Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Benefits

This page provides information for you, if you are claiming benefits or considering claiming benefits during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
You should continue to check this page as it will be updated frequently.

This information is for Northern Ireland only, if you live in England, Scotland or Wales visit the GOV.UK website.

COVID-19

Depending on your situation, you might be able to get additional financial support from the Department for Communities during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Financial support may als be available for short-term living expenses if you have a positive Covid-19 diagnosis or you are in self-isolation.

This non-repayable Discretionary Support self-isolation grant may be available to you if you are on a low income and are experiencing financial difficulties as a result of being told to self isolate.  The grant will include a specific amount for any children in your household and may be made for periods of more than 14 days.

Check if you are eligible for the Discretionary Support self-isolation grant and apply as soon as possible once you have started to self-isolate.

Covid-19 Heating Payment

The Department for Communities is providing a  one-off heating payment if you are in receipt of Pension Credit, or are in receipt of certain disability benefits at the higher rates, in recognition of additional costs arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

You do not need to apply for a Covid-19 Heating Payment.  If you are receiving one of the benefits below in the qualifying week, you will receive the payment automatically.

Eligibility

To be eligible for a Covid-19 Heating Payment during the qualifying week from Monday 30 November to Sunday 6 December (inclusive), you must be a resident in Northern Ireland and in receipt of one or more of the following benefits:

  • Pension Credit
  • the higher rate of Attendance Allowance
  • the higher rate care and / or higher rate mobility element of Disability Living Allowance, including children
  • the enhanced rate daily living and / or enhanced rate mobility element of Personal Independence Payment

How it is paid

If you are eligible, the Covid-19 Heating Payment will be a one-off payment of £200 paid automatically into the same account you receive your usual benefit payments. You will only receive one payment, even if you receive more than one of the benefits above.

This payment will be disregarded when considering your entitlement to other benefits (excluding tax credits) and may be taxable.

The Covid-19 Heating Payment is in addition to any other payments, including the Winter Fuel Payment.

If you are part of a couple to whom Pension Credit is jointly paid, you will only receive one Covid-19 Heating Payment.

You will not receive the payment if you are resident in a care home during the qualifying week.

When it is paid

It is planned that payment of the Covid-19 Heating Payment will be made at the end of January 2021.

Access to Work

Face to face appointments for Access to Work (NI) have been temporarily suspended. 

Payments to participants on the programme will continue to be processed by a limited number of available staff and contingencies have been put in place to ensure this continues. 

The programme works with a number of key stakeholders who provide support to Access to Work (NI) participants and subsequently this may change the level of support available to all participants due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Appointments at Jobs and Benefits offices

Face to face appointments in the Jobs & Benefits office continue to be suspended so you will not be asked to attend your local office currently.

From 15 July 2020 claimant commitments have been introduced for all Universal Credit new claims only.  Your work coach will contact you by telephone to discuss what activities you can do to help you move into employment and to offer support.

You will be given notice of your telephone appointment on your journal. It is important that we have this conversation with you as part of your Universal Credit application process.  

Benefit payments

If you're already receiving benefits, you will continue to receive payments. Payments will still be processed as usual.

You will not be penalised as a result of a postponed appointment.

Carer’s Allowance

Carers will continue to be paid Carer’s Allowance when they have temporarily ceased to care for a severely disabled person due to either of them self-isolating or being infected with coronavirus.

During the COVID-19 pandemic emotional support can also count towards the 35 hours a week you spend caring for someone who is ill or has a disability.

Cross border workers and COVID-19

Cross border workers who are temporarily laid off (furloughed workers) during the Covid-19 pandemic should stay on their employer’s payroll and be paid during this period of time.

The employer can then claim the appropriate rate from the government department.

If you have been made wholly unemployed then ‘normal rules’ apply:  you must claim benefit from the country where you are resident.

If you're a cross border worker from Northern Ireland who had been working in the Republic of Ireland,  you must make a claim to Universal Credit - www.universal-credit.service.gov.uk

If you're a cross border worker from the Republic of Ireland who had been working in Northern Ireland, you must make a claim via your local Intreo Centre - applications can be made online at www.mywelfare.ie 

Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) offers support and financial help so you can do suitable work if you are able to. Find out more about how to apply.

