'THINK' April 2023 Edition

The Advice NI Policy & Information team is delighted to publish the April 2023 edition of our policy eNewsletter ‘THINK’.

Issue in Focus: Support for Mortgage Interest


Kevin Higgins, Head of Policy for Advice NI:

“Undoubtedly there has been a failure on the part of Government to react quickly enough and do more for those home-owners on social security benefits, reliant on Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI). The disastrous Truss administration marked the beginning of a surge in interest rates, from a Bank of England base rate of 2.25% in September 2022 to a base rate of 4.25% in March 2023.

“SMI has remained unchanged throughout this period at 2.09%, heaping misery and hardship on those benefit claimants whose mortgage interest rate has increased significantly: either due to being on a variable interest deal or due to a low fixed rate deal ending.

“Belatedly, SMI support is due to increase to 2.65% from May 2023, but for many benefit claimants this is too little too late.”

"Below are examples of the impact of this regressive policy from advisers working in the Advice NI Money & Debt service:

Case 1 - In this case, the exact rate is not determined at time I last spoke to the client, but there is a gap between the mortgage interest being charged and the SMI rate, causing severe hardship. There is mental ill health and charitable crisis support included in this case.

Case 2 - Client suffering from cancer and their mortgage interest rate is over 4%. Having to use disability benefit money to make up shortfall due to need for partner to give up work and provide care; money very tight. Mortgage company will not offer any real concessions they have stated unless in arrears even though lengthy negotiations have taken place more than once.

Case 3 - Client a single parent in arrears. SMI not meeting the mortgage interest, having to put more money to this, a lot of arrears have built up. Mortgage company offered a really good concession while negotiating they halved the interest rate to allow client to make inroads into the arrears. I was pleased with the mortgage company in this case.

“All 3 clients have mental ill health and low income long-term. The low level of SMI paid by government is making their circumstances more difficult and causing poverty and hardship.

“Government must act quickly to review and change SMI to ensure that it provides sufficient support on a timely basis to home-owners on social security benefits.”


Increase to Average Mortgage Rates Triggers SMI Increase

As we reported in the last edition, the rate at which SMI is calculated is determined by the average interest rates on secured loans, as published monthly by the Bank of England in its statistical release on effective interest rates. As of February, the average had risen to 2.64%, which has the effect of triggering an increase in the rate of SMI from 10th May 2023.

Bank of England: Effective interest rates - February 2023

See Parliamentary Questions section for more information.

The legislation guiding the calculation of SMI is regulation 13 of the Loans for Mortgage Interest Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017.


Recent Amendment Improves Access to SMI

Amendment introduces linking rule that enables UC claimants to retain their eligibility for SMI should they restart their claim within six months.

In force from 3 April 2023, the Loans for Mortgage Interest (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2023 make amendments to the Loans for Mortgage Interest Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 to reduce the qualifying period from nine months to three months, and remove the current zero earnings rule so that UC claimants with earnings will now be eligible to claim.

In addition, the regulations introduce further changes that remove the requirement to serve a qualifying period in the following circumatances:

  • claimants who return to UC within six months of the end of a previous UC claim;
  • claimants who return to a legacy benefit within 52 weeks of entitlement to that benefit ending;
  • mixed-age couples where either:
    • one member of a couple is still a state pension credit claimant receiving loan payments when a joint entitlement to UC begins;
    • one member of a couple was formerly a SPC claimant receiving loan payments, provided their entitlement to UC begins within one month of the end of the entitlement to SPC.

Rightsnet (paywall): Reduction of SMI loans qualifying period to three months and removal of universal credit zero earnings rule in Northern Ireland

Loans for Mortgage Interest (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2023

ADM Memo 5/23 – Support for Mortgage Interest Changes


Automatic SMI Offers for GB Universal Credit Claimants

Support for Mortgage Interest loans will now be automatically offered to claimants by the DWP in GB, if they qualify after three months on Universal Credit – they do not need to do anything to receive this offer.

The loans are designed to help claimants with the interest on mortgages or loans for certain home improvements, such as repairs or improvements to keep their home habitable or to adapt them for people with disabilities, whilst they are on Universal Credit. Even if claimants reject the offer of a loan initially, as long as they are still eligible, they can start claiming it at any point. In another change they now do not have to be unemployed to receive support. They will also be able to re-claim the support if they leave Universal Credit but return within six months.

