Welfare reform news and information
The timeline keeps being updated as the implementation of welfare reform develops. Latest update: 7 February 2017.
Concerned about the impact of welfare changes on you, your family or your clients? Contact the Independent Welfare Changes Helpline: 0808 802 0020
For more details on welfare reform training and on all Law Centre courses, click on Courses.
Upcoming courses include:
- 1 February 2017 Welfare reform overview: specialist awareness training - Belfast
- 9 February 2017 PIP: specialist awareness training - Belfast
Our legal information briefings on benefits and tax credits, include recent briefings on the Benefit Cap, Mandatory Reconsideration and Personal Independence Payment.
Our policy briefings trace the history and developments of welfare reform.
7 February 2017
Over half of people in Northern Ireland still not informed about welfare reform changes
Over half of people in Northern Ireland are either unaware of any of the impending welfare reform changes, or have heard of the changes but do not know any details, according to a survey carried out on behalf of the Department for Communities during September and October 2016, coinciding with the phased introduction of welfare reform.
The Northern Ireland Omnibus Survey also finds that only 12 per cent of respondents feel the current system is working and gives enough financial support to the right people.
The Northern Ireland Omnibus Survey provides a snapshot of the lifestyle and views of the people of Northern Ireland, sampling 2,200 private addresses at regular intervals.
For more information see Omnibus Survey: Attitudes to Social Welfare and Reform September/October 2016
Concerned about the impact of welfare changes on you, your family or your clients? Contact the Independent Welfare Changes Helpline: 0808 802 0020
2 February 2017
DfC preparations for Universal Credit roll-out (planned for this Autumn) are under way. Arrangements for flexible payments are set out in the Department's Section 75 Screening form:
"The flexible payment arrangements negotiated are as follows:
• Twice monthly payments to be available to all households as the default, with monthly payments available on request;
• Split payments between parties in a household can be made as follows: - A split payment on the basis of the main carer and children to be determined by the Department and paid into separate bank accounts - A split payment to be determined by the Department for a couple with no children and paid into separate bank accounts; and
• Managed payment of the housing element of Universal Credit to the landlord available to all, with a Direct Payment to the household available on request to those who meet the criteria."
31 Jan 2017
The Housing Benefit (Welfare Supplementary Payment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 (SR.No.35/2017) will come into force on 20 February.
They provide for welfare supplementary payments to mitigate the impact on Housing Benefit of the social sector size criteria under regulation B14(2) of the Housing Benefit Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006.
In particular the regulations:
- make provision for welfare supplementary payments to be made to social sector claimants subject to reduced housing benefit awards as a result of the bedroom tax;
- provide for payments to be made without a claim and to be paid four weekly in arrears;
- provide that entitlement will cease if the person moves within the social sector and continues to under-occupy to the same or a greater extent than before, unless the move happens because the person has Management Transfer status; and
- set out the circumstances when the Department for Communities is entitled to recover an overpayment, and the methods of recovery.
SR.No.35/2017 is available from legislation.uk
With thanks to RightsNet
26 Jan 2017
Supplementary Payments can be paid to landlords
Housing Rights Service would like to alert advisers to section 18 of the Supplementary Payments regulations, which explains that the benefit cap supplementary payment can be paid direct to landlords, even if they are private landlords/agents, as long as they are registered:
DfC considers flexible payment arrangements for Universal Credit
The Department for Communities is considering its policy for flexible payment arrangements within Universal Credit.
Publishing its first stage of the screening process - identifying potential constraints and opportunities - DfC has identified the flexible payment arrangements that are to be negotiated when drafting the policy:
- twice monthly payments to be available to all households as the default, with monthly payments available on request;
- split payments between parties in a household to be made as follows: a split payment on the basis of the main carer and children to be determined by the Department and paid into separate bank accounts, or a split payment to be determined by the Department for a couple with no children and paid into separate bank accounts; and
- managed payment of the housing element of universal credit to the landlord available to all, with a direct payment to the household available on request to those who meet the criteria.
For more information see Universal Credit Flexible Payment Arrangements screening from communities-ni.gov.uk
With thanks to RightsNet
25 Jan 2017
Recent changes in Northern Ireland welfare reform:
15 November 16 - New provisions on changes to overpayments and how they can be recovered come into effect
28 November 16 - Discretionary Support Payments replace parts of the discretionary Social Fund (Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants). Budgeting loans will remain (probably until full introduction of Universal Credit)
December 16 - Start of “managed reassessments” of existing DLA claimants for PIP
16 January 2017 - For Income Support, the age of the youngest child for which a person is responsible in order to be treated as a lone parent changes from 7 to 5 years old, with a phased-in process for existing claimants. Similar changes are made to JSA regarding availability for work for lone parents where the youngest child is aged 5.
