Welfare Policy in Northern Ireland Contents

1The mitigation package

Background

1.As part of the UK’s devolution arrangements, responsibility for welfare policy is transferred to Northern Ireland. Welfare policy in Northern Ireland operates on the “principle of parity”, the principle that Northern Ireland will generally replicate welfare policy in Great Britain, and that where Northern Ireland has different systems or entitlements, these will be funded through NI Executive funds.1

2.The 2015 Fresh Start agreement, which resulted from cross-party talks in Northern Ireland, committed to implementing the welfare reforms legislated for by the UK Parliament in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2012. The agreement also included funding for a package of measures, worth up to £585 million over four years (to the end of March 2020), paid for by NI Executive funds, to ‘mitigate’ some of the welfare changes.2 The NI Executive created a working group, chaired by Professor Eileen Evason, to make proposals for a mitigation package within the agreed budget.

3.The Working Group was asked to provide recommendations for:

Those claimant groups who could be defined as vulnerable and for whom the resources within the approved financial envelope should be used to provide financial support in addition to that available through the UK welfare system; and

How best to allocate the available funding to afford the greatest level of protection taking account of the degree by which the proposed changes impact on those vulnerable groups.3

The mitigation package

4.The Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group reported in January 2016. The Working Group recommended mitigation measures falling into three strands:

a)supplementary payments targeted at carers, and those with ill-health, disability or families. These measures were implemented in full through Welfare Supplementary Payments;

b)supporting and protecting claimants through advice, including a specialist helpline to assist claimants in the case of sanctions, to help them to make an appeal or to apply for hardship payments. These recommendations were implemented through funding the advice sector;

c)payments in recognition of the cost of employment, to address working poverty. These were known as ‘Cost of Working Allowances’. This strand of the Working Group’s recommendations was not implemented, since the Assembly was not in place to pass the necessary secondary legislation. The Department for Communities was also told by HMRC that any such payments would constitute taxable income, with significant implications for the net benefit to recipients.4

5.Most of the spending within the mitigation package is on what the Department for Communities calls “Welfare Supplementary Payments”. Claimants do not need to apply for these payments: the Department for Communities identifies all eligible claimants and pays them automatically. Welfare Supplementary Payments fall broadly into two categories.5 The first category is payments which fully offset the effect of the Social Sector Size Criteria (the “bedroom tax”, or SSSC) and the benefit cap.6 These payments are made for up to four years (the full length of the mitigation package) and make up the difference between what a claimant would have received if the “bedroom tax” or benefit cap did not apply to them, and what they actually receive. The second category is payments limited to a year or less which offset (in full or in part) reduced or lost entitlement to disability benefits (or lost entitlement to Carers Allowance, carers premia, or Income Support as a result of a cared-for person losing entitlement to disability benefits) as a result of a reassessment when moving from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The different Welfare Supplementary Payments are set out in full in table 1 below.

6.The mitigation package also included Discretionary Support Awards and a Universal Credit Contingency Fund. Discretionary Support Awards are payments made to claimants in case of a need arising from a crisis situation7 The awards are only available to adults ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland, where the need arises and is met in Northern Ireland, and the claimant’s income (or joint income) does not exceed an income threshold.8 Payments from the Universal Credit Contingency Fund are made through the Discretionary Support Scheme in the form of non-repayable grants. The average value of an award was £240 in 2017–18 and £225 in April-September 2018.9

Basis for different provision in Northern Ireland

7.The mitigation package was designed on the basis that Northern Ireland faces specific circumstances that mean that welfare reforms should not apply there in the same way as in the rest of the UK. Professor Eileen Evason, who chaired the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group, described the package to us as “mitigations by reference to our special circumstances”.10 Professor Evason explained that the mitigations were designed to offset the impact of reforms that would have a disproportionate effect on Northern Ireland:

[…] the cuts would come in two waves with varying effects across the UK. In the first wave those most affected would be households in high rent areas with London leading the way. With lower rents and less pressure on housing, the impact on Northern Ireland, though unwelcome, would be moderate. Northern Ireland would, however, be the region most affected by the second wave of cuts which would include the cuts to incapacity and disability benefits contained in the 2012 Welfare Reform Act. With regard to the bedroom tax, as elsewhere, the, albeit debateable, logic of this did not fit the nature of our housing stock.