There is temporary removal of the seven waiting days if you are making a New Style ESA claim. If you need to self isolate you will be treated as being ill and do not need to go to a GP.

All Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appointments at assessment centres have been postponed.

To claim ESA contact the ESA Centre.

Extra financial support

Financial support may be available if you are in a financial crisis or need support including:

To help support people during the COVID-19 pandemic the Department for Communities has put in place a non-repayable Discretionary Support self-isolation grant payment to help with short-term living expenses where a person, or a member of their immediate family, has been infected by COVID-19 or told to self-isolate. 

If you're eligible to receive an award, it will be calculated based on your circumstances.

If you're in financial need, help with short term living expenses may be available through Discretionary Support  or the Universal Credit Contingency Fund grant or the Discretionary Support self-isolation grant. 

If you require assistance with short term living expenses from any one of these three provisions you should complete the Discretionary Support form.

If you use this form you do not need to ring the Discretionary Support Freephone line, someone will contact you. 

Due to Coronavirus the Department for Communities (DfC) paused recovery of overpayments and loans for three months.

From July 2020 DfC restarted the recovery of overpayments and over a period of months will reinstate repayment arrangements that were previously agreed.

You do not need to take any action. We will contact you to let you know when your repayments are due to start again.

More information is is available on the Department for Communities website 

Housing support

Measures have been put in place to support social and private renters as well as those experiencing homelessness.

The Department for Communities has produced a guidance document setting out general advice and information for tenants and landlords in the private rented sector. The guidance covers issues which may arise during the Covid-19 outbreak including what to do if you/your tenant is struggling with paying rent, advice around carrying out emergency repairs, information on minimising moves within rented accommodation, and eviction proceedings. 

The guidance is available on the Department for Communities website.

An agreement is in place with all social housing landlords (Housing Executive and Housing Associations) that any social housing tenant facing difficulties paying rent during the Covid-19 pandemic will not be evicted.

If you're living in the private rented sector and are receiving Housing Benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit, and the amount you're receiving is not enough to cover your housing costs, you may be able to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment

If you're a student and suffering financial hardship due to rental payments you can now apply for Discretionary Support. You are also encouraged to contact your landlord or letting agent to discuss flexibility in terms of payments.

More information can be found on the Department for Communities website.

How the Department for Communities will get in touch

If you're claiming benefits a Work Coach will communicate with you via your online journal, by phone and will reschedule appointments for a later date.

If you're self-employed

You must stay at home if you or a member of your household has symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19).

If you’re self-employed and can't work due to coronavirus (COVID-19), you can apply online for Universal Credit or for New Style Employment and Support Allowance

You do not need to go into a Jobs and Benefits office to apply or get a payment.

You do not need to get an isolation note from NHS 111.

From 6 April 2020, the Minimum Income Floor has been temporarily relaxed. This relaxation will last until 30 April 2021.

You will not need to attend the Jobs & Benefits office to demonstrate gainful self-employment.

In work

If you have to stay at home because of coronavirus and you need a note for your employer, contact NHS 111 Online 

If you have to stay at home but feel well enough to work, ask your employer if you can work from home. If you can work from home, you will not need an isolation note.  You can also use this service for someone else.

If you're in work and not claiming benefits, work on a short term contract or a zero hours contract, you may be entitled to sick pay.

If you’ve been ill from coronavirus (COVID-19) since 13 March 2020 and you’re eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, you will get a backdated payment.

If you are not eligible to receive sick pay you can apply for Universal Credit and/ or New Style Employment & Support Allowance.

Anyone self-isolating who is self-employed can apply for Universal Credit or new-style Employment and Support Allowance.

You do not need to go into a Jobs and Benefits office to apply or get a payment, you can apply online and/or by telephone.

You can also apply for these if you're prevented from working because of a risk to public health.

Jobseekers' Allowance 

If you are due to sign-on you are excused from signing.

Since 30 March 2020 until further notice, attendance at Jobs and Benefits offices for the purposes of signing for benefits has been excused. 

Work search and work availability requirements have however been reinstated from 3 August 2020 for new claims to Jobseeker’s Allowance.  

