The Department for Work and Pensions has suspended all disability reviews and assessments for three months, and is to hire 1,500 new staff to deal with a surge of new claims for benefits.
Last week the DWP suspended all face to face assessments for personal independence payment and employment and support allowance, and suspended all face to face job centre interviews, but has been forced to go further as the coronavirus crisis deepens.
Last night it also unveiled plans to hire new staff and redeploy around 10,000 existing workers to roles processing new claims as tens of thousands of newly-unemployed workers apply for universal credit.
Job centres will remain staffed but will not admit claimants except by booked appointment. Only the most vulnerable claimants who are unable to access claims by other means will be able to attend.
The new arrangements came into place this morning.
The DWP has called on people to make claims online if they can, rather than using the phone, so as to free up staff to deal with people who do not have internet access or cannot use online services.
#Coronavirus: We are urging people to use online services first, helping keep phone lines free for those who really need them.
— DWP (@DWP) March 23, 2020
The secretary of state for work and pensions, Thérèse Coffey, said: Our job centres are fully committed to supporting people facing challenges during these extraordinary times. To help people most effectively and efficiently, we need people to claim online. If you cannot get online, phone us for help and we will only see people face to face in our job centres if invited.
Disability benefits assessments, which inform whether a person is deemed to be ill enough to qualify for or continue receiving support have gained notoriety in recent years for their lack of accuracy, and are regarded with dread by many claimants.
An all-party MPs inquiry into Pip and ESA assessments in 2018 concluded that failings in assessment processes had contributed to a lack of trust in both benefits and risked undermining claimants’ confidence in their operation.