Table 1: Welfare Supplementary Payments

Policy/scenario

Extent of mitigation

Expenditure

2017–18

Duration of payment

Caseload 2016–17

Caseload 2017–18

Benefit cap

Actual loss

£3.8m

Up to 4 years

2,020

700

Social Sector Size Criteria

Actual reduction [except where claimant moves and continues to under-occupy]

£22.1m

Up to 4 years

34,000

5,360

Loss of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) due to time-limiting of contributory ESA

Difference between contributory and income-related ESA awards; or full contributory ESA award

£5.9m

Up to 1 year

2,320

600

Moving from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independent Payment (PIP)

(a) claimants not qualifying for PIP–paid DLA award up until appeal outcome

£16.7m

Until appeal outcome notified

540

4,450

(b) claimants qualifying for PIP but who lose >£10 per week–paid 75% of the loss

Up to 1 year

870

8,150

(c) claimants not qualifying for PIP but who have 4 points on assessment and disability a result of NI conflict-related injuries

Up to 1 year

-

-

Loss of disability premia/elements due to not qualifying for PIP or lower rate of PIP

Actual value of premia/elements previously awarded

£2.4m

Up to 1 year

120

1,170

Loss of Carers Allowance / Income Support / Carers premia

Actual loss of Carers Allowance/Income support/carers premia due to loss of PIP by the person cared for

£2.3m

Up to 1 year

150

1,380

Source: Department for Communities (2019) Review of Welfare Mitigation Schemes; Advice NI, Housing Rights, Law Centre NI, Welfare Reform: Mitigations on a Cliff Edge (2018)

Housing stock in Northern Ireland

8.One of the most significant ways in which Northern Ireland differs from the rest of the UK is its housing stock, particularly its social housing stock. The UK Government has said that one of the main aims of the SSSC is to encourage social tenants to move to suitably sized properties.1112 If there is little or no suitable housing stock for tenants to move into, however, then this will not be able to happen.

9.Research by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) found that many claimants would be affected by the SSSC because of a mismatch between the size of most social housing in Northern Ireland and the situation of tenants. 88% of NIHE properties, and 68% of other housing association properties, have two or more bedrooms. Overall, therefore, less than a fifth (18%) of self-contained social housing stock in Northern Ireland has only one bedroom. However, single working-age applicants make up 45% of the social housing waiting list, and a similar proportion of housing allocations.13 Inevitably, this means that many of these tenants are likely to be subject to the “bedroom tax” if they are allocated social housing.

10.The Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland agreed that the current composition of social housing stock was a significant problem, telling us that:

Historically we have a lot of larger properties in the social rented sector, three-bedroomed houses, so there is quite a lot of mitigation that goes to the Housing Executive; I think it was £16 million last year. There are 25,000 properties that are under-occupied, I think. A wider issue then is looking at the composition of social housing stock and in the longer run how to get that more commensurate with modern-day requirements. That is a big issue and that is where I suppose mitigation has been particularly beneficial.14

11.The cultural context in Northern Ireland also means that social housing is, in practice, segregated along cultural and religious lines, further reducing the availability of suitable housing for different tenants. Professor Eileen Evason told us:

[In] Northern Ireland, we are very segregated. In fact, even when you buy a house you go on the web to find out the composition of the area you are moving into, so that is a very intractable problem.15

Kate McCauley, Policy Manager at Housing Rights, added that:

Around 90% of the social housing stock in Northern Ireland is located in what we refer to as single identity communities.16

For example, George, a claimant in receipt of Housing Benefit and SSSC mitigation payments, told us that he was worried that he may not be able to live in an area where he felt safe if he was forced to move as a result of the “bedroom tax”:

I live in Carrickfergus and it’s my persuasion, I live in quite a safe place. I don’t know where I would be moved to in Carrickfergus.17

