. Shelter Cymru has a search facility to find DHP contact details for each Welsh council for people to apply.
Carers Support Fund
On 20 October, the Welsh Government announced a new Carers Support Fund. It will provide grants of up to £300 for essentials including: food, household items such as furniture or white goods, or electronics such as a laptop for access to support and services. Further information about how to apply will soon be available on carers.org/wales
Bereavement Support Payment
Bereavement Support Payments are available to people under State Pension age whose husband, wife or civil partner died on or after 6 April 2017.
People may be eligible if their partner paid National Insurance contributions for at least 25 weeks, or if they died because of an accident at work or a disease caused by work.
It is made up of a payment of between £2,500 and £3,500, and then up to 18 monthly payments of either £100 or £350. The higher rate is paid to people with dependent children.
The payment does not affect eligibility for other benefits for one year after the first payment. Information about how to apply is online.
Help with funeral costs
A Funeral Expenses Payment can help people on low incomes with funeral costs. It can be applied forover the phone or by post.
People may be eligible for other benefits, depending on their individual circumstances.
For example, a person who gives up work to care for someone full time may be eligible for Carer’s Allowance. A person aged over 65 that needs care could receive Attendance Allowance. A person of state pension age on a low income may be eligible for Pension Credit. Someone with a disability could claim Personal Independence Payment if they don’t already.
Changes to the benefits system
The UK Government is responsible for the vast majority of welfare benefits (except for council tax reduction and the Discretionary Assistance Fund). It has a page dedicated to information about coronavirus and claiming benefits, which is regularly updated.
The UK Government made a range of changes to the social security system at the start of the pandemic, such as increasing Universal Credit by £20, which will last until April 2021. Some of the changes, like the suspension of assessments for sickness and disability benefits, are gradually being resumed in different ways.
A full explanation of the short-term, medium-term and permanent changes to the benefits system made as a result of the pandemic is available in this briefing from the House of Commons Library (part 2).
The benefits system is complex, and people should contact a specialist benefits advice service to help establish what they might be eligible for. There are a range of benefits advice services in Wales, including:
- Citizens Advice can provide benefits and employment advice online or on the phone – 03444 77 20 20. It also has an information page on coronavirus;
- Shelter Cymru has a coronavirus advice page and can provide housing related advice by phone – 08000 495 495;
- Age UK has a benefits calculator for older people; Age Cymru also has an advice line: 08000 223 444;
- The Money Advice Service’s page on Coronavirus – what it means for you provides information relating to personal finances, insurance and scams. It provides advice through its helpline (0800 138 7777), web chat and on WhatsApp. It also has an debt advice search tool;
- Turn2Us is a national charity and welfare benefits advice service It has a page on coronavirus, which includes a benefits calculator.
Article by Hannah Johnson, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament
We've published a range of material on the coronavirus pandemic, including a post setting out the help and guidance available for people in Wales and a timeline of Welsh and UK governments' response.
You can see all our coronavirus-related publications by clicking here. All are updated regularly.