Bedroom tax - The Housing Executive has issued guidelines for tenants on the 'bedroom tax'.
If a household is considered to be ‘under-occupying’, the rent used to calculate Housing Benefit will reduce by:
- 14% if under-occupied by 1 bedroom, or
- 25% if under-occupied by 2 or more bedrooms
There are mitigations in place for those affected but only until 31 March 2020.
7 November 2016
As reported earlier this year:
- the benefit cap is being lowered from today:
- £384.62 a week for couples (with or without children), for lone parents with children living with them and that they are responsible for, or
- £257.69 a week for single persons who have no children living with them.
To find out who is affected and the additional protections available in Northern Ireland until 31 March 2020 (Please note: this briefing was written in June and therefore refers to the earlier rates of Benefit Cap):
- Direct Earning Attachments come into force on 15 November
As part of the Welfare Changes in Northern Ireland, the Department for Communities will be introducing Direct Earnings Attachments (DEA) on the 15 November 2016.
A DEA will allow the Department for Communities to recover overpaid social security benefits in circumstances where there is no agreement to a repayment plan by asking employers to take deductions directly from an employee’s earnings.
DEAs will impact people who are employed, not currently in receipt of a social security benefit but who have an outstanding benefit debt (including a Social Fund loan) and do not have a repayment arrangement currently in place.
In advance of the introduction of DEAs, DfC has written to approximately 6,000 people who are not currently in receipt of benefit but have an outstanding debt and have not yet agreed a repayment plan. This is to ensure that they are aware of the introduction of DEAs and to encourage them to contact the Department to discuss their repayment options.
31 October 2016
ESA 365 days payment limit introduced for some claimants
From today, ESA payment will be limited to 365 days for people who are in the Work Related Activity Group and get ESA based solely on contributions they have paid.
Read more on NI Direct website
27 October 2016
Update on Discretionary Support Service
This new service is unique to Northern Ireland and is aimed at assisting those on low incomes (working and non-working) at times of exceptional or crisis situations.
The service will be delivered primarily through a telephony based service in Antrim and Dungannon Jobs & Benefits offices (JBOs), a face to face service will be available in local offices.
The freephone contact number for Finance Support is 0800 587 2750
The free textphone number is 0800 587 2751
14 October 2016
Welfare Reform and Work (NI) Order introduces new level of benefit cap, benefit freezes and other important changes
The Welfare Reform and Work (Northern Ireland) Order 2016 (SI.No.999/2016) is now in place.
The Order amends social security law relating to the Benefit Cap, Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit, the expenses of vehicle hire and loans for mortgage interest and other liabilities.
In addition the Order introduce a freeze on certain benefits and makes provision in relation to mitigation payments in connection with welfare reform.
11 October 2016
Impact of welfare reform mitigations on tax credit calculations
New regulations have been issued that provide for how payments to mitigate welfare reform in Northern Ireland are treated when calculating tax credits.
The Tax Credits (Definition and Calculation of Income) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (SI.No 978/2016) will be in force from 31 October.
In particular the regulations provide that payments in relation to loss of contributory employment and support allowance due to time limiting, and payments in relation to the loss of carer’s allowance on the caree’s transition from disability living allowance (DLA) to personal independence allowance (PIP), are treated as income when calculating tax credits.
The regulations also provide forthe following mitigation payments to be disregarded in the calculation of income for tax credits:
- payments in relation to the benefit cap;
- payments in relation to the loss of carer’s premium, income support or state pension credit additional amount, on the caree’s transition from DLA to PIP;
- payments in relation to loss or reduction of DLA as a result of the transition process from DLA to PIP; and
- payments in relation to loss of disability-related premiums as a result of the transition from DLA to PIP.
ESA and UC exemption from repeat assessments: more details published
The government has announced further details about stopping reassessments of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit for people who have the most severe health conditions and disabilities.
In a written statement yesterday, the Work and Pensions Secretary set out which types of health condition may be exempted:
‘This change will apply to people who have already been placed in the ESA support group or Universal Credit limited capability for work and work related activity categories following a work capability assessment and who have the most severe health conditions and disabilities (defined as claimants with severe, lifelong, often progressive and incurable conditions, with minimally fluctuating care needs, who are unlikely to ever be able to move closer to the labour market and into work).
He added that stakeholders will be consulted in developing guidance on the new measure:
‘Over the coming months we will work with key stakeholders, including disabled people, disability charities, our health assessment provider, the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments, medical professionals and others to develop a set of criteria, set out in guidance, to switch off reassessments for those that are eligible.’
The Secretary of State also said that while IT changes to implement the change may not be completed until the end of 2017, 'in the meantime we will be working to ensure these people are not reassessed unnecessarily.'
