Original article from Kent Live
In-person assessments for a wide range of benefits will recommence in May, as announced by The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Face-to-face meetings are set to restart this month for those receiving Work Capability Assessments (WCAs), which assess the validity of claims for those receiving extra health-related benefits for Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Meetings are also set to restart for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
Face-to-face assessments for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) claimants already restarted on April 12.
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In-person meetings, which were previously cancelled during the pandemic due to Jobcentre closures, will take place alongside paper-based assessments and telephone assessments.
Claimants will be invited for their appointments by letter, which will explain exactly what to expect.
Social distancing measures must be followed, including following any signs on the floor requiring everyone to keep a two-metre distance apart.
Anyone who attends a meeting must also wear a face covering inside the Jobcentre building.
The DWP said: “Our approach and guidance will be kept under review to ensure the department’s approach remains aligned with the latest public health guidance.”
The DWP says you should not attend your assessment if any of the following reasons apply:
you or anyone coming with you has symptoms of COVID-19
you or anyone coming with you is following guidance to self-isolate, including after entering the UK from abroad
the NHS has contacted you or anyone coming with you and advised you or them to stay at home
Union leaders have criticised the move, arguing that resuming the in-person appointments could lead to increased numbers of people facing sanctions for their benefit claims.
The tighter means-testing may lead to claimants having their benefits cut, as a result of failing to meet the conditions of their claim, even if there may be valid reasons for their inability to meet these conditions.
One reason a sanction may be given if someone is failing to attend meetings with work coaches who are supervising their efforts to find a new job, reports BirminghamLive.
Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "Thousands of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff have been providing support to claimants safely from home throughout the pandemic.
"The only logical reason they would insist on fully reopening is because of management's obsession with sanctioning vulnerable claimants."