The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has halted all face-to-face assessments for sickness and disability benefits for the next three months, in a “precautionary” measure it says will protect disabled people from unnecessary risk of exposure to coronavirus.

The move will affect those claiming personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA), and some claimants of universal credit (UC), as well as recipients of industrial injuries disablement benefit.

It applies to those being reassessed as well as new claimants.

Those with a face-to-face assessment scheduled do not now need to attend and will be contacted to discuss alternative arrangements, which could involve either telephone or paper-based assessments.

Claimants do not need to take any action themselves until they are contacted by DWP.

Among other measures taken by DWP, people who need to claim ESA or UC because of coronavirus will not be required to produce a fit note.

And claimants of out-of-work benefits who tell DWP “in good time” that they are staying at home or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 will not be sanctioned, ministers confirmed.

Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, will be among ministers and government officials facing questions suggested by members of the public, at a Commons evidence session on Wednesday (25 March).

The Commons petitions committee has organised the session after emailing more than one million people who have previously signed parliamentary petitions about coronavirus to ask them for questions they would like to put to the government about its strategy for dealing with the virus.

The committee received an “unprecedented” 45,000 questions as a result of its appeal.

Among those answering questions will be Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England; Nick Gibb, the minister for school standards; and Tomlinson.

Catherine McKinnell, chair of the petitions committee, said: “The impact of this virus – both in the UK and globally – cannot be underestimated, and we will continue to hold this government to account on behalf of petitioners to ensure it is effective in responding to the coronavirus and the impact it will have on the lives of every one of us.”

Meanwhile, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has halted routine inspections of health and social care services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the pandemic, it said, its primary objective will be supporting service-providers to keep people safe “during a period of unprecedented pressure on the health and care system”.

Ian Trenholm, CQC’s chief executive, said: “It may still be necessary to use our inspection powers in a very small number of cases when there is clear evidence of harm, such as allegations of abuse.

“In adult social care, our inspectors will also be acting as a support for registered managers, providing advice and guidance throughout this period in the absence of a single national body equivalent to NHS England.

“We are talking to social care providers about how to most effectively collect information from them to ensure that the government has a clear picture of the impact that COVID-19 is having on the sector.”

Meanwhile, a growing number of conferences and other events that were due to take place in the coming months have been postponed or cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Among them is the TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference, which was due to take place in Bournemouth in May. It is not yet known whether it will be postponed, cancelled, or held at some point in a different format.

The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) national conference, which had been due to take place in Manchester on 22 April, will no longer go ahead as planned.

ROFA is considering holding at least part of the event remotely to allow disabled activists and disabled people’s organisations to engage in post-election campaign planning.

Inclusion London has postponed all its face-to-face training and events that were due to take place between 18 March and the end of June, although some events and training will now take place online.

And four consultation events that were set to hear disabled people’s views on proposals to reopen the Independent Living Fund to new claimants in Northern Ireland have been postponed until later in the year.

*Sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:

The Department of Health and Social Care

National Survivor User Network

Spinal Injuries Association

COVID Mutual Aid UK

19 March 2020. News provided by John Pring at



Ministers are poised to hand more than a billion pounds to discredited private sector outsourcing giants so they can continue to provide disability benefit assessments for another three years.

The plans will apparently see a huge rise in spending on the discredited personal independence payment (PIP) assessment process.

The existing contracts with Atos and Capita to carry out PIP assessments are due to run out at the end of July 2021.

Although it is not certain that the two companies will bid for, and secure, the new contracts, they are in a strong position to do so, despite their poor track record since they began delivering PIP assessments for DWP in 2013.

Ministers made it clear last week that the new contracts would last just three years, with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) planning to develop a new system for delivering all disability-related assessments through a single digital platform.

New providers could be unwilling to bid to take on such high-profile and troubled contracts for just three years before a major shake-up which will lead to all assessments being carried out by a single organisation, with the possibility of DWP even taking the contracts in-house.

Disability News Service (DNS) has seen Prior Information Notices (PIN) issued by DWP last week, which provide detail on the imminent tendering process for contracts to provide both the PIP assessment and work capability assessments (WCAs) for three years from August 2021.

The WCA is currently provided by another discredited outsourcing giant, the US-based Maximus.

Although the documents show that the cost of the WCA contract has also increased, the PIN for the PIP assessments contract suggests ministers are budgeting for a much steeper rise in costs.

In 2016-17, DWP handed £255 million to Atos and Capita to carry out PIP assessments across England, Scotland and Wales.

But the Scottish government is set to take on responsibility for all PIP assessments in Scotland from next month.

The PIN says that the new contract is worth an estimated £1.06 billion over three years, to provide PIP assessments only in England and Wales.

This suggests payments of about £353 million a year* to provide PIP assessments in England and Wales only in 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24, compared with £255 million in 2016-17 to provide assessments across England, Wales and Scotland.

DNS spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty by PIP assessors in late 2016 and throughout 2017, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year about how they had been unfairly deprived of their benefits, with such cases still continuing to come in more than three years after that investigation began.

Last September, DNS revealed that PIP claimants were now almost twice as likely to win their tribunal appeal than DLA claimants were a decade ago.

And figures released by DWP this year show that both Atos and Capita are still failing to meet key targets for the quality of their assessment reports.

