Impact of COVID 19 on people with disabilities and their carers | CPAG

Impact of COVID 19 on people with disabilities and their carers

Post date: 
28 July 2020
Written by: 

Kirsty McKechnie

Welfare rights adviser, Early Warning System

The Early Warning System was set up by CPAG in Scotland to collect and analyse case evidence about how social security changes are affecting the wellbeing of children, their families and the communities that support them. We have been closely monitoring emerging issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. This report concentrates on the social security impact of COVID on people with disabilities and their carers.


Client support

We received queries from almost twenty advisers who were concerned about how clients would manage without face to face support in relation to claims and assessments, particularly in relation to managing universal credit (UC) claims or making new claims for personal independence payment (PIP). DWP did agree to email PIP questionnaires to claimants who could then forward this onto to their adviser but we have received anecdotal evidence that this does not always work smoothly.



A client's support worker usually helps him with his UC claim as he is unable to do it himself due to disabilities and mental health problems. The client needs to reclaim UC due to a drop in his income, but is too anxious to call himself. #160 (26/03/20)


A client who is shielding has no internet at home and would normally use his local library to access his UC journal. He needs to notify UC of a worsening health condition. #815 (14/05/20)


Adviser has had queries from clients who are deaf and or blind who want to make a new claim for PIP but cannot do this without help and support. Having the ability to claim these online would assist advisers to provide this support during lockdown. #616 (28/4/20)


A client claimed DLA for her 3 year old in February, but her appointment with a support organisation to complete the form was cancelled due to COVID 19. When the client called DWP in mid-May she was told she would have to be sent a new form as she hadn't returned the original. DWP announced the time to return forms would be extended to three months but it is not clear if this applies across the board or if it has to be requested. #785 (12/5/20)


Client was unsuccessful at PIP appeal and has been refused permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal. They have been unable to get in touch with their representative due to COVID 19 #1202 (10/06/20)


Telephone assessments

With some assessments scheduled to take place by phone this has had an impact on on claimants who normally receive support or representation from an adviser.

A client claimed PIP ten months ago and has just been notified that he will receive a telephone assessment. He lives alone, suffers from anxiety and depression, gets easily agitated without support and cannot face the prospect of a telephone assessment without his adviser present, which cannot happen just now. #465 17/4/20


A client with a hearing impairment has been offered a telephone assessment for PIP. She would struggle participate due to her hearing difficulties. #660 1/5/20


An adviser reported that someone they support had a very distressing experience of having a PIP review carried out over the phone recently and questioned whether it was appropriate for people to have assessments when they do not have access to support #732 (6/5/20)



Many face-to-face tribunals were re-listed as telephone hearings. Advisers reported technical issues as well as feeling that the outcomes were prejudiced by the fact the panel could only hear the client and not see them.

An adviser asked for four PIP appeals to be postponed but they were all re-listed as telephone hearings. Only one was successful and that was awarded on the submission and the medical evidence. The adviser feels that the appeals were unfair as the panel could not see the clients so had no indication of their pain levels etc. One appellant requested a postponement as her six year old was present but this was refused. #985 (26/5/20)


A client’s appeal was unsuccessful. Her adviser thought the panel did not understand the client well on the phone. #1157 (7/5/20)


A tribunal postponement was refused and is scheduled to take place by phone, but the adviser cannot get the papers from her office and has no mobile reception at home. #362 (9/4/20)



PIP stopped

On 23 March DWP announced that there would be no new reviews or reassessments carried out and that awards would automatically be extended.[1] However, the Early Warning System received a number of cases highlighting claimants’ PIP stopping at the end of their award if a renewal form had already been issued. It is particularly worrying that the claimants had returned their renewal forms but the award was ended because an assessment had not yet been carried out.

Client's PIP stopped on 31 March at the end of his award because an assessment had not been carried out, despite having returned his PIP renewal in January. DWP advised the assessment is with the medical provider, who will either carry out a phone or paper assessment, but in the meantime, the client's PIP has stopped, stating that the extension of awards pending assessment does not apply to short-term awards awarded on a tribunal decision. The client has lost his PIP and the severe disability premium (SDP) in his employment and support allowance (ESA) as a result, with the stress exacerbating his mental health problems. It took the adviser an hour to get through to PIP on the phone who then wouldn't accept implicit consent until a manager was involved in the call. #442 (16/4/20)


Client's PIP award ended on 23 March (the same day that it was announced that PIP awards would be extended with effect from the following day due to PIP assessments not being carried out). The client completed a questionnaire and it was received in January - it just hasn't been processed yet. #308 (06/04/20)


Client's PIP award ended at the beginning of February. She returned a questionnaire prior to this but is still waiting for an assessment to be carried out, which has been further delayed due to COVID 19. If she is awarded PIP following assessment it will be backdated to the date her award stopped, but she is not receiving it in the meantime. #479 (18/4/20)


We also received case studies which highlighted claimants experiencing uncertainty about whether their awards would be extended or not.