12.We also heard that tenants in Northern Ireland would be subject to the SSSC even where tenants in a similar property in England and Wales would not be, because bedrooms are classified differently in Northern Ireland. Connswater Homes, a housing association, told us:

Northern Ireland differs from the rest of the UK in respect to the legislation which stipulates the minimum size a bedroom should be in order to be classified as a bedroom. Northern Ireland doesn’t have similar legislation and in effect tenants could have one of their bedrooms classified as a bedroom, which wouldn’t adhere to the minimum bedroom sizes outline in the Housing Act 1985 for the rest of the UK. Therefore tenants in Northern Ireland could be paying bedroom tax on a bedroom that would not be classified as bedroom in England, Scotland and Wales.18

Claimant vulnerability and poverty in Northern Ireland

13.Professor Evason argued that the Welfare Reforms Mitigations Working Group focussed on mitigations for loss of, or reduced, entitlement to disability benefits because of high levels of physical disability and mental ill-health in Northern Ireland.19

14.The British Association of Social Workers Northern Ireland argued that special provision in Northern Ireland is necessary because of the ongoing impact of the Troubles:

The variation in the level of welfare entitlement in NI compared to that in England, Scotland and Wales must be considered in the context of the ongoing personal, cultural and structural legacy of The Troubles. The interlinked impacts of societal trauma and poverty have led to disproportionately high rates of mental health problems, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. For this reason, NI must be afforded special consideration with regards to welfare entitlement.20

We asked Kelly Andrews, Chief Executive, Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid, and Professor Eileen Evason how distinct the mental health needs of Northern Ireland are. They told us:

Kelly Andrews: […] there is a direct correlation between suicide rates and mental ill health and the legacy of the Troubles. In Northern Ireland there is a 25% higher prevalence of mental illness than in England. When you look at the figures for increase in suicide rates, it is quite horrendous. Incidence of suicide in Northern Ireland has risen 115% in comparison to 10% for the UK equivalent. There is a direct link between the legacy of the Troubles, and also poverty plays a key factor within suicide rates. If someone has no money, perhaps for a long, long period of time, that can aggravate a mental health illness.

Professor Evason: What you have to remember in Northern Ireland is before we actually had the conflict we were in a worse position than anywhere else. Certainly, looking at figures relating to disability, we had higher levels of disability than most regions in Britain. We certainly had a more severe mental health problem, so you have that legacy, which was caused by poverty, different class structure, migration and various other factors. You had that, and then we piled on top of that all of the disability and mental ill health from the conflict.21

Differing levels of entitlement within the UK

15.Professor Eileen Evason acknowledged to us, however, that the mitigations cannot continue indefinitely and are justified because of the special circumstances in Northern Ireland. She added that it would be unfair to treat claimants in similar circumstances in different parts of the UK differently in the long-term:

I do think there is an argument in Northern Ireland to say, “We cannot have higher levels of benefit in Northern Ireland in perpetuity but, operationally, can we look at things and say, ‘Is there a way in which the Department can reorganise things, redo, tweak the item […]?’”

[…] it is very hard to say to somebody living in deep poverty in London, “Oh, people in the same circumstances in Northern Ireland are being treated better”, and I do have problems about equity but it does seem to me to be quite justifiable to say we should have higher payments and different arrangements where we have very different circumstances.22

16.The mitigation package in Northern Ireland reflects the fact that special circumstances can justify different treatment. The clearest example is the impact of the Social Sector Size Criteria (“bedroom tax”). In Northern Ireland, less than a fifth of social housing has only one bedroom but nearly half the people who need social housing are single tenants. Without mitigation in place, claimants in Northern Ireland would be penalised for the lack of suitable social housing stock, which evidently lies outside their control. The mitigation package is not, however, a long-term solution to underlying problems within the social security system. Whilst special circumstances can justify different treatment, by the same token claimants in similar circumstances in different parts of the UK should ultimately level up to similar levels of entitlement.

Has the mitigation package worked?

