The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has issued a warning to benefit claimants who receive Universal Credit and Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) that their payments could be stopped or reduced if they fail to comply with certain rules.
Work capability assessments to be reviewed
The DWP is planning to review the work capability assessments of Universal Credit and ESA claimants who have been deemed medically unfit for work. This could affect thousands of people who receive an extra amount of money each month on top of their standard benefits.
For Universal Credit, the extra amount is £390 a month – amounting to more than £4,600 a year. For ESA, the extra amount is £114.10 a week for those in the support group and £74.70 a week for those in the work-related activity group.
The DWP said that the reviews are part of its “legal obligation” to ensure that claimants are receiving the correct amount of benefits and that they are still eligible for them.
The reviews will start from October 2023 and will be carried out by telephone or online, depending on the claimant’s preference. The DWP said that it will contact claimants by letter or through their online journal to inform them of the review and what they need to do.
Claimants who do not respond to the DWP’s contact or fail to provide the required information could see their payments stopped or reduced until they comply. The DWP said that it will try to contact claimants several times before taking any action.
Travel rules for benefit claimants
The DWP also reminded benefit claimants of the travel rules that apply to them if they plan to go on holiday this summer. Claimants can go on holiday for up to one month but must stick to the conditions of their claimant commitment, which may include looking for work, attending appointments, or reporting changes in circumstances.
Claimants who are in an intensive work search group are expected to spend 35 to 37 hours a week looking for work, even if they go on holiday. They must also show evidence of their job search activities, such as a list of jobs they have applied for.
If an interview or job start date is offered while they are away and cannot be rearranged for when they are back home, they may be forced to return early from the holiday or risk losing their benefits.
There are no limits to the number of holidays of up to one month that are allowed each year, but if claimants are away for longer, the DWP is notified and has to decide if this is allowed. An extended absence can be approved – and requirements to look for work switched off – in the case of bereavement and medical treatment.
Claimants who do not inform the DWP of their travel plans or lie about them could face huge fines and lose all their benefits. The DWP said that it has access to data from various sources, including HM Revenue and Customs, banks, and airlines, to check if claimants are abroad.
How to contact the DWP
The DWP urged benefit claimants to contact them as soon as possible if they have any questions or concerns about their payments or their claimant commitment. They can do so by using their online journal, calling the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644, or visiting their local Jobcentre Plus office.
The DWP said that it is committed to supporting benefit claimants during these challenging times and that it will offer help and advice to anyone who needs it.