Work and Pensions Committee to investigate HMRC/Concentrix tax credits contract
It was announced last month that HMRC would not renew its contract with Concentrix as of 2017. The total worth of the contract is up to 75 million pounds. Concentrix was hired by HMRC in 2014 to investigate fraud and error and overpayments in tax credits awards. There has been widespread concern over Concentrix’s reportedly heavy handed approach and allegations that it has widely incorrectly stopped people’s tax credits.
The National Audit Office is now planning to launch an investigation into Concentrix’s performance. The investigation will also look at how HMRC managed the contract as well as its decision not to extend the contract.
The Work and Pensions Committee will hold an evidence gathering session on 13 October withTax Credits, Concentrix staff and HMRC representatives on possible mishandling of tax credits claims.
5 October 2016
Welfare reform training for frontline advisers
The Department for Communities is rolling out a package of measures to help the advice sector across Northern Ireland deal with the impact of Welfare Reform changes. This includes training support on Welfare Reform changes to frontline advisers located in generalist advice centres across Northern Ireland.
Citizens Advice and Law Centre (NI) are working together to offer a comprehensive programme of training to deliver the Department's priorities, designed to fully equip advisers to advise clients affected by welfare reform changes.
This programme is for advisers (staff and volunteers) in all Council funded frontline generalist advice offices - Citizens Advice and others. Funding for training costs is available for approved participants.
Training courses are being offered by Citizens Advice and the Law Centre throughout October - December 2016. Courses are available on:
- Personal Independence Payment (including form completion)
- Discretionary Support and Changes to Housing Benefit payments
- Triage, home visits and identifying vulnerable clients
- Overpayments, complaints, mandatory reconsideration & appeals procedure
- The mitigations scheme under Welfare Reform
- Universal Credit
For full details of each course, dates, costs and how to book, please download our training programme below:
3 October 2016
ESA: people with severe long term health conditions to be exempt from repeat assessments
The Work and Pensions Secretary has announced that people with lifelong, severe health conditions with no prospect of improvement will no longer be required to undergo repeat assessments for Employment and Support Allowance.
The move is not going to apply immediately however, and the conditions exempt from testing will be decided after a green paper on welfare reform is published later this year.
According to the Guardian: ‘people with autism and illnesses such as severe Huntington’s or a congenital heart condition are likely to qualify for continuous payments without reassessment.’
It is estimated that the move would scrap reassessments for up to 100,000 people in receipt of ESA.
21 September 2016
Personal Independence Payment: notes for advisers now online
An important new addition to our online rights guide, the Encyclopedia of Rights: Personal Independence Payment.
The Law Centre has also produced four briefings for advisers on specific issues surrounding PIP:
These briefings were launched at Law Centre meetings for social security practitioners this month, where advisers discussed PIP process issues with a representative from the Department for Communities' PIP project.
16 September 2016
Moving from DLA to PIP: most people should wait until they are invited to transfer
REMINDER: Seek advice - Law Centre (NI) social security advisers recommend that people do not contact the PIP office to ask to be transferred from DLA without first seeking advice. This is because, in some circumstances, the PIP reassessment process may lead to loss of entitlement. In such cases, it is better to wait until DfC contacts the claimant for planned reassessment.
In particular, claimants should contact the Law Centre quickly if they are returning from living abroad and are likely to be affected by tighter residence rules for PIP. We can often help in such cases. Advice line, Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 1pm, 028 9024 4401.
JRF calls for reboot of Universal Credit to help tackle poverty
Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has launched a five-point plan to solve poverty by 2030.
JRF calls on government to implement measures to boost incomes and reduce costs, deliver an effective benefit system, improve education standards and raise skills, strengthen families and communities, and promote long term economic growth benefiting everyone.
On social security, the plan includes:
- rebooting Universal Credit to make work pay through, among other measures, increasing work allowances,
- reversing some benefit cuts, for example ending the two-children limit on Child Benefit, unfreezing working age benefits in line with the cost of living, increasing levels of JSA and temporarily reinstating higher benefit level for ESA Work Related Activity Group,
- reforming the sanctions regime to a stepped approach,
- reforming job centres to support people into secure and better paid work, not just any job.
This is just a snapshot of a document worth a read: We can solve poverty in the UK.
Trends in Northern Ireland benefit claims
The Department for Communities has published its latest statistics on social security benefits (figures from May 2016). Key figures:
The number of people of working age claiming what a 'key benefit' has fallen by 1,200 in the last year (to 252,880). This is mainly as a result of a reduction in people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.
312,100 people over State Pension age are claiming a key benefit, an increase of 1,150 in the last year.
'Working age' benefits
- Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants: 35,560, a decrease of 5,590 in the last year.