17.The evidence we received suggested that the mitigation package has generally been effective in achieving its aims. The Cliff Edge NI Coalition, a group of claimant support organisations including Advice NI, Housing Rights and Law Centre NI, concluded that “the mitigation package has been instrumental in insulating claimants in NI from some of the most severe impacts of the Government’s Welfare Reform programme.”23

18.The Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland told us that he considered that the mitigation package had generally been effective in achieving its aims, although he remained concerned about the level of underspend (which we discuss further below):

Certainly to some extent it has alleviated some of the hardships that it was meant to alleviate. The real problem is going forward, because of time lags and the fact that the fund is running out in March 2020 and it has not spent the amount that was originally projected.24

19.Denver Lynn, Director at the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO), told us that implementation of the mitigations had been relatively smooth, and that the systems for identifying and paying claimants had, on the whole, worked well. While some of the mitigations involved manual processes, the level of error has not been higher than it would have been otherwise:

Mitigations involve a lot of manual workarounds, but our understanding has been that those have been appropriate, on the whole. The appropriate people have received the benefits they expected to receive. Early indications are that there are some errors within that, but the DfC annual report and accounts record error inherent in benefits and that would be the same for DWP.25

20.The relative administrative cost of processing mitigation payments was higher than originally anticipated (£9 per £100 spent, compared to a budget of £7 per £100).26 However, the overall cost of administration for the mitigations is lower than originally budgeted.27

Welfare Supplementary Payments

21.Claimants do not need to apply for Welfare Supplementary Payments (WSP), since the Department for Communities identifies all eligible claimants and pays them automatically, without the claimant having to apply for them. This has meant, however, that many claimants are not aware that they are receiving these payments. Kate McCauley, Policy Manager at Housing Rights told us that:

There is a whole range of research, even by the Department, which says that a lot of people here receiving these mitigation payments do not even realise that they are getting them because they are automatic.28

22.While some payments, such as those to mitigate the “bedroom tax” and the benefit cap, are applied automatically to all claimants affected by those policies, other payments which provide mitigation in the case of transition or loss of eligibility are still paid without the claimant having to apply, but are only triggered when the claimant appeals. This has made accessing some mitigations difficult for claimants. The North Belfast Advice Partnership, for example, told us that:

[…] with DLA to PIP migration, in order to access the mitigation package people needed to lodge an appeal … this was not communicated by DFC [Department for Communities] to DLA to PIP clients therefore many individuals lose out on this WSP payment as they had no knowledge it existed29

The Cliff Edge NI Coalition suggested the number of claimants who are losing out was potentially very high:

Supplementary payment is available as a mitigation to those who are reassessed as not being entitled to PIP where a claimant has lodged an appeal against that decision. Between June 2016–May 2018, 16,040 people in NI were assessed as not having entitlement to a PIP award. Over a similar period, 5,490 people received supplementary payments. A significant proportion of claimants are missing out on the transitional support offered by this welfare reform mitigation.30

23.We also heard about cases where claimants learned that they would be eligible for mitigation payments if their PIP award was reduced, but felt under pressure not to appeal in case the award was reduced further. John, a PIP claimant, told us:

I brought the appeal and I was told that I could lose everything if I appealed […] so I decided not to appeal it. I found out that the Government were going to top my money up, but I was not aware whatsoever that would stop in March.31

24.The Permanent Secretary for the Department for Communities observed that “people continue to get their levels during the appeal process so there is an automatic incentive to appeal, but fewer people chose to appeal than we expected”.32

Discretionary Support Scheme

25.The welfare mitigation package includes provisions for Discretionary Support Awards and payments from a Universal Credit Contingency Fund. Discretionary Support Awards are one-off payments to meet a need arising from an “extreme, exceptional or crisis situation that presents a significant risk to the health, safety or well-being of the claimant or a member of their immediate family”.33 The Universal Credit Contingency Fund provides “emergency financial support for Universal Credit claimants who remain in hardship after alternative assistance has been taken into account”.34

