‘They rely on us to survive’: Senior DWP staff to be sent to front line to prepare for rise in benefit applications amid coronavirus outbreak

In an email to staff, DWP permanent secretary says they ‘need to go further and faster to support increasing numbers of people who are turning to us at their time of need’

Saturday 21 March 2020 20:33 GMT
All DWP staff in England to be categorised as ‘critical workers’
All DWP staff in England to be categorised as ‘critical workers’ (PA)

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Louise Thomas

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Senior staff at the Department for Work and Pensions are being sent into benefit centres to help them cope with a deluge of claims from people who “rely on us to survive”.

Thousands of people in London, Leeds, Sheffield – including managers in policy, finance, communications and analytical posts – have been told they will be sent to “frontline roles”.

They will be “matched” with job centres as they prepare for a flood of benefit applications from people who lose jobs or hours as the coronavirus epidemic spreads.

An email seen by The Independent, sent by the DWP’s permanent secretary Peter Schofield, informs staff they “need to go further and faster to support the increasing numbers of people who are turning to us at their time of need”.

“This is an unparalleled public health emergency, the likes of which we have never seen,” Mr Schofield says – telling staff they will receive “condensed training” to redeploy.

All DWP staff in England will now be categorised as “critical workers”, the message says,“alongside nurses, doctors, firefighters, police”.

It reminds staff that they provide “critical services to our customers who rely on us to survive”.

The many thousands of staff have been told to complete a survey by the end of Monday, to allow them to be “matched” with benefit centres and learn to process new claims.

The new instructions come despite some rules being relaxed to help benefit claimants as the crisis escalates.

Those claiming disability benefits will no longer be required to attend face-to-face assessments, a change that also covers health checks for universal credit.

Employment and support allowance (ESA) will be paid to people unable to work because they are directly affected by COVID-19, or self-isolating, from the first day of sickness, rather than the eighth.

And the ‘minimum income floor’ – an assumed level of earnings – will be temporarily relaxed for self-employed claimants on universal credit affected by Covid-19.

A DWP spokesperson said, earlier this week: “We understand people who are required to stay at home or are infected by coronavirus may need financial support, and quickly.”

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