- Income Support claimants: 38,640, a fall of 380 in the last year.
- people claiming a benefit because they are unable to work by reason of illness or disability: 125,600; number of recipients of one of those benefits: 118,150.
- Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants: 121,720; ESA recipients: 116,680.
- Incapacity Benefit claimants: 2,380; recipients: 10.
- Severe Disablement Allowance claimants: 1,500; recipients: 1,460.
- Note: SDA and IB are both being phased out and replaced by ESA.
Benefits for disabled people and carers
- Disability Living Allowance recipients: 212,210, and increase of 6,600 in the last year.
- Attendance Allowance recipients: 51,580, a decrease of 1,000 on a year earlier.
- Carer’s Allowance claimants: 71,220, an increase of 2,050 in the last year.
State Pension and Pension Credit
The number of State Pension claimants was 307,550, an increase of 1,180 on a year earlier.
There were 80,580 claimants and 98,230 beneficiaries of Pension Credit. Claimants have fallen by 4,150 since May 2015, mainly as a result of an increase in the age of entitlement and increases in State Pension amounts.
Personal Independence Payment: notes for advisers
Notes on PIP have been added to the Law Centre's online rights guide for advisers, Encyclopedia of Rights. Read Personal Independence Payment here.
Detailed briefings on specific aspects of the new benefit will follow shortly.
PIP: timescale of changes
DfC has confirmed that 4,000 applications for Personal Independence Payment have been received, and managed reassessment is due to begin in November this year.
Claimants left destitute during ESA mandatory reconsideration
The Law Centre has been contacted about claimants who claimed JSA pending Mandatory Reconsideration of ESA, as advised by the Department, but did not receive any payment before the decision as a JSA payment cannot be made while an ESA claim is live. They suffered severe financial hardship as a result.
We have enquired with the Department for Communities. The Department has clarified that Housing Benefit would continue to be paid during the Mandatory Reconsideration period. We will keep you informed of further developments.
Advisers who encounter any such cases can contact the Law Centre’s social security advice line for help: Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 1pm, 028 9024 4401.
Change of address not a reason to transfer claimant from DLA to PIP
Notifying DfC of a change of address should not trigger an early transfer from DLA to Personal Independence Payment, only reporting a change in condition. This was confirmed by the Department in response to a query by a Law Centre adviser on behalf of member organisation Tar Isteach.
Welfare reform on the radio
Lee Hatton explains PIP developments, who will be affected and the timescale of migration from DLA to PIP: on BBC On Your Behalf
Ursula O'Hare discusses public attitudes to social security and welfare reform on BBC Evening Extra
GB tribunal says: 'walking through pain' is not acceptable standard for PIP
Disability Rights UK reports on a GB decision (CPIP665/2016) which explains that being able to walk 20 or 50 metres is not a sufficient standard for PIP. If the person has to ‘push through pain’ in order to continue walking, then the standard is not met. It is reassuring that this principle, which had long been established for DLA, is restated for PIP, although of concern that some decision makers have not been applying it.
Recovery of benefit debt through pay packets: 'Direct Earnings Attachment'
Due to welfare changes in November 2016, employers may be asked to deduct benefit overpayments and Social Fund loans an employee owes the Department for Communities (DfC). This is called a Direct Earnings Attachment (DEA).
The Department has published a guide to DEA for employers and a more detailed guide for employers and payroll software developers. The Department is planning to send out letters to 6,000 people with outstanding debts to warn them of the change and advise them to contact its debt management service to discuss their repayment options.
The Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 allows the Department for Communities (DfC) and Northern Ireland Housing Executive to ask employers to make deductions directly from employees’ earnings, through a Direct Earnings Attachment (DEA).
The regulations covering DEAs, part of the Social Security (Overpayments and Recovery) Regulations (NI) 2016 (SR 2016/224), came into force on 20 June 2016.
DEAs arise where DfC or Housing Executive has been unable to recover money owed from people not in receipt of a benefit, and who have not voluntarily agreed to repay. This may be recovered by deduction from the debtor’s earnings. DfC and Housing Executive do not have to go through the civil courts to do this.
For example, such a situation could arise when an overpayment recovery has not been completed but the person ceases to receive benefits through finding employment, getting a pay rise or other change in circumstances. DEAs also cover repayments of Social Fund loans.
A DEA operates differently from other orders such as a Deduction from Earnings Order (DEO) or Attachment of Earnings Order (AEO). A DEA does not replace these other orders. In some circumstances employers may receive requests to implement deductions for multiple orders for the same employee.
New regulations on discretionary support (replacing Social Fund crisis loans and community care grants)
Regulations on discretionary support payments in the form of grants and loans in Northern Ireland were published on 11 July. The new system will come into operation when the discretionary Social Fund is abolished. This is currently planned for November 2016.
