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Law Centre NI troubled by potential impact of Department for Communities draft budget

Law Centre NI has expressed deep concern about the Department for Communities Draft Budget for 2021-22 which would see Northern Ireland’s Independent Advice Sector lose around £1.5m in funding.

Commenting on the Draft Budget, Law Centre NI’s Director, Ursula O’Hare, said

“This is a worrying development for all those who rely on the advice sector across the region. If realised, these proposals would massively restrict the sector’s ability to deliver its services, right when they are most needed.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen huge numbers of people facing redundancy and having to access the social security system for the first time. This is against a backdrop of the continuing roll out of welfare reform, a huge backlog of cases in the appeal system and clients now facing remote hearings for the first time.

Given all of this, there has never been a more critical need for specialist advice and support. Without proper funding, the sector will not be able to provide the vital assistance needed and fair and effective access to justice will suffer as a result.

We strongly urge the Minister for the Communities and her colleagues in the NI Executive to prioritise a reconsideration of these Budgetary allocations to secure the resources to deliver the support that is so critically needed.

In addition, although the Draft Budget has set aside funding to extend the existing Welfare Reform Mitigations and to address some ‘loopholes’ in the current legislation, the key commitment in the New Decade, New Approach deal to strengthen the mitigations is not part of the Draft Budget. We call on the Executive as a whole to honour the commitments made in the deal.”