Staff in the Jobs & Benefits offices will be making calls to Jobseeker’s Allowance recipients to complete Claimant Commitments and to assist and advise on available employment services and ensure that claimants have the support they need.

New style Job Seekers' Allowance

Universal Credit replaced Jobseeker’s Allowance. However if you have been credited with enough National Insurance contributions, you may be entitled to 'New Style' Jobseeker’s Allowance. You can apply online.

Make the Call

Post Office Card Accounts

Support is in place to assist Post Office card account customers who are unable to access their benefit or pension payments during the Coronavirus pandemic. Customers should call the COVID-19 Community Helpline on 0800 915 4604 or contact Make the Call by phoning 0800 232 1271 or email makethecall@dfcni.gov.uk.

All routine appointments for the Make the Call Service, compliance and benefit review interviews have stopped.

Medical assessments

Work Capability Assessments for people making new claims to UC and ESA had been paused due to the COVID-19 crisis. The Department’s medical providers have confirmed they can now undertake these assessments by paper based review or by telephone assessment until face-to-face assessments can be resumed.

Personal Independence Payment

All Personal Independence Payment (PIP) appointments at assessment centres have been postponed. To claim PIP, contact the PIP Centre.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

If you cannot work while you’re self-isolating because of coronavirus (COVID-19), you could get SSP for every day you’re in isolation, from day one.

You must self-isolate for at least four days to be eligible.

If you were self-isolating before 13 March because you had symptoms, your SSP will begin from the fourth day.

If you were self-isolating before 13 March because someone in your household had symptoms, you cannot get SSP.

Check you’re eligible for SSP.

Tax Credits

If you currently receive Working Tax Credits, read the information on Gov.uk before making a claim to Universal Credit

If you already receive Tax Credits and have a drop in your income or are ill because of COVID19 you may be able to continue to claim Tax Credits for a period of time. 

For further information please refer to Working Tax Credit or call the helpline below.

If you lose your job, your Tax Credit payments will stop and you will need to make a claim for Universal Credit. You can’t receive Universal Credit and Tax Credits at the same time.

Universal Credit

New claims to Universal Credit can still be made online with additional telephone support available via the Universal Credit Service Centre if you need help with a new claim. 

You can now use your Government Gateway account to confirm your identity, helping to speed up your claim.  You can do this if you’ve used the Government Gateway within the past 12 months to access your Personal Tax Accounts, check your tax credits or to send a personal tax return.

If you don’t have a Government Gateway account you can confirm your identity using Gov.uk/verify

If the Department needs information to progress your claim we will contact you.

If you're already claiming Universal Credit tell your work coach in your online journal if you have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). If you do not have an online account, you can call the Universal Credit Service Centre

You’ll continue to receive your Universal Credit payments as normal.

If you’re working while claiming Universal Credit, your payment will be adjusted if you can no longer work due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Tell us about the hours you’re working in the usual way in your online account.

Self-employed people can claim Universal Credit.  From 6 April the requirements of the Minimum Income Floor have been temporarily relaxed. This change applies to all Universal Credit claimants and will last until 30 April 2021.

The Self-employment Income Support Scheme will be treated as earnings in Universal Credit and your Universal Credit payment will be adjusted in response to changes in your earnings.

This means payments will be taken into account in the Assessment Period (AP) in which they are received.  In this way UC provides support whilst the claimant has no earnings.

Since 6 April 2020, the standard allowance for a single Universal Credit claimant (aged 25 and over) is £409.89 per month.

On 30 March 2020, work search and work availability requirements were removed for claims to Universal Credit.

Claimant commitments will be introduced for new Universal Credit claims only from 15 July 2020.

Work search and work availability requirements will continue to be removed for existing claims to Universal Credit.

You must still tell us about changes to your circumstances by signing in to your Universal Credit online account .

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If you have a comment or query about benefits, you will need to contact the government department or agency which handles that benefit.  Contacts for common benefits are listed below.

Carer's Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912
Email 
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Discretionary support / Short-term benefit advance

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Email 
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Disability Living Allowance

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Jobseeker’s Allowance

Contact your local Jobs & Benefits office

Personal Independence Payment

Call 0800 587 0932

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