Discretionary support will be provided through loans for:
- immediate assistance with short term living expenses;
- household items, or assistance with the repair or replacement of household items;
- travelling expenses in proscribed circumstances; or
- rent in advance to a landlord other than the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
Discretionary support will be awarded through grants where:
- the grant is to provide assistance for a claimant or their immediate family to remain or begin living independently in the community;
- the claimant or their immediate family are prevented from remaining in their home;
- the grant is to provide assistance in the form of living expenses where the claimant is over the acceptable debt threshold; or
- the claimant is eligible for a loan for living expenses and cannot afford to make repayment.
The regulations also set out provisions in relation to:
- claims and payments,
- eligibility conditions including income and capital,
- recovery methods and the provisions required in any review process which may be set up under the regulations.
Welfare reform mitigations budget announced in Assembly questions
In response to Northern Ireland Assembly questions, the Minister for Communities has set out that a £500 million budget has been put in place for welfare reform mitigation measures:
- £94 million for the loss of disability living allowance;
- £27 million for the loss of disability related premiums; £18 million for the loss of carer payments;
- £25 million for the benefit cap;
- £24 million for the time-limiting of employment and support allowance;
- £91 million for the bedroom tax;
- £105 million for the cost of work allowance;
- £62 million for discretionary support;
- £25 million for universal credit payment flexibilities;
- £7 million for the administration of support for universal credit;
- £2.7 million for financial capability;
- £20 million to administer mitigations.
New regulations for bedroom tax issued
The bedroom tax regulations for Northern Ireland’s working-age Housing Benefit claimants have been published.
The regulations set out:
- categories of occupier entitled to one bedroom in a household;
- additional bedroom allocation where a severely disabled child who would otherwise be expected to share is not reasonably able to do so due to the disability;
- removal of transitional protections for social sector tenants who have been in the same property since 1 January 1996;
- 14% deduction in maximum rent where a claimant is deemed to be under-occupying by one bedroom; and
- 25% deduction in maximum rent where a claimant is deemed to be under-occupying by two bedrooms.
See the regulations in full here: SR.No.258/2016
Not quite welfare reform, but of interest to advisers: impact of leaving the EU on social security
On the day after the EU referendum, Law Centre (NI) social security adviser Lee Hatton talked to BBC's On Your Behalf about what is known so far of the possible impact of leaving the European Union on social security benefits. The message is don't panic, nothing will happen for at least two years, but it is likely that there will be extensive restrictions for cross-border workers, EU migrants in Northern Ireland and people from here living, working or studying in the EU.
The programme will be available on: t.co/ZbJaM9HY7e until 24 July. The topic starts at 38.30 minutes.
Personal Independence Payment
PIP applies from 20 June 2016 for new claims. It replaces DLA for people aged between 16 and 64. More information on NI Direct.
Law Centre (NI) is running a one-day course for advisers on 5 July. More information, and to register: Personal Independence Payment - Belfast
Bedroom tax and benefit cap: mitigations measures in practice
- Bedroom tax
In a written update this month, DfC minister Paul Givan explained what his Department is doing to ensure that the bedroom tax and Social Sector Size Criteria:
“Officials are currently working through options to mitigate the Social Sector Size Criteria to ensure that no household will be financially impacted by the changes in how housing benefit payment is calculated.
The legislation to introduce the mitigation scheme will be brought before the NI Assembly later this year. This will enable the Social Sector Size Criteria to be totally mitigated in NI from January 2017. (...)
To date neither my Department or the Northern Ireland Housing Executive have issued letters informing people that as a result of implementing the Social Sector Size Criteria they need to seek alternative accommodation or that they will be subject to the Bedroom Tax.”
- Benefit cap
The Law Centre expressed our concerns to the Department for Communities that private sector tenants affected by the benefit cap may encounter difficulties as their Housing Benefit payment will be reduced but the mitigating supplementary payment will be paid four weeks in arrears. The Department has responded that:
- information sessions have been held with NIHE, some housing associations and the Landlords Association NI;
- landlords paid directly have been notified in the hope that they will accept the four weeks delay in getting the supplementary payment and not pass on the problem to their tenants;
- tenants who get paid directly are expected to take responsibility for the shortfall in Housing Benefit (ie pay the full rent) until the supplementary payment is paid back to them four weeks in arrears.
New regulations on simplying and extending Industrial Injuries Benefit Scheme in Northern Ireland
The Industrial Injuries Benefit (Employment Training Schemes and Courses) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (SR.No.238/2016), together with provisions in the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015, extend the provision of industrial injuries benefits to people participating in certain employment training schemes and courses; and
The Industrial Injuries Benefit (Injuries arising before 5th July 1948) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (SR.No.239/2016) enable those who were entitled to receive payments under the Workmen’s Compensation (Supplementation) Scheme 1982 to instead be paid industrial injuries benefit under the main industrial injuries disablement benefit scheme.
