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Cliff Edge Welcomes Minister’s Commitment to Extend Welfare Mitigations But Concerns Remain Over Families Hit by Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap

13th October, 2020

Cliff Edge Coalition Press Release

The Cliff Edge Coalition welcomed the Minister for Communities commitment earlier this month to introduce new legislation to provide for an extension of the welfare mitigation payments. The Coalition also welcomed the Minister’s recognition that new regulations should include additional mitigations for families affected by the benefit cap and two child rule.

However, today, the Coalition has called on the Minister to urgently ensure that the new legislation is fit for purpose by closing two major loopholes in respect of the bedroom tax and benefit cap. These two mitigation measures were brought in to provide protection from the disproportionate impact they would have on people in Northern Ireland. Despite a very welcome extension of the mitigation package beyond March of this year, there has been a worrying increase in people impacted by loopholes that deny them access to these mitigation payments.

A spokesperson from the Cliff Edge Coalition said: “While we are very assured by the Minister's commitments to extend the mitigation package, urgent action is needed to close the current loopholes in the mitigation package, particularly in the context of the current pandemic, as thousands more households rely on universal credit.

“Households impacted by the bedroom tax face significant arrears, which can lead to housing stress and ultimately an increased risk of homelessness.

“As demonstrated by Annie’s story, some families are losing in excess of £1,000 per month due to the benefit cap. They are having to make excruciating decisions to get by on a day to day basis.

“At a time when people need to be protected from the economic impact of Coronavirus, the recent benefits statistics show a worrying increase in people being impacted by the bedroom tax and benefit cap, both of which have been roundly rejected in Northern Ireland because they have a disproportionate impact on families here. This is on top of the additional challenges such as universal credit, including the two child limit and cuts to housing benefits in the private rented sector.”

Annie’s Story:

Annie is a lone parent of six children, living in a private rented sector property. She is not able to work due to caring for her six children, including two children with complex needs. Annie was awarded a grace period which was initially protecting her from the impact of the benefit cap between August 2019 and May 2020. However, from May she has been subject to a benefit cap deduction in excess of £1,000 per month. This leaves Annie with just over £150 per week of universal credit to sustain herself and six children, including food and bills.

Annie was previously in receipt of a benefit cap welfare supplementary payment, however, because there was a break in entitlement, she is no longer able to receive this mitigation payment.

Annie said: “It seems like the benefit cap has been designed to hurt families just like mine. I was being protected from it but now we’re losing over £1,000 per month. That’s money I need to feed and look after my children.

“At a time when the government is trying to protect people from the impact of Coronavirus, it feels like we’ve been left behind.”

Ends

Notes to Editor:

  • The Cliff Edge Coalition recently published a briefing paper highlighting the current issues around mitigation measures. Find it here.
  • Recent benefit cap figures published by the Department for Communities state that the average amount capped is £50 per week. Find them here.
  • Recent universal credit statistics published by the Department for Communities showed that the number of households on universal credit rose from 57,910 in February 2020 to 108,620 in May 2020. Find them here.
  • The Cliff Edge Coalition is a group of over one hundred organisations from across Northern Ireland who came together to highlight their shared concerns about the end of the welfare reform mitigations package in March 2020. The coalition continues to campaign for legislation to extend and strengthen mitigations, and more generally raises concerns around the impact of welfare reform in Northern Ireland.


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