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 you might be eligible for funding from the NHS to pay for your care

NHS Continuing Healthcare assessments can now be delayed until the end of the emergency period. If you had a scheduled NHS Continuing Healthcare assessment, or were waiting for one, you may be offered NHS-funded services for a short period in the meantime if you’re being discharged from hospital or may have otherwise been admitted to hospital. You can ask your Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) if your assessment is still going ahead and if not, what support could be provided in the meantime.

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 they are not adhering to the usual timeframes during the coronavirus emergency.

Assessments for NHS-funded Nursing Care (NHS FNC) can also be delayed until the end of the emergency period. However, if your CCG decides to carry out a full NHS Continuing Healthcare assessment and finds that you are not eligible, they must still consider your eligibility for NHS FNC.

If you’re receiving NHS Continuing Healthcare

It’s possible that your regular reviews may be affected. CCGs should, however, respond appropriately to any concerns you raise about your care. Contact your CCG if you think your current care plan is no longer meeting your needs.

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 have 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.

If the hospital put any new or extended care in place for you before your longer-term needs are assessed, this care should be free for a limited time.

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.

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 9 July 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 will soon be 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. 

DWP home visits have also 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 (until at least 31 October 2020). 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.

If you rent, your landlord may not be able to evict you at this time, depending on your circumstances. In addition to this, most tenants who get an eviction notice on or after 26 March 2020 will be entitled to 3 months' notice before their landlord can apply to court. All existing court proceedings for eviction have been suspended until at least the end of August. Visit Shelter for more information.

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

The NHS has paused the investigation of new and existing complaints, unless there are concerns about patient safety which need immediate investigation. You are still able to make a new complaint, but it may be some time until it is investigated. If you have an existing complaint with the NHS, you should be informed that the investigation into your complaint is on hold.

If your complaint is with the Ombudsman:

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) had suspended existing casework, but is now resuming this work again, and taking on new complaints. If you have registered a complaint with them, they will contact you about your case in due course.

Between 26th March and 30th June, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) were not taking on any new health complaints or progressing with any existing cases that require contact with the health service. As of 1st July, new health complaints are being accepted and work on all existing cases has resumed.  If you missed out on the 12 month limit because you were unable to take your complaint to PHSO between 26th March and 30th June, you can still make a complaint within 2 months from 1st July and it will still be treated as in time.

You can still visit their website for updates and call their helpline on 0345 015 4033 if you have any questions or need any advice.

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