These regulations mainly come into effect from 31 October 2016, although the section related to Universal Credit changes comes into effect after the introduction of UC.
New regulations on sanctions in ESA and JSA in Northern Ireland
New sanctions regimes will apply immediately after the introduction of Universal Credit (planned for 2017):
- ESA: SR.No.240/2016 provides for:
- an open-ended part of a sanction of one week for every seven-day period during which a claimant fails to meet a compliance condition which will be lifted when the claimant meets a compliance condition or agrees to do so on a scheduled date;
- a fixed period part of the sanction of one week for a first failure, two weeks for a second failure within 52 weeks of the first, and four weeks when it is a third or subsequent failure which is within 52 weeks of the last previous failure (except when the subsequent failure occurs within 2 weeks of the previous failure).
- also provides for access to hardship payments, effective dates of sanction and the increase of the sanctionable amount to 100 per cent of the prescribed ESA amount for a single person (currently £73.10).
- JSA: SR.No.241/2016 provides for:
- higher level sanctions - for example for leaving a job voluntarily, or through misconduct, or failing to take up a job or mandatory work activity - which will lead to claimants losing all of their JSA for a fixed period of 13 weeks for a first failure, 26 weeks for a second failure, and 78 weeks for a third and subsequent failure (within a 52-week period of their last failure);
- intermediate level sanctions - following disentitlement for not being available or actively seeking work - of four weeks for a first failure, rising to 13 weeks for a second or subsequent failure (within a 52-week period of their last failure) to be applied following a period of disallowance; and
- lower level sanctions - for example for failure to attend an adviser interview or failing to attend a training scheme - which will lead to fixed sanctions for 4 weeks for a first failure, and 13 weeks for a second or subsequent failure within 52 weeks of the previous failure.
New regulations on introduction of Universal Credit to Northern Ireland starting in 2017
New Regulations on the introduction of Universal Credit, published on 6 June, complement Part 1 of the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 (S.I.2015/2006 (N.I. 1).
They make provision for the gradual introduction of Universal Credit and abolition of income-related Employment and Support Allowance and income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.
They also amend other pieces of legislation on matters affected by the change such as Income Support and other related benefits, Child Support and housing renewal grants and provide that a person entitled to universal credit will be credited with a class 3 national insurance contribution.
Government plans are to introduce Universal Credit gradually, starting in 2017.
New regulations remove DLA and PIP payment time limits for under 18s in hospital
New regulations have been issued to remove the 84-day and 28-day payment limits for DLA and Personal Independence Payment for young people who are under 18 when first entering hospital. These changes will apply from 6 July 2016. See: SR.No 235/2016
Benefit cap: briefing for advisers
Benefit cap and supplementary payment apply from 31 May
From 31 May 2016 the benefit cap limits the amount, in total, that claimants can receive in benefit payments each week. In practice, this should not have an immediate financial impact on claimants as the related supplementary payment also applies from this date until 31 March 2020. However, as benefit requirements change (for example if the family has a new child), their supplementary payment will not increase. Read more here.
Mandatory reconsideration and direct lodgement of appeals: Law Centre (NI) briefing
This briefing for frontline advisers answers some of the most commonly asked questions at information sessions delivered by the Law Centre's social security advisers:
Mandatory reconsideration goes live
From 23 May 2016, Mandatory reconsideration is the initial stage that a person must go through in challenging a social security decision made on or after that date.
From that date, it is no longer possible to lodge an appeal against a social security decision unless a Mandatory Reconsideration Decision Notice is attached to the appeal.
The Law Centre will run a training session on mandatory reconsideration on 22 June.
New regulations made
New statutory rules were made in early May to pave the way for more changes to the benefits system in Northern Ireland. They come into force on 20 June 2016 unless otherwise stated. Read more here about regulations SR.Nos 216, 221, 224 and 229 / 2016.
Welfare reform changes: DfC starts information campaign
The Department for Communities has started its campaign to communicate the changes to the welfare system in Northern Ireland, including information posted on www.nidirect.gov.uk/welfarechanges
The new Department for Communities
The new Department for Communities (DfC) came into effect on 9 May.
The functions of the new department include:
- the roles and responsibilities of the former Department for Social Development (DSD).
- Employment Service and Economic Inactivity Strategy from the former Department of Employment and Learning (DEL)
- debt advice and financial capability strategy from the former Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI);
- local government from the former Department of the Environment (DOE), including Built Heritage from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA);
- the existing functions of the former Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), excluding inland fisheries & waterways.