26.People applying for payments from the UC Contingency Fund and the Discretionary Support Scheme must meet various criteria to be eligible. Between 2014/15 and 2017/18, the number of grants and loans awarded—including the devolved social fund expenditure from 2013 and the Discretionary Support scheme as part of the mitigation package—declined from 115,000 to 47,000, a reduction of 60 per cent. As a result, annual expenditure fell from £27 million in 2014–15 to £11 million in 2017/18. The Department for Communities told the NIAO that the reduction was because the criteria for loans and grants was more stringent than those for the Social Fund that the Discretionary Support Scheme replaced.35 For example, the Social Fund criteria did not include an income ceiling. The eligibility criteria for receipt of a Discretionary Support Award are set out below:

Box 1: Eligibility criteria for Discretionary Support Awards

  • The claimant is ordinarily resident and present in Northern Ireland
  • The need cannot be met from another source
  • The claimant is at least 18 years old or a minimum of 16 years old in the case of a young person without parental support
  • The need for Discretionary Support occurs in Northern Ireland
  • The need is satisfied in Northern Ireland
  • The claimant’s income, or in the case of a couple their joint income, does not exceed the income threshold currently set with reference to the national minimum wage for a person over the age of 25
  • A living expenses award in respect of a period for which an award has already been made to either the claimant or their partner will not be considered except in the event of a disaster
  • A claim made within 12 months of a previous claim by the same person for the same goods for which an award has already been made will not be considered except in the event of a disaster
  • The claimant’s Government debt level, including, where appropriate, that of their partner, does not exceed £1,000
  • Discretionary Support assistance provided will normally be the lowest cost to meet the need
  • The claimant has made use of any available capital before applying for Discretionary Support.

Source: Department for Communities (2019) Review of Welfare Mitigation Schemes, p25

27.In its January 2019 report, Welfare reforms in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Audit Office questioned why the eligibility criteria for Discretionary Support Awards were so prescriptive, comparing the arrangements with those in Scotland and Wales:

Setting specific eligibility criteria is at odds with the concept of discretionary awards and alleviating claimant vulnerability. We note that similar schemes in Scotland and Wales […] have not set such prescriptive eligibility criteria.36

28.We asked the NIAO about its concerns. Denver Lynn, Director at the NIAO, told us that:

What we found slightly difficult or slightly hard to understand was why you would strengthen the eligibility criteria for that at a point in time when welfare reform was in place and the Department was then producing mitigation measures. We saw that as slightly at odds.37

The Discretionary Assistance Fund (DAF) in Wales and the Scottish Welfare Fund, for example, do not include an income ceiling within their eligibility criteria.38 The Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland suggested in particular that the income ceiling for Discretionary Support Awards was one of the restrictive criteria:

One of the criteria, for example, was an income threshold around £16,000, so that is possibly a factor.39

29.Department for Communities officials acknowledged that “the budget that has been set has not been spent as much or we are not spending as much of the budget as we would have done under the social fund previously”.40 David Tarr, an official at the Department, added that the Department is “carrying out a fundamental review of the entire policy” but that this would be used to inform decisions by an incoming Minister, as any changes to the Discretionary Support Awards criteria would need to be approved by the Assembly.41

30.To apply for non-repayable grants from the Universal Credit Contingency Fund, the Department requires that claimants take out a Universal Credit advance, which must be repaid.42 Claimants must also not yet have received their first full month’s payment of UC and not have received a Discretionary Support Fund grant for living expenses in the last 12 months. Unlike the criteria for Discretionary Support Awards, this is a policy decision by the Department which is not set down in legislation.43 Housing Rights argued that the current criteria are “restrictive and preclude[s] some groups of claimants from this support in instances where they are at risk of hardship following the transfer to UC”.44

Independent advisory services

31.The mitigation package includes funding for independent advisory services, worth up to £8 million until 2020. This funding has paid for programmes such as training welfare reform and Universal Credit advisers, housing rights training, welfare reform “awareness” sessions for local authorities and statutory bodies, and support officers to liaise between advice organisations and the Department for Communities.45

32.Management information submitted by advice organisations to the Department for Communities showed a steady increase in the volume of both advice sessions and calls to the independent helpline between 2016 and 2018, as well as an increase in the number of helpline callers being referred to the face-to-face advisory service.46