Government extends mortgage support for benefit claimants


Mortgage Interest Run-On

You can still get financial help with your housing costs if your Income Support, income-based JSA or income-related ESA is going to stop because you are about to return to work full-time, work more hours or earn more money. This is called the Mortgage Interest Run On. You don't need to make a written claim, just let your Jobs and Benefits office know as soon as you are starting work which is expected to last for five weeks or more.

Find out if you qualify at the following page:

NIDirect Mortgage Interest Run On
NIDirect Support for Mortgage Interest


Social Policy News

‘Move to UC’ Discovery Phase Begins

The next phase of UC implementation will begin next month. Around 147,000 people are currently on UC in Northern Ireland. The discovery exercise will start on 17 April and involve around 500 people in the Andersonstown and Enniskillen JBO areas who are in receipt of tax credits only and no other benefit. 

DfC Deputy Secretary of Work and Health, Paddy Rooney said:
“We are beginning to move those on legacy benefits onto UC and are approaching this with care to ensure that the proper supports are in place for customers.  
The three month discovery exercise will involve a small number of people, from rural and urban areas who will be provided with a range of supports to ease the transition.. We will use the experience gained from this process to inform the next stages of the move to UC to ensure the right supports are in place for people, at the right time and in the right way.”

Migration Notice letters will be issued explaining what people need to do and will include signposting to help and support. People will be able to contact the Move to UC Team on Freephone 0800 012 1331, Textphone 0800 012 1441 (for deaf users, those with hearing loss and users with speech and communication needs) and a UC Video Relay Service is available for sign language users. Information will also be available on the nidirect website and through the Department’s 35 local Jobs & Benefits offices.  Anyone making a claim to UC following receipt of a Migration Notice letter will have their benefit entitlement protected through Transitional Protection. This means that people with no change in their circumstances will not have a reduced entitlement at the point they move to UC. Legacy benefit customers should not do anything until they receive a Migration Notice letter.

DfC UC Discovery Phase


DWP Finally Publishes Sanctions Report

Following a long delay which prompted the Information Commissioner to intervene and order publication, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has released its draft report on the effectiveness of reforms to welfare conditionality and sanctions.

The draft report was produced by the DWP in response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee (WPSC) recommendation in its own report published in November 2018, which recommended that ‘the department urgently evaluate the effectiveness of reforms to welfare conditionality and sanctions introduced since 2012 in achieving their stated policy aims’. In addition, the WPSC recommended that the evaluation include an assessment ‘of the impact sanctions have on claimants’ financial and personal well-being’.

The government tried to prevent the publication of this report, stating it was not in the public interest. Perhaps because it states:

‘Benefit sanctions slow down claimants’ progress into work and are likely to force them into taking lower-paying jobs that leave them hundreds of pounds a year worse off.’

Dr David Webster, Honorary Senior Research Fellow (Urban Studies) at the University of Glasgow, who conducts research on benefit conditionality, has provided a detailed response to the draft report, which summarises the efforts to obtain publication and the key findings. In one particularly notable paragraph, Dr Webster states:

"It is also obvious, and well reflected in anecdotal evidence, that being sanctioned pitches people into financial crisis, which undermines their ability to find a job by for instance diverting their energies to survival or undermining their mental health."

The Guardian: Benefit sanctions slow people’s progress into work, says report Coffey suppressed
The Impact of Benefit Sanctions on Employment Outcomes: draft report
David Webster Commentary


Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse launches new awareness campaign

Launching a new campaign to raise awareness among Northern Ireland victims and survivors of historic institutional childhood abuse, the Commissioner for Survivors, has written to relevant organisations to advise that an 'application process for financial redress compensation and access to support services are available to any victim or survivor who suffered or witnessed abuse while they were a child (under 18 years) and were living in a residential institution … in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995 or were sent from Northern Ireland to Australia as part of the Child Migrant Programme.’

Procedures for applying for financial redress, as well as contact details for a range of supporting services, can be obtained from the Commissioner’s website, or by telephoning the Commissioner's office on 028 9054 4985.

HIA advocate Jon McCourt has welcomed the new campaign:

“It is not just about financial redress. It is about knowing there is support out there, there is help out there. If they want to contact the Redress Board and make an application then there is support to do that but it is also about if someone wants to contact the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) support scheme, which will also give them … the trauma support they urgently need just to get them to open that door, to realise they are not on their own. For me, that is more important than somebody filling in a form and making an application for financial redress.”