Client receives carers’ allowance (CA) for looking after his partner. Partner's PIP is due to run out on 29/4/20 and client has received a letter advising CA will stop at the same time. Client understood that the PIP award should be extended pending assessment and assumed that CA would be too. Client called CA and was advised to call PIP, who said call the Independent Assessment Service. They said the case had been returned to PIP for a decision and to call them. Client called PIP back only to find their office was now closed. Client still does not know if PIP and/or CA will be extended having spent six hours on the phone. #481 (18/4/20)


Client's PIP award is due to end on 20 April. Her face to face assessment was cancelled and she is waiting to be contacted about a phone assessment. PIP told her that it was unlikely that a decision would be made before her award runs out and that her PIP and associated benefits would stop, but be backdated once the decision is made. This seems to be at odds with the secretary of state's announcement that PIP awards would be extended. Client's husband also receives PIP and has an underlying entitlement to CA, so they receive the couple severe disability premium (SDP) and the carer's premium in their employment and support allowance (ESA). Her PIP didn’t stop in the end but the adviser had to be persistent to get it extended. #351 (08/04/20)



Severely disabled and terminally ill people not receiving additional amounts in their benefits that that are entitled to


DWP announced that all face-to-face assessments for disability benefits, including work capability assessments for ESA and UC would be suspended for three months from 17 March. A work capability assessment is used to establish whether someone has limited capability for work and work-related activity. There are circumstances when a claimant can be treated as having limited capability for work-related activity without the requirement for an assessment, for example if they are terminally ill or receiving chemotherapy.

We received reports of cases where the DWP was not treating people as having limited capability for work-related activity when it is clear that it should and was therefore not paying them the extra money they are entitled to.

A client reported in her UC journal that she has advanced cancer and is embarking on chemotherapy. DWP should make a determination about limited capability for work related activity on the basis that she is receiving chemotherapy, without having to carry out an assessment, but they have said they will not do anything with this information until COVID 19 is over.

Client with a wife and three year old, claimed UC in middle of March and included a fit note, details of his cancer diagnosis and treatment. Adviser followed up in July to check why he was not received the limited capability for work related element and was told that the Jobcentre were only just picking up work capability assessment referrals as they had not being doing any during lockdown at all. Wife had to give her self-employment and they have accrued significant mortgage arrears due to the drop in both their incomes.

In response to asking for determinations to be made about capability for work, one adviser reported they were told the department that deals with capability for work has been put on hold, another that they kept being told that the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments was closed.

On 23 March the DWP announced that there would be no new reviews or reassessments carried out at present. Giving evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, on 23 April, DWP Minister Justin Tomlinson said, ‘What we have done, for those that would be due for a reassessment in the next three months, we’ve automatically extended their benefit by six months. If their condition has deteriorated, and they feel they would be entitled to more money, they can still request a reassessment…’

However we received one case where a reassessment was requested, but not carried out.


Client's PIP review end date was extended for six months due to COVID 19, but he is really keen for it to progress as his condition has deteriorated considerably and he expects that his award will increase. This was made clear when the PIP review form was returned in September 2019 and a complaint has already been submitted about the delay in an assessment being carried out. DWP Minister's statement on 23 April noted that where people requested a review that is could be carried out by phone or on the papers, but the assessors say they have returned his case to the DWP for the time being and the PIP helpline stated that neither planned nor unplanned reviews are being carried out at present. #708 (05/05/20)



We received a number of cases about people who have stopped work, often in areas that would be considered to have a high risk of infection, because they care for someone who has been advised to shield. Their work was still there and often employers were telling them that they still needed to come into work, so they were not furloughed. They did not meet the requirements for statutory sick pay (SSP) or ESA and in some cases did not meet the requirements for CA either, thus limiting their benefit entitlement to UC.

The Scottish Government’s shielding advice stated that people living with people who were shielding could leave the house, but should follow social distancing inside the house and aim to stay two metres apart from the person shielding. This was not practical for parents and carers and why they would have been reticent about working outside the home.

A lone parent received a letter advising that her disabled daughter should be shielded, but employer told the client that she had to come into work #393 (14/4/20)

A lone parent of three children is taking time off work to care for and shield one of her children who is disabled. Her employer is not paying her while she is not working. #318 (7/4/20)


Client has a vulnerable seven year old who has been advised to shield. Her employer has told her she can’t be furloughed. She will not be entitled to SSP as she is not the vulnerable person. #648 (30/4/20)


A nurse in a private nursing home is not working at the moment, to shield her husband who is 73 and being treated for cancer. Her employer is paying her SSP - although it seems that she does not meet the conditions. She is £2,000 a month worse off. She could ask to be furloughed, but this could be refused as the work is still there. #452 (17/4/20)

An agency care worker stopped working because he lives with his dad who is 85 and has COPD. Whilst SSP can be paid to people who are shielding, it does not extend to people who are unable to work because they are shielding someone else. #440 (16/4/20)

A nurse at a private hospital lives her disabled adult son who is at high risk from COVID 19. She wants to shield him but her employer is insisting that she come into work. SSP does not extend to people who are caring for people who are shielding #701 (5/5/20)


Contact us

If you have any queries about these findings, or the Early Warning System, please contact:

Kirsty McKechnie

Email: [email protected]

Telephone: 01416117091

You can submit anonymous case studies online