33.As well as funding independent advisory services through the mitigation package, the Department for Communities has its own advice service called “Make the Call”, which provides advice and assistance to claimants on benefit entitlement through a telephone helpline and home visits. The advice service also sends targeted letters offering a Needs Assessment to people who may be eligible to receive benefits but are not currently receiving them.47

34.In its January 2019 report on welfare reform, the Northern Ireland Audit Office recommended that the Department evaluate the value for money of the independent advisory services, and consider what the right balance is between the Department’s own advice service and independent services after March 2020.48 The Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland clarified in oral evidence that the NIAO had found that independent advisory services were generally working well, and that the NIAO recommended that the evaluation should be completed simply as a matter of good practice.49

Underspend

35.A large amount of the funding allocated for the mitigation package has not been spent. Some £136m of the available funding was not used in 2016/17 and 2017/18, which does not include £1.4m of unused funding for independent advice services.50

36.Administration costs have also been underspent each year (by around £2.6m in 2016/17, and £0.6m in 2017/18). The Department for Communities has explained that the early administrative underspends were because “the welfare reforms were not rolled out to the timetable expected, and that resulted in the staff required to administer the Welfare Supplementary Payments not being required as anticipated”.51

37.The NIAO report on Welfare Reforms in Northern Ireland outlined the likely reasons for the significant underspend:

a)the Cost of Work Allowance Scheme (expected to cost £37 million per year including administration costs) was not implemented;

b)start dates for reforms varied throughout 2016–17. For example, the “bedroom tax” was not introduced until February 2017, and so £13 million was unspent in 2016–17;

c)there was a delay before claimants were transferred across to new benefits and entitlements, for example, from DLA to PIP;

d)£24 million of funding for the Discretionary Support Scheme was not used; and

e)There was lower entitlement to ESA mitigation payments than predicted, because fewer claimants were claiming contributory ESA (which was eligible for mitigation payments). This meant that an additional £15 million was unspent.52

38.The most significant single reason for the underspend was the unspent £37 million per year in both 2017/18 and 2018/19 as a result of the non-implementation of the Cost of Work Allowance.53 The Working Group described the Cost of Work Allowance as “supplementary payments in recognition of the expenses those in employment incur with a special weighting for lone parents taking account of the cost of childcare.”54 The Allowance was not able to be implemented because of the absence of an Executive and Assembly. The Department for Communities was also told by HMRC that any such payments would constitute taxable income, with significant implications for the net benefit to recipients.55 The Department for Communities explained that it had:

developed the outline of a scheme, and the necessary primary legislation to provide for these payments has been made. However, the more detailed policy is subject to Ministerial approval and will require appropriate secondary legislation. In the absence of the Assembly, the Department has [therefore] not yet been able to implement the Cost of Work Allowance scheme.56

Policies not covered by the mitigation package

39.Some welfare reforms that had been implemented recently in Northern Ireland were not subject to mitigation as part of the package. Written evidence from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Ruth Patrick (University of York) and Mark Simpson (Ulster University) argued that the mitigations that were put in place were not necessarily those which would financially affect claimants the most:

the biggest impacts of social security reform in NI have not been mitigated. While the mitigations to the SSSC, Benefit Cap and PIP have had a high profile, the reforms resulting in the largest financial losses to large numbers of people have not been subject to mitigation measures. These include cuts to tax credits and the changes to annual uprating of benefit levels (including the four-year freeze on benefits). […] there have also been no mitigations against changes in levels of entitlement under UC, nor to the two-child limit, both of which we expect to disproportionately affect NI.57

40.The Cliff Edge NI coalition similarly argued that:

The largest financial losses to large numbers of individuals and households have arisen from changes to Tax Credits, Child Benefit and a reduction in annual benefit rate uplifts since 2011. These welfare reforms have not been subject to mitigation measures.58

41.Professor Evason argued that although the two-child benefit limit would be an “obvious” policy to mitigate in Northern Ireland, it was not included in the original mitigation package as, although the policy was announced prior to the Working Group’s report, it was due to be implemented later, in April 2017.59