Oliver Wilkinson, Chair of the Victims and Survivors Service (VSS), added:

“To date our dedicated team have had the privilege of supporting over 900 survivors with tailored packages of care with the support of our community partners Wave Trauma Centre and Advice NI. This campaign is a welcome and important step in ensuring that survivors are aware of the full range of supports and services available to them and I would encourage those who wish to avail of support to get in touch with our dedicated team for more information.”

The Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse
Derry Now: Historical institutional abuse awareness campaign
BBC: Historical Institutional Abuse: Campaign launched for victims who have not come forward

Advice NI works in partnership with the VSS and WAVE Trauma Centre to deliver a range of support and services regionally. The service provides dedicated health and wellbeing caseworker support, counselling, complementary therapies, disability aids, persistent pain and a range of other social and welfare support.

This service can be accessed from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, Monday to Friday, by phoning 028 9031 1678 or emailing hiaenquiries@vssni.org.

Advice NI’s dedicated HIA advisor, Lucinda, provides a free and confidential service on issues to do with benefits, financial matters and the HIA Redress scheme. For advice and support phone 028 9244 8750 or email lucinda@adviceni.net.

Advice NI: Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA)


Working-Age Benefit Levels Inquiry

The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee has launched a new inquiry to examine whether working-age benefit levels in the UK are adequate to meet need. The inquiry will ask if it is possible to reach consensus around what an “adequate” benefits system would look like and how it would operate.

The inquiry will look at the principles underpinning the benefits system, how it assesses the level of basic needs it seeks to support, whilst still ensuring fairness. It will look at the processes involved with reviewing, uprating and scrutinising benefit levels in response to the changing economic environment; and issues relating to the administration and adequacy of benefits, such as the five-week wait for Universal Credit. The Committee will also examine the impact of measures designed to incentivise work, such as the benefit cap, conditionality and the use of sanctions.

Call for Evidence: Benefit levels in the UK


ESOL courses for migrants

A number of providers across Northern Ireland, including a number of Advice NI member organisations, provide free or community-based English classes for migrants. Keep an eye on the website and social media for the ESOL NI network for the latest updates.



NICVA cost of living workshops

NICVA has been holding regional Cost of Living workshops in partnership with local networks, supported by Department for Communities, in April and May.

Voluntary and community organisations are on the front line of the cost of living crisis supporting people and communities, all while facing rising demand for services, falling income and rising operational costs.

All voluntary and community organisations are welcome but will need to register online to attend.
11 May - Portadown with ABC Network
25 May - Derry/Londonderry with North West Community Network

NICVA Regional CoL events


NEA Fuel Poverty Manifesto

Over the past 18 months, NEA has experienced a significant rise in the number of households seeking emergency support as they can no longer afford to keep their homes warm and safe, due to soaring energy prices and wider cost of living pressures. Ahead of the upcoming local council elections, NEA are calling on candidates and parties to commit to tackling Fuel Poverty in their communities by supporting 3 key pledges, in NEA’s Local Election Manifesto 2023.

Tackling Fuel Poverty in NI – Local Government Election Manifesto 2023


Regulator Seeks to Address Issues With Energy Supplier Customer Service Standards

Following on from its open letter issued to all NI domestic energy suppliers highlighting concerns about customer service standards, the Utility Regulator convened a meeting with all domestic energy suppliers and key consumer representative bodies, including Advice NI, to discuss the issues and seek resolution. By way of an immediate response, suppliers committed to, and have since provided, a dedicated point of contact for the Utility Regulator and all consumer bodies through which consumer complaints can be escalated and prioritised.

Further meetings are planned, and if you would like your views to be represented you can get in touch with the Advice NI Policy & Information team.

An update on addressing customer service standards


Legislative Changes

Amendments to Rate Relief Provision

In force from 1 April 2023, the Rate Relief (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2023 amend the Rate Relief Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 so as to ensure that rate relief provisions are compatible with Universal Credit rules in preparation for the managed migration of legacy benefit claimants.

Rate Relief (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2023


New Claimant Consent Rules for Deductions From Benefits for Ongoing Consumption of Fuel

New legislation has been issued requiring energy companies in Northern Ireland to obtain claimant consent for new or increased deductions from benefits for ongoing consumption of fuel.