A number of functions were also transferred from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).
Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016
The Welfare Reform & Work Act received royal assent on 16 March 2016. The sections which apply to Northern Ireland are detailed in Section 35. They include:
- freezing of Child Benefit and of certain tax credit amounts for four years, starting in April 2016;
- limiting Child Tax Credit to two children per family, starting in April 2017.
The Act can be found here: www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2016/7/contents/enacted/data.htm
Mandatory Reconsideration regulations now online
The amending regulations for Mandatory Reconsideration are available here:
Mandatory Reconsideration will come into force on 23 May 2016.
The Regulations amend the Child Support (Maintenance Assessment Procedure) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1992, the Social Security and Child Support (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999 (“the Decisions and Appeals Regulations”), the Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Claims and Reconsiderations) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008 (“the Mesothelioma Regulations”) and the Child Support Maintenance Calculation Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012.
They enable the Department for Social Development (soon to be the Department for Communities) to require a person to apply for a decision to be revised before before being permitted to appeal to an appeal tribunal.
The restriction applies where the Department gives a person written notice to that effect and, in such cases, a person has a right to appeal only if the Department has considered on an application whether to revise the decision. These Regulations also make provision for the Department to treat a purported appeal as an application for a revision.
The Regulations also make similar changes to Regulations regarding other appeals relating to:
- certain child support decisions;
- certificates of recoverable benefits and certificates of recoverable lump sum payments; and
- payments in respect of mesothelioma.
In relation to appeals relating to Child Support decisions the changes come into operation on 11 July 2016. For all other appeals the changes come into operation on 23 May.
The Regulations also:
- make related amendments to enable a person who must apply for a decision to be revised before they are permitted to appeal to request a written statement of reasons for the decision, specify the time within which that statement is to be provided and for extending the time in which a person is able to make an application for a decision to be revised.
- amend Mesothelioma Regulations to enable the Department to extend the time by which a person must apply for reconsideration of a determination.
DSD estimates benefit cap could affect over 9,000 Northern Ireland children from 2020
The Department for Social Development has published a report into the impact of plans to lower the benefit cap.
As part of the mitigations secured for Northern Ireland, any families (where there is at least one dependent child or qualifying young person) who experience a reduction in benefit payments due to the benefit cap will receive a supplementary payment equal to the amount of lost benefit. These payments will continue to available for those affected up to March 2020. The figures below would therefore affect families in practice from April 2020.
DSD estimates that the initial rates of the benefit cap would apply to 400 families in Northern Ireland, containing 2,060 children. These rates will be:
- £500 a week if household is made up of a couple (with or without children) or of a lone parent and who has children living with her/him, that s/he is responsible for ; or
- £350 a week for single people who have no children living with them.
The benefit cap is due to be lowered to £385/£258 per week at a later date. The report estimates that, at this reduced rate, it could affect a total of 2,440 families, with approximately 9,140 children.
There are 45,440 households estimated to be exempt because an adult in the household is in receipt of DLA; a further 7,560 are exempt for other reasons.
Two new measures now in force
From 1 April, for ESA, JSA and IS, the waiting period before housing costs (including help with mortgage interest) can be met is increased from 13 weeks to 39 weeks
From 4 April, the amount a person can pay as a penalty in order to avoid prosecution changes from 30% of the overpayment to 50% (subject to a maximum of £2,000)
Date set for Mandatory Reconsideration
23 May 2016 has been set as the date for the Introduction of Mandatory Reconsideration and Direct Lodgment of appeals
Planned ESA cuts: the impact in practice
This Guardian article gives a clear explanation of what the £30 per week cut in Employment and Support Allowance would mean in practice for future claimants in the work-related activity group. It also explains the anxiety among existing claimants who will also be affected if they come off ESA and have to make a fresh claim, and why this could be a barrier to them actively seeking work.
NIHE rents frozen to help save on Housing Benefit
NIHE rents will be frozen in 16-17 to help make savings in Housing Benefit requested by HM Treasury.
However, cuts in social rent equivalent to those in England would make Northern Ireland's social housing unsustainable, said Minister for Development Lord Morrow.
He explained this decision in a written question by Andy Allen MLA:
"The Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s rents have been at much lower levels than local authority rents in England for some time. Their current level is lower than the level comparable English rents will reach even after reductions over the next four years.
Increases are needed to close this gap and sustain the stock of the NIHE. My Department recently released survey results that show that £1.5bn of investment is needed in the NIHE stock in the 5 years from 2015/16. Rental levels must help support that investment requirement.