42.The choice of policies to mitigate was, however, partly restricted by the terms of reference for the Working Group, which required the proposed measures to provide financial support specifically for vulnerable claimant groups, and to “afford the greatest level of protection taking account of the degree by which the proposed changes impact on those vulnerable groups”.60

43.Overall, the welfare reform mitigation package in Northern Ireland has been a success. Automatic payment of Welfare Supplementary Payments has ensured that claimants receive the payments they are entitled to, although the requirement that claimants must appeal a decision to trigger some disability-related mitigation payments could be better advertised and explained to claimants. While other policies could have been addressed by the mitigation package, there will always be a trade-off between mitigating the largest overall financial losses and providing targeted support to the most vulnerable. The Working Group’s original proposals struck a good balance between these objectives.

44.We recommend that, if PIP mitigation payments continue, the Department for Communities clearly outlines the different triggers for mitigation payments to claimants in decision letters, to enable them to make an informed decision about their claim.

45.A large amount of the funding allocated for the mitigation package has not been spent. The single main reason is that the Cost of Work Allowance was never implemented. This was because there was no Executive and Assembly in place to do so. This is not, however, true of all the areas of spending. The budget for Discretionary Support Awards and the Universal Credit Contingency Fund is likely to have been underspent because of their restrictive eligibility criteria. The current criteria are out of line with practice in the other devolved administrations, and—in the case of the UC Contingency Fund—require claimants to take on debt before they can access help.

46.We recommend that the criteria for Discretionary Support Awards are made less restrictive. In particular, a specific income ceiling for Discretionary Support Awards should be removed, in line with practice in Wales and Scotland. The requirement that claimants must take out a Universal Credit advance before being eligible for grants from the Universal Credit Contingency Fund should also be removed.


1 Department for Communities (WEL0037)

2 Northern Ireland Executive, A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan (November 2015), pp22–23

4 Department for Communities (2019) Review of Welfare Mitigation Schemes, p13

6 The Social Sector Size Criteria (“bedroom tax”) is the Government’s policy that working-age social tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit should have a reduction in their benefit entitlement if they live in housing that is deemed to be too large for their needs. The benefit cap is the Government’s policy to restrict the total benefits paid to most people of working age. The cap is currently set at £23,000 in London (£15,410 for single people) and £20,000 (£13,400 for single people) in the rest of the UK.

7 The Discretionary Support Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016

8 Department for Communities (2019) Review of Welfare Mitigation Schemes, p25

9 Department for Communities (2019) Review of Welfare Mitigation Schemes, p26

11 Professor Eileen Evason (WEL0008)

13 Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Welfare Reform NI: A Scoping Report (2018), p43

18 Connswater Homes (WEL0011)

20 British Association of Social Workers Northern Ireland (WEL0003)

2323 Cliff Edge NI Coalition (WEL0033)

27 NIAO, Welfare Reforms in Northern Ireland (2019), Appendix 5

29 North Belfast Advice Partnership (WEL0016)

30 Cliff Edge NI Coalition (WEL0033)

33 The Discretionary Support Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016

34 Department for Communities (2019) Review of Welfare Mitigation Schemes, p37

42 Housing Rights (WEL0019)

44 Housing Rights (WEL0019)

45 Department for Communities (2019) Review of Welfare Mitigation Schemes, p27

50 Department for Communities (2019) Review of Welfare Mitigation Schemes, p32

51 Department for Communities (2019) Review of Welfare Mitigation Schemes, p33

53 Department for Communities (2019) Review of Welfare Mitigation Schemes, p55

55 Department for Communities (2019) Review of Welfare Mitigation Schemes, p13

56 Department for Communities (2019) Review of Welfare Mitigation Schemes, p35

57 Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Mark Simpson (Ulster University), Ruth Patrick (University of York) (joint submission) (WEL0022)

58 Cliff Edge NI Coalition (WEL0033)

59 Professor Eileen Evason (WEL0008)




Published: 9 September 2019