From 10 May 2023 the Social Security Benefits (Claims and Payments) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2023 make amendments to the Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1987 and the Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (Claims and Payments) Regulations 2016 so that a new deduction for ongoing consumption of fuel, or an application for an increase to a deduction for ongoing consumption, may only be made following an application by the energy supplier and with the claimant’s consent.

Social Security Benefits (Claims and Payments) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2023


Updated Earnings Factors for Additional State Pension and Guaranteed Minimum Pension

The Social Security Revaluation of Earnings Factors Order (Northern Ireland) 2023 meets the Department for Work & Pensions’ statutory duty to revalue the earnings factors used in the calculation of additional State Pension and Guaranteed Minimum Pensions to ensure that they remain in line with the increase in average earnings. In addition, it sets the earnings factor for 2022/2023 at 7 per cent.

Social Security Revaluation of Earnings Factors Order (Northern Ireland) 2023
NIDirect: Additional State Pension
How to calculate your scheme member’s Guaranteed Minimum Pension


Increase of Limits on Awards and Payments Under Employment Rights Legislation

The Department for the Economy has made a statutory rule uplifting limits applicable to certain awards and payments under employment rights legislation in line with the Retail Prices Index.

The increased limits relate to a range of employment rights including:

  • Statutory redundancy payments;
  • The basic and compensatory awards for unfair dismissal;
  • The limit on guarantee payments made when employees are not provided with work; and
  • The minimum basic award for unfair dismissal in health and safety and certain other cases.

Department for the Economy announces annual increase in limits for unfair dismissal and redundancy payments
The Employment Rights (Increase of Limits) Order (Northern Ireland) 2023


Information Resources

Cost of Living Payments

The first of a new round of Cost of Living payments are being made between 25 April and 17 May 2023 to those in receipt of income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Pension Credit, Universal Credit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit. Further payments to those on means-tested benefits, disability benefits and pensioners, will follow later in the year. Detailed information is available at our website and nidirect.

Advice NI: Cost of Living Payments
NIDirect: Cost of Living Payments


Private Tenancies Act Guidance

The Department for Communities has provided guidance on the provisions of the Private Tenancies Act, which came into force on 1 April 2023 and aims to strengthen the rights of private tenants.

This is achieved by a number of new requirements regarding the notices and receipts landlords must provide to tenants, as well as limits on the The Private Tenancies Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 - A Guide to Sections 1-6 for Tenants and Landlords


PIP Easy Read Guides

The Department for Communities provide a number of Easy Read guides relating to Personal Independence Payment, which aim to make complex information easier to understand.

Personal Independence Payment leaflet and Easy Read Guides


Prove You Qualify for Child Benefit

Child Benefit award notices have replaced Child Benefit numbers as the main way to prove eligibility. Parents will not have a Child Benefit number if they first claimed after 23 February 2021. The DWP advises that, while previously obtaining proof of entitlement has involved the need to call or write to HMRC, the evidence can now be accessed online.

Since 28 February 2023, parents or carers can access the information either through the HMRC app or online via gov.uk. The evidence can then be printed or saved. To use the on-line service, you’ll need to prove your identity using Government Gateway. You’ll be able to register for Government Gateway if you have not used it before.

Prove you qualify for Child Benefit


Healthy Start Scheme

The Healthy Start scheme provides a prepaid card for eligible applicants which can be used at local shops to buy plain liquid cow’s milk, infant formula milk based on cow’s milk, and fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables. Free Healthy Start vitamins can also be provided for those who are pregnant, who are breastfeeding, and children aged from six months to four years. The scheme currently supports around 13,500 households in Northern Ireland.

Get help to buy food and milk


Benefit Cap Uplift

The Department for Communities have published a brief decision-making memo on the amendment to the benefit cap limits in line with recent inflationary changes to benefit rates. For each assessment period commencing on or after 10 April 2023, the new limits are £14,753 for a single claimant or £22,020 for joint claimants or single claimants responsible for a child or qualifying young person.

ADM Memo 6/23 – Changes to Benefit Cap annual limits



Health Assessments for Benefits: Work & Pensions Committee Report

The health assessments system to access vital benefits for those who cannot work or face extra costs due to disability or ill-health continues to let down those who rely on it, according to the Work and Pensions Committee.