Following the policy decision to cut social rents in England, HM Treasury indicated that the devolved administrations would be expected to identify proportionate savings in Housing Benefit. In light of this, I decided to freeze Northern Ireland Housing Executive rents for 2016/17 and recommended that Housing Associations should also apply a rent freeze. I am keenly aware of the impact of this decision for the Housing Executive and its maintenance programme and officials will continue to engage with HM Treasury on this matter as a priority."
The answer in full is on the Northern Ireland Assembly's AIMS portal.
Come and discuss welfare reform developments at our practitioners' meeting
The meeting will be held at Law Centre (NI), 124 Donegall Street, Belfast on Wednesday 13 April 11am – 1pm.
All advisers are encouraged to attend this free event, which will cover the timeline for Welfare Reform and NI Mitigation scheme
Northern Ireland mitigations for benefit cap and Contributory ESA: new regs come into force on 31 May
On 18 March, the regulations introducing 'welfare supplementary payments' to help mitigate the effects of the benefit cap and of new time limits for contributory ESA.
The regulations describe the maximum amount and duration of 'welfare supplementary payment' to be made where a person’s housing benefit is capped after 31 May 2016.
They also detail the conditions for entitlement to a payment if contributory ESA finishes because the new 365 days time limit for those in the work-related activity group.
The Welfare Supplementary Payments (Northern Ireland) 2016 can be found here: SR.No.178/2016
PIP cuts abandoned: what of other benefit cuts?
Extracts from new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Stephen Crabb's statement to Parliament on 21 March 2016:
“Before Christmas, the Government held a consultation on how part of the PIP assessment worked in relation to aids and appliances. As the Prime Minister indicated on Friday, I can tell the House that we will not be going ahead with the changes to PIP that had been put forward.
(…) we have no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the very substantial savings legislated for by Parliament two weeks ago, which we will now focus on implementing.
(…) As we are required to do, we will review the level of the cap at the autumn statement, when the Office for Budget Responsibility formally reassesses it, but I repeat that we have no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the very substantial savings legislated for by Parliament two weeks ago, which we will now focus on implementing.”
Mitigations for ESA and benefit cap
New regulations have been made available which make provision for some of the mitigation payments for people who will be affected by welfare reform in Northern Ireland: contribution-based ESA and benefit cap.
The regulations have cleared the Committee stage and are being debated at the Northern Ireland Assembly on Monday 14 March.
The Assembly cannot amend the regulations but can only express a wish for them to be annulled or passed into law.
Find out more about what the Welfare Reform Supplementary Payments Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 will mean in practice.
In correspondence with the Law Centre, the Social Security Agency has confirmed that EEA nationals in receipt of Universal Credit will not automatically be placed in the ‘all work-related requirement’ group. This follows a change in the legislation in Great Britain. This means that EEA nationals will be subject to work-related requirements on the same basis as all other Universal Credit claimants i.e. their personal circumstances will be taken into account.
On 6 April 2016, new rules come into force which will ensure that people moving between NI and GB will not have to make fresh claims or go through a stressful new Work Capability Assessment for:
- Employment and Support Allowance (ESA);
- Personal Independence Payment (PIP) when it is introduced in Northern Ireland from 20 June 2016.
- The Social Security (NI Reciprocal Arrangements) Regulations 2016 provide for a decision to be recognised once the person moves within the UK without further assessment.
Read SR 2016.No 287 here.
This Law Centre (NI) paper was written to brief the Committee for Social Development on the implementation of the mitigations regulations. It sets out the Law Centre's recommendations on steps towards the effective implementation of the mitigations set out in professor Evason's Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group Report.
Northern Ireland regulations on State Pension for people reaching pensionable age on or after 6 April 2016 came into force on 25 February.
Regulations have now been passed which means that the benefit cap will apply in Northern Ireland from 31 May 2016.
The first set of regulations regarding the implementation of welfare reform in Northern Ireland are detailed here. They include the abolition of ESA in Youth for new claims as well as provisions on benefit cap, discretionary payments, dual entitlement to ESA etc.
Law Centre (NI), with Northern Visions NVTV, presents an introduction to welfare reform in Northern Ireland. The half hour programme discusses the history and developments which have shaped welfare reform in Northern Ireland, and examines concerns, proposed mitigations and plans for implementation.
Recorded at the Law Centre (NI) AGM, Professor Eileen Evason, Child Poverty Action Group's Alison Garnham, Northen Ireland's Chief Commissioner for Human Rights Les Allamby, and Gráinne McKeever of the Social Security Advisory Committee discuss welfare reform.
The report of the Welfare Reform Mitigations Group (the 'Evason report') makes a number of recommendations to soften the impact of welfare reform in Northern Ireland and provide independent advice to people who need support as they navigate the changes to the benefit system.
Chaired by Professor Eileen Evason, the Group was set up as part of the Fresh Start Agreement.