The changes that might affect you most

We have listed below some of the key areas of new legislation which may affect you if you have health or social care needs, are caring for someone, or need financial help. We have also listed some other useful information about services which have changed or stopped because of the COVID-19 emergency.

If you need social care support

The Coronavirus Act means that local councils, for the time being, can choose not to meet all of their obligations under the Care Act 2014, by triggering the new legislation. The new legislation (also known as 'easements' to the Care Act) should only be used during the coronavirus emergency, and local councils must only use these new powers when strictly necessary, because of demand on services or workforce illness, for example.

Councils must still, wherever possible, comply with their duties to meet people’s needs. They must always meet a person’s needs if failing to do so would breach their human rights. These could include the right to life, the right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to private and family life.

Once they have publicly triggered the new legislation, councils will have the power to decide:

  • Who they carry out care needs assessments or carers assessments for – and how and when these assessments take place. They may decide to only carry out assessments for people with the most urgent needs, although they must make sure they are not jeopardising anyone’s human rights. This means they must respond appropriately to each new referral or change of situation that they become aware of.
  • Which care or support needs they will meet – the council may only meet your most essential care needs during this time, provided that your human rights are protected.
  • When they will carry out a financial assessment – the council may decide to carry out a financial assessment at a later date (after the care has been delivered), and charge for it at that point. You cannot be charged for care until a financial assessment has been carried out.
  • When they provide people with a care and support plan or a carer’s support plan - this is usually done before care is provided, and it is agreed with the person receiving the care or support. During the emergency period, it may be that care and support is provided without this plan being in place. The council must still document enough information to ensure that any identified needs can be met with appropriate care.
  • When they will carry out reviews of people’s care and support. Usually, you can request a review of your care needs assessment or your care and support plan if you don’t think it took account of all your needs, or your needs have changed. During the emergency period, councils will not have to provide this review, and routine annual reviews of your care and support plan may not take place as scheduled. If any review of your care does take place during this time, you should still be fully involved in agreeing any changes to your care.
  • Whether or not they will support someone to move to a new area. Usually, if your care needs assessment shows that it might benefit you to move to a new area (to be closer to family, for example), your council must help you to arrange this, and ensure that your care needs are met in this new area. This could include helping you to find an appropriate care home, for example. However, your local council may not agree to do this during the emergency period.

The council must still provide appropriate information and advice to people with care needs as early as possible.

You can see a list of which local authorities in England are currently using the easements on the Care Quality Commission website. If your local council has not officially triggered the easements, but they are saying that they are not able to support you or provide a particular service because of coronavirus, you should seek advice. You can call the Independent Age helpline on 0800 319 6789 to arrange to speak to an adviser.

If you’re in hospital

During the COVID-19 emergency, hospital discharge procedures have been changed to free up hospital beds more quickly.

This means that if you are medically fit but will need ongoing care when you leave hospital, this will be arranged once you have returned home, rather than before you've been discharged. In hospital, you will only be assessed to see what (if any) short-term support you need to safely leave hospital. Any longer-term care and support needs will be assessed after you are discharged – this assessment must happen before any short-term support you are getting comes to an end.

The NHS should use emergency government funding to pay for any new or extended care you receive out of hospital for up to six weeks. If you are likely to need longer-term support, a care needs assessment (or an NHS Continuing Healthcare assessment if this is appropriate for you) should be arranged for you during these six weeks. If this is delayed, you should not be asked to pay for any care until the right assessments are carried out.

When you leave hospital, it’s a good idea to confirm with your case manager how long you will be offered this support for and when you can expect to have an assessment of your longer-term care needs. 

If you are unable to return to your own home and need to move in to a care home, you may not be able to move to the care home of your choice straightaway – you may need to stay in an alternative care home for a short while first, rather than staying longer in hospital. You will not be allowed to remain in hospital if you refuse the care you’ve been offered.

Before you move in to a care home, supported housing or temporary accommodation, you must be tested for COVID-19. Your case manager should make sure that this happens. You will only be able to move into a care home if you've been tested within 48 hours before your admission and have the results of your test. If you test positive, you will need to move to a setting which meets certain infection prevention control standards put in place by the Care Quality Commission. This would be for the usual 10 day isolation period, and may be a different location to the care home you are moving to. 

For more information see the government's guidance on hospital discharge and our factsheet on hospital stays.

Healthwatch England are running a survey to find out about people’s experiences of leaving hospital during the coronavirus pandemic. Visit their website to take part.

If you get or might qualify for NHS funding for your care

As of 1 September 2020, the NHS can no longer delay assessments for NHS Continuing Healthcare or NHS-funded Nursing Care due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. If you had a scheduled assessment that was delayed, or you were waiting for one, you should now be able to get a date for your assessment. It is likely that your Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), who arrange the assessments, will have a backlog of assessments to schedule and arrange, so you may still experience delays with getting an assessment date. You could contact your CCG to ask about local timeframes for getting an assessment.