In its latest report, the Committee calls for the implementation of several measures that would be relatively quick and easy wins to improve trust, drive down the high rate of decisions reversed on appeal and reduce waiting times.

It says assessments should be recorded by default, with claimants having the option to opt-out, adding that footage could be used to review cases more accurately without having to go to appeal, and help assessors learn from past mistakes.

Some of the improvements the Committee suggest could drive down the high rate of decisions reversed on appeal. Although the Work Capability Assessment used for UC & ESA is due to be abolished, it will remain in place until at least 2026. Meanwhile, PIP assessments will continue, so retaining the status quo is not an option.

MPs on the Committee also recommended allowing claimants to choose between remote or in-person assessments, extending the deadline to return forms, targets to reduce assessment waiting times, and payments to people who have been forced to wait beyond the new targets.

Benefits health assessments system continues to let people down, say MPs


Northern Ireland Poverty and Income Inequality Report 2021/22 

The Northern Ireland Poverty and Income Inequality report 2021-22 was released on 30 March 2023. It combines information that was previously published in the Northern Ireland Poverty Bulletin and Northern Ireland Households Below Average Income reports. It uses data collected from the Family Resources Survey to provide estimates of the proportion and number of individuals, children, working age adults and pensioners in Northern Ireland living in poverty, and other statistics on household income and income inequality.

Northern Ireland poverty statistics


NIE Business Plan

NIE Networks publicly launched its Business Plan – ‘A Future Network for All’ – which was submitted on 31st March to the Utility Regulator. The Regulator will assess the plan and publish a draft determination for public consultation in November 2023.

NIE Networks: RP7 Business Plan


Funding Opportunities

BFSS Funding to Support Education in Disadvantaged Areas

Grants are available to support schools and registered charities that wish to undertake educational projects with children and young people under the age of 25 in marginalised communities within the UK.

The British & Foreign Schools Society (BFSS) normally makes grants totalling about £900,000 in any one year.

The focus is on projects to improve the educational outcomes and life chances of Young Carers or Care Experienced Young People.  Grants of between 30,000 and £100,000 are available (maximum £30,000 per year for multi-year projects).

The funding is available to UK registered charities with an annual income of between £25,000 and £2.5 million, and at least three years of continuous accounts.

The Society also offers a small number of specific grants for organisations and individuals through its Subsidiary Trusts.

There is a two stage application process and the next closing date for stage 1 applications is the 3rd July 2023.

We support organisations running projects to maximise educational opportunity for children and young people


Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland


“The Community Grants Programme can support day to day activities of a charity and new/existing projects. We cover a wide range of costs including, rent and running costs, materials and equipment and salaries.

Our average grant is approximately £4,500. We may not be in a position to offer you all that you have requested, however we will discuss viability with you. Please continue to understand what other charities and the government is doing in your field, and ensure that what you propose fits in.
Grants are only open to charities operating in Northern Ireland.

The following groups may apply:
Charities registered with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland
Charities registered with other charity regulators such as OSCR in Scotland, Charity Commission for England and Wales or Charity Regulator in the Republic of Ireland, PROVIDING the project you wish to apply for will benefit people from Northern Ireland.”

Halifax Community Grants


£57 Million Funding Package

Eighteen projects across Northern Ireland will receive more than £57 million through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) to help support people into work.

The successful bids will support over 25,000 economically inactive people in Northern Ireland – offering them support to find high quality jobs. Charities, voluntary and community organisations, businesses and colleges will all play a vital role in supporting people into employment as the UK Government takes back control of funding previously run by the European Union.

Additional funding has been allocated from the Northern Ireland UKSPF funding pot to enable projects to reach more people while also continuing their vital work and allowing for a greater range of delivery across all parts of Northern Ireland. The UK Government has confirmed that all organisations can start planning to use the funding from April when current money from the European Social Fund ends.

Northern Ireland organisations to receive £57 million from UK government to help economically inactive people into work


The Ireland Funds

The Heart of the Community Fund is an open grant round designed to meet the needs of not-for-profit organisations delivering vital services and supports to people across the island of Ireland.

The Ireland Funds recognises the challenges organisations face in securing funding to build their capacity or meet their core costs.

The Heart of the Community Fund 2023 will provide grants between €5,000 – €25,000, and will accept applications online until Tuesday, 9th May 2023.

