The government has said that benefits reviews and reassessments remain suspended but has also indicated that jobcentres are to reopen and sanctions are to be reinstated.
In a parliamentary question on 17 June, Labour MP Angela Eagle wrote:
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if she will make it her Department's policy to extend the temporary suspension of reviews and reassessments for all benefits beyond 24 June 2020.
On 22 June Justin Tomlinson, minister for disabled people, replied:
Our priority throughout this health emergency continues to be to protect the public and staff, while ensuring people get the benefits they are entitled to quickly and safely. Reviews and reassessments remain suspended while we review what activity we can gradually start reintroducing in line with the latest public health advice.
However, the Guardian has reported today that work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has refused to say that benefits sanctions will also remain suspended when the current ban ends on Wednesday.
Instead, Coffey told MPs:
“It’s important that as the jobcentres fully reopen this week, we do reinstate the need for having a claimant commitment,” she said.
“It’s an essential part of the contract to help people start to reconsider what vacancies there may be. But I know I can trust the work coaches, my jobcentre managers who are empowered to act proactively … there will be some people right now who’ve never had to look for a job in the last 20 to 30 years.”
But in a press release last week, the PCS union warned that reopening jobcentres “could create a perfect storm as staff and customers are faced with lack of social distancing, inadequate personal protective equipment and the real risk of Covid-19 being brought into workplaces.”
The PCS said that it understood that jobcentres would be reopening gradually, involving possibly just three this week, but that “a lack of adequate protection for staff and customers could lead to pandemonium.”