If have been paying for your own care whilst waiting for an NHS Continuing Healthcare assessment, you may want to check with your local CCG that your request for an assessment has been logged and that it will be scheduled soon. If your assessment shows that you qualify for NHS Continuing Healthcare, you may be able to have some or all of your care costs (between 19 March and 31 August) reimbursed. How much money you get back will depend on your individual situation. In some circumstances, you may also be able to get a refund of care costs even if you do not qualify for NHS Continuing Healthcare – if the CCG is satisfied that you would have qualified at an earlier point. If you think you may qualify for a refund on your care costs and would like some advice, call our helpline on 0800 319 6789.

If you have already had an NHS Continuing Healthcare assessment, you can still ask your CCG to review a decision made about whether you qualify, but it may take longer than usual for them to respond as it is likely that they will be busier than usual. 

If you’re receiving NHS Continuing Healthcare

Reviews should now be taking place as normal. If you had a review scheduled between 19 March and 31 August 2020 which did not take place, this should now be re-scheduled to take place sometime after 1 September. Contact your Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) if you think your current care plan is no longer meeting your needs as they may be able to arrange an urgent review.  See our factsheet Continuing Healthcare: should the NHS be paying for your care? for more information.

If you’re a carer

If you are caring for a friend or relative, the criteria for claiming Carer’s Allowance have been changed slightly. The new criteria mean that:

  • any emotional support you are providing someone with during this time will be counted towards the 35 hours of care a week that you must provide to receive Carer’s Allowance.
  • if you live in England or Wales, you can continue to receive Carer’s Allowance even if you need to take a temporary break from caring because you or the person you care for has COVID-19, or you are needing to self-isolate because of it.

You should report any changes to your circumstances (such as a change in your caring hours, or a need to take a break from caring due to COVID-19) to the Carer’s Allowance helpline on 0800 731 0297.

These changes to Carer’s Allowance will be regularly reviewed by the government.

The government has also created guidance for people who provide unpaid care to friends or family members, with advice about protecting yourself and the person you care for. This includes advice about creating an emergency plan with the person you care for, in case you need help with your caring responsibilities from other people during the emergency period. 

If you’re receiving disability benefits

Last updated 16 December 2020

Face-to-face assessments are suspended at the moment – this could mean that you have an assessment over the phone, or you could be asked to complete a paper assessment form. This applies to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and the Industrial Injuries Scheme (IIS) amongst other benefits. If you have just made a new claim or you are waiting for an assessment, you will be contacted about what will happen next.

The DWP are writing to some people who receive PIP or DLA asking them to complete paperwork for their review or reassessment. You may be contacted directly by one of the DWP's assessment providers if you have already returned paperwork to transfer you on to PIP from DLA. 

The review process for people receiving Attendance Allowance (AA) is now returning to normal after changes were made in response to COVID-19. If you receive a renewal pack from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), you need to complete and return it by the deadline date given in the pack.

DWP home visits have been put on hold, except in certain circumstances (for example, if you are seen as a vulnerable customer, or if a visit needs to take place to ensure your benefit payments can be made). Most people will receive a phone call or a letter instead of a home visit.

If you’ve appealed to a tribunal against a DWP decision on a benefit claim

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or are self-isolating, contact the tribunal where the hearing is due to take place straightaway. You can find their details at Courts and Tribunals Finder.

In most cases, tribunals are still working but they will arrange remote hearings wherever possible. This may mean that your case is assessed without a hearing and the decision will be based only on the documents you have sent. If you still don’t agree with the judge’s decision, tell the tribunal you want a hearing instead.

Any changes to your tribunal hearing will be communicated directly to you in the usual way, usually by email and/or phone.

If you’re in financial difficulty because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

If you are struggling to pay your energy bills (either because you are self-isolating and can’t top up your meter, for example, or because you cannot afford to pay), your energy company must support you during this time. You can find out more on the Ofgem website. If you are unable to deal with your supplier on your own or you can’t get through to them, call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133 and ask to be referred to their Extra Help Unit.

If you own your home and have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, you could be entitled to a minimum 3-month mortgage break (the deadline for applying is 31 March 2021). Visit the Money Advice Service for details on applying for a mortgage break. If you’re coming to the end of a mortgage break and think you may need to extend it, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your mortgage provider as soon as you can. See the Money Advice Service for information on the options available to you when your mortgage break comes to an end.

Visit Shelter for information about your rights and the legal process if you are renting and are given an eviction notice.

If you may have problems paying your Council Tax

The government has introduced a Council Tax hardship fund in England for people who are on a low income and struggling to pay their Council Tax because of the COVID-19 outbreak. This will run until April 2021. People under State Pension age who receive (or who now qualify for) Council Tax Support are being prioritised for this additional help, which will be awarded automatically. If you are over State Pension age and may struggle to pay your Council Tax bill as a result of the current emergency situation, you should contact your council to find out what support might be available to you.

If you have made a complaint about health or care services

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there may be changes to how complaints are being handled. Organisations that are currently taking on new complaints include:

Although most organisations have restarted their usual complaints process, there may be some delay in your complaint being investigated. Your complaint should still be acknowledged within the usual timescales set by the organisation you have made your complaint to. If you have an outstanding complaint, you can contact the organisation to and ask about the status of your complaint.