The Ireland Funds



PCC Equality & Disability Action Plan

“The Patient & Client Council has developed new draft Equality and Disability Action Plans for 2023-28.The Equality Action Plan looks at actions we want to take to tackle inequalities across all equality categories.

We are now seeking views on our draft Equality and Disability Action Plans, and would welcome you taking the time to respond to this consultation exercise. The consultation will close at 5pm on Monday 3rd July 2023.

You can share your comments in writing either by completing a short questionnaire, or downloading, completing the form and emailing it to Consultation.EqualityUnit@hscni.net. Or email your comments to Consultation.EqualityUnit@hscni.net.

If you would like to meet with us in person or over the phone to share your views, you can contact: Carol Collins by email carol.collins@pcc-ni.net, by calling 028 9536 3995 or by post 5th floor, 14-16 Great Victoria Street, Belfast, BT2 7BA.”

Consultation – Equality and Disability Action Plans 2023-28


Race Relations Review

The Executive Office is seeking views on the Review of the Race Relations (NI) Order 1997, to ensure that new legislation is fit for purpose.

The Executive’s Racial Equality Strategy 2015-2025 provides a framework for Government departments to tackle racial inequalities and to promote and encourage good race relations and social cohesion for Irish Travellers, minority ethnic people whose families have been here a number of generations or who have recently arrived, migrant workers and asylum seekers. The Racial Equality Strategy committed us to reviewing the Order to offer at least equal, if not better, protection compared to the Equality Act 2010 and various equivalent legislation in Ireland.  We have also taken into account changes proposed by the Equality Commission in their Race Law Reform document.

The Executive Office has been working and engaging with key stakeholders and has developed proposals for amendments to the current order to create a brand-new draft Racial Equality Bill.

The proposed changes have now been officially opened for wider public consultation, with the consultation to run from Monday 27 March 2023 to Sunday 18 June 2023.

Consultation on the Review of the Race Relations (NI) Order 1997


Parliamentary Questions

Support for Mortgage Interest

UIN 176820
Mike Amesbury, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when support for mortgage interest will be implemented; and what that figure will be.

Mims Davies, Conservative

An increase to the rate paid through the SMI scheme was triggered on Wednesday 29th March 2023. The rate will increase from 2.09% to 2.65% and will be implemented no later than 10th May 2023.

The rate of SMI payments only changes when the Bank of England’s average mortgage rate differs by 0.5 percentage points or more from the standard interest rate.

UIN 174270
Ian Mearns, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if he will make an assessment of the potential merits of fixing the interest rate used to determine payments under the Support for Mortgage Interest scheme to a set amount above the Bank of England Base Rate to better reflect the impact on those in receipt of SMI.

Mims Davies, Conservative

The interest rate we pay for SMI is based on the Bank of England published average mortgage rate.  We do not align payment to the base rate because this would lead to uncertainty for both borrower and lender as well as increasing the administrative burden.

An increase to the rate paid through the SMI scheme was triggered on Wednesday 29th March 2023.This rate increased from 2.09% to 2.65% and will be implemented on 10th May 2023.

Any further changes to the standard interest rate will only occur when the Bank of England average mortgage rate differs by 0.5 percentage points or more from the rate in payment.

We currently have no plans to amend the calculation of SMI. We have selected the Bank of England’s published average rate because it is the average interest rate that applies to outstanding mortgages, including fixed and variable mortgages. The Bank of England data is the most reliable as it is based on information that covers over 75% of all banks and building societies’ mortgage business. It is also updated on a regular (monthly) basis.

If we were to base the rate we pay on the Bank of England Base rate, we would pay over and above the average interest rate paid by fixed rate mortgage holders. Conversely, the rate would be too low when the base rate is set at a low level such as the 0.1 base rate between March 2020 and December 2021.

UIN 174269
Ian Mearns, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment he has made of the impact of the Bank of England Base Rate increases on the Support for Mortgage Interest Scheme (SMI); and whether he plans to uprate the interest rate of 2.09 per cent on which the SMI payments are calculated.

Mims Davies, Conservative

The interest rate we pay for SMI is based on the Bank of England published average mortgage rate.  We do not align payment to the base rate because this would lead to uncertainty for both borrower and lender as well as increasing the administrative burden.

