Benefit Claimants to face devastating blow if legislation not introduced

Leading advice charity; Advice NI Head of Policy, Kevin Higgins and Professor Eileen Evason CBE is urgently calling on the NI Executive to extend Welfare Mitigations to alleviate further hardship in NI.

Professor Eileen Evason CBE & Kevin Higgins statement on the continued division within the NI Executive regarding welfare mitigation legislation:

“We understand the NI Executive is currently considering the future of mitigation in Northern Ireland. By mitigation we mean the steps taken in 2016 to alleviate the hardship which would otherwise have been caused by the introduction of welfare reform legislation to bring us into line with GB. The mitigation package offered some protection to those in most need, however a ‘sunset clause’ has meant that although the mitigation payments have continued, there is currently no mitigation legislation in place. We would hope the NI Executive will draw on our experience, build on what was developed and act urgently to address the issues currently facing us.

Some of the provisions made in 2016 have served their purpose and provided some protection for those affected by benefit cuts. Some measures are as important to preventing hardship as they were when introduced and it is essential the Executive seeks to maintain them. We must retain our provisions to alleviate the impact of the bedroom tax. The unique circumstances of Northern Ireland render this provision particularly unhelpful and insensitive. The benefit cap, whereby claimants, entirely families with children, have their needs assessed and are then deliberately awarded lower amounts, is particularly careless of peoples’ needs, in particular women and children, and we should continue with the assistance provided.

Thirdly, it is essential that we retain the structure of independent advice and support developed as part of our mitigation strategy. Indeed, this is even more important than ever as a result of digitalisation. This is no way to assist those who are struggling with mental health problems, coping with severe disability, trying to make ends meet on low, irregular, wages and so on. We know that people get lost in this system which seems to be designed to penalise those least able to cope with it. Our support systems need to expand to help people cope with this.

Looking to the future, there are the ongoing problems with Universal Credit which have been exacerbated by the recent cut of £20 a week and the imminent prospect of the migration of tens of thousands of vulnerable people on so-called legacy benefits on to Universal Credit. Given the reliance on the GB computer system and the financial needs of other public services, there is little prospect of our being able to simply remedy all of this ourselves. We could, however, seek improvement by first clearing out of the way the confusion spread by some Conservative politicians and some other media commentators. Universal credit collapsed means-tested help for those on low pay, the sick & disabled, carers and the unemployed into a single structure. It is not simply for the unemployed and the loss of £20 cannot be made up by working an extra two hours a week as claimants will have 63p deducted from benefit for each pound earned.  Moreover, after a decade of austerity and a four year freeze in the value of benefits, the additional £20 should be regarded as appropriate updating.

Working past the confusion, can we find the means to sort out a basic flaw in this system. Claimants must wait five weeks, and sometimes longer for their first payment. Loans are available but these will be deducted from benefit at a later date. The system is a recipe for hardship and muddle from the start. Priority should be given to sorting this out and then, in a collaborative effort between claimants, the independent advice sector and Department should work through this and other aspects of the benefits system to identify other pinch points amenable to improve the situation for claimants.

We call on all political parties and the NI Executive to recognise what has taken some considerable time to build and not risk losing everything as a result of further delay and disagreement. The people who rely on this support need and deserve no less.”


Professor Eileen Evason CBE, Chair, Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group 2016

Kevin Higgins, Advice NI, Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group member


  1. Press Contact - Kevin Higgins, Head of Policy, Advice NI on 028 9064 5919.
  2. Advice NI is the umbrella body for the Independent Advice Network in Northern Ireland. In 2019/2020 Advice NI and its members dealt with 540,983 enquiries, the majority being social security benefits related.
  3. To find out more about the work of the Independent Advice Network or to obtain copies of the various publications produced by Advice NI, please contact us on 028 90 645919, email or visit our