Face-to-face assessments for all sickness and disability benefits will be suspended for the next 3 months, the government has announced.
The temporary move, effective on Tuesday 17 March 2020, is being taken as a precautionary measure to protect vulnerable people from unnecessary risk of exposure to coronavirus.
It affects claimants of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) those on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and some on Universal Credit, and recipients of Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.
The suspension of face-to-face assessments also covers new claims to those benefits.
Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “As we move into the next phase of our response to coronavirus, it is right we take steps to protect those with health problems.
“Temporarily suspending face-to-face assessments for sickness and disability benefits will allow us to ensure we continue to provide a safety net for those in need, while removing unnecessary risk of exposure to this disease.”
Anyone who has a face-to-face assessment appointment scheduled from Tuesday 17 March onwards does not need to attend and will be contacted to discuss next steps and alternative arrangements, which could involve either telephone or paper-based assessments.
The suspension is expected to remain in place for the next 3 months but the government says it will be regularly reviewing the position in line with Public Health advice.
No further action is required by any claimant as a result of this change. They will be contacted with advice on next steps.
The mental health charity MIND welcomed the announcement but added that the suspension to extend to all reassessments, including those held over the phone or online.
Vicki Nash, Mind’s head of policy and campaigns, said: “Now more than ever, it’s vital that disabled people and people with long-term conditions are reassured that they can depend on a stable income.
“The government should suspend reassessments altogether so that no one faces having their income unfairly and abruptly stopped.
“In coming months many more people may need support from the benefits system.
“Measures so far have focused on people who are self-isolating but right now people who find themselves out of work longer-term face a complicated assessment process for sickness benefits or waiting five weeks for universal credit.
“The government must act urgently to make sure people can immediately access the help they need to stay afloat.”