An increase to the rate paid through the SMI scheme was triggered on Wednesday 29th March 2023.This rate increased from 2.09% to 2.65% and will be implemented on 10th May 2023. Any further changes to the standard interest rate will only occur when the Bank of England average mortgage rate differs by 0.5 percentage points or more from the rate in payment.

We currently have no plans to amend the calculation of SMI. We have selected the Bank of England’s published average rate because it is the average interest rate that applies to outstanding mortgages, including fixed and variable mortgages. The Bank of England data is the most reliable as it is based on information that covers over 75% of all banks and building societies’ mortgage business. It is also updated on a regular (monthly) basis.

If we were to base the rate we pay on the Bank of England Base rate, we would pay over and above the average interest rate paid by fixed rate mortgage holders. Conversely, the rate would be too low when the base rate is set at a low level such as the 0.1 base rate between March 2020 and December 2021.



UIN 174171
Sir Stephen Timms, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment he has made of the potential merits of replacing the first sanction for someone claiming Universal Credit with a formal warning; and if he will make a statement.

Guy Opperman, Conservative

Evidence from a previous Early Warning trial in 2016 showed the cost of the warning system outweighed the benefits. Since then, we have completed two small-scale proofs of concept to test a simple warning process and currently have no plans to run another test.

The Department is focusing its efforts on intensifying the support we offer to get people back to work and into good jobs. The majority of sanctions are for failing to attend a meeting with a work coach and these can be quickly resolved by booking and attending another meeting.

UIN 169305
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with reference to page 100 of the Budget Report 2023, HC1183, published in March 2023, what his Department's training for Work Coaches on sanctions will entail.

Guy Opperman, Conservative

There are no plans to automate either decision making or the application of the sanctions regime which will continue to be undertaken by Work Coaches and Decision Makers. However, we are automating the creation of the referral form for claimants who miss mandatory appointments. The referral form will then be reviewed by the Work Coach and submitted to the Decision Maker to take the ultimate decision, in the normal way.

The department is committed to the continuous upskilling of all Work Coaches to ensure a consistent application of sanctions policy and protection of claimants. As with all changes to process that are undertaken, Work Coaches will be provided with guidance and support as required.


Universal Credit

UIN 170726
Marsha De Cordova, Labour

 To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many claimants of Universal Credit have Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity and do not receive Personal Independence Payments.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

The department aims to publish a range of information on claimants of Employment and Support Allowance and the health element of Universal Credit in due course, and will pre-announce any publication in line with normal statistical practices.



UIN 177793
Grahame Morris, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many PIP claimants who receive the highest rate of support are subject to the arrangement whereby they receive an ongoing award of PIP with a light touch review every 10 years.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

Data on Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claims receiving an ongoing award on the highest level of payment (Enhanced awards for both Mobility and Daily Living) can be found on Stat-Xplore(opens in a new tab). In particular, the requested data can be found by applying the following filters to the ‘PIP Clearances’ dataset:

Clearance Type Detail: “Awarded”
Award Type: “Ongoing Award”
Daily Living Award Level: “Daily Living – Enhanced”
Mobility Award Status: “Mobility Award – Enhanced”

You may also wish to filter for “DWP policy ownership” under Geography due to the devolution of some disability benefits to Scotland.

You can log in or access Stat-Xplore as a guest user and, if needed, you can access guidance on how to extract the information required.



UIN 181230
Julian Sturdy, Conservative

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of the (a) 20-metre and (b) 50 per cent rules for assessing the eligibility of people with multiple sclerosis for personal independence payments.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is intended to act as a contribution towards the extra costs that arise from needs related to a long-term health condition or disability. Entitlement is assessed on the basis of the needs arising from the health condition or disability, rather than a diagnosis of the health condition or disability itself.

The enhanced rate of the PIP mobility component was always intended to be for those "unable" or "virtually unable" to walk. The 20-metre distance was introduced to identify those whose mobility is significantly more limited than that of other people. Individuals who can walk more than 20 metres can still receive the enhanced rate of the mobility component, if they cannot do so safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly or in a reasonable time period. We believe the current assessment criteria, including the 20-metre rule, are the best way of identifying people whose physical mobility is most limited and there are no immediate plans to make changes.

The PIP assessment should reflect the impact of variations in an individual's level of impairment, including conditions which fluctuate, and whether the individual can complete each