The other PIN says the contract to provide WCAs for three years from August 2021 will be worth an estimated £500 million* over three years.

This is likely to be offered in just one contract, and will cover England, Scotland and Wales.

Maximus, which is in prime position to win the new contract, is already set to receive an estimated £227 million for the 18 months from February this year to July next year, at about £12.5 million a month, compared with about £14 million a month for the three years from August 2021 that will be offered through the new contract.

Maximus has itself been at the centre of repeated claims of poor performance, allegations of falsifying the results of WCAs and unsafe practices during assessments, and even links to the deaths of claimants, since it took over the WCA contract from Atos in 2015.

DWP refused to explain how it justified such a significant increase in the value of the new PIP assessment contracts, after being asked to comment by DNS.

*These figures are estimates because some of the payments depend on how many assessments the contractor is asked to carry out

12 March 2020. News provided by John Pring at



Disabled people are beginning to raise grave concerns about the potential impact of coronavirus on people with long-term health conditions and high support needs, particularly those who employ their own personal assistants.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published its action plan on dealing with COVID-19 this week, but the document said little about social care.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “Protecting the most vulnerable is our absolute priority.”

He added: “We all have a role to play in combatting this threat and I urge everyone to take stock of the simple methods that offer the best protection.

“Right now, this means making sure you are washing your hands properly and regularly and always following the most current public health and travel advice as it develops.”

The government said it was currently focusing on containing the spread of the virus.

But the action plan says that if the virus becomes established, the focus will be on providing “essential services, helping those most at risk to access the right treatment”.

DHSC said yesterday (Wednesday) that it would publish guidance for the care sector “shortly”, but there are concerns that this could focus on the care industry and residential homes rather than disabled people who employ their own personal assistants (PAs).

The Local Government Association said this week that councils were working alongside Public Health England, the NHS and other organisations to “assess risk, provide advice to communities and try to prevent this virus spreading further” and that local plans were “in place for every eventuality, including a pandemic”.

Few if any disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have spoken out yet about the impact of COVID-19.

But some disabled people and DPOs have begun to express concerns.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) is one of the first DPOs to speak out.

Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, told Disability News Service (DNS) that disabled people should not be seen as “inevitable cannon fodder in the face of COVID-19” when it was those with underlying health conditions who appear to be “bearing the brunt of the worst effects of this illness”.

He said DR UK was seeking evidence that hospitals would be able to cope with “the most vulnerable cases in the event of mass infection”.

He added: “Our lives matter as much as the next person’s.”

Mallick called on the government to make extra funding available in next week’s budget “to allow for the extra social care that would inevitably be needed for disabled people should an epidemic take hold”, in addition to the “desperately needed” funding the social care system already needed.

He also warned that “self-isolation” in the event of infection with the virus was not as easy for many disabled people as it might be for non-disabled people.

He said: “We would ask that those responsible for planning in social care and hospitals understand and provide for the fact that, if self-isolating, not everybody can be alone.”

He said adequate provision would be needed for those who cannot self-isolate alone, including those who need full-time assistance, support with eating, drinking and mobilising.

But he also said that people whose immunity was compromised should already be “well-versed in hygiene routines, including asking people with any symptoms of any virus to stay away, and practising good hand-washing hygiene”.

He said: “As far as we can tell at this stage, the same procedures apply for COVID-19.

“We are advising members to watch out for updates in advice from Public Health England and to act accordingly.”

Mark Williams, co-founder of Bristol Reclaiming Independent Living, said: “As a disabled employer, I am concerned about my staff and their capability of supporting me to carry on living independently.

“It is all very well for the government to tell people self-isolate or work from home, but there is no advice for people in my situation and how it might affect them.

“Even at prime minister’s questions this week, when asked about his social care plans, Boris Johnson talked about elderly people being able to keep their homes – nothing about how it would affect working-age disabled people.

“Therefore, why should he think about how coronavirus might affect us?”

Mel Close, chief executive of Disability Equality (NW), said her organisation had begun to receive calls from disabled people concerned about COVID-19.

She said: “We’re trying to be consistent in reassuring them, and are using the NHS guidance/key messages – which we’ve also circulated to staff.”

Access and inclusion expert Sarah Rennie told DNS she had already taken some precautions.

She said: “I have spinal muscular atrophy, so any sort of flu or pneumonia would be life threatening.

“I have cancelled all face-to-face work for the next month (not great financially!) and my care team are taking all infection control precautions.

“However, if any of my PAs (two of whom are teachers with massive social contact levels) come into contact with the virus, how do we effectively self-isolate?

“My PAs come in and out, changing shifts twice a day. Are they expected to care for me if I develop any symptoms of a virus?

“What an expectation for those who are also caring for older parents and small children.

“I’m also aware that I can’t seem to get advice on the point at which I should be hospitalised.

“I’m a level-headed person, only reading advice from reputable sources, but can’t find much advice for people like me.

“This is very worrying, particularly as I have a responsibility as an employer as well.”

Disabled activist Brian Hilton called for “a thought-through response that protects both residents and staff within care homes and other residential settings.

“Similarly, disabled people who live independently with the support of care staff need some reassurance that support will be available if required.”

He called for a government statement on what “support, contingencies and resources” would be available to disabled people if the situation worsened.

5 March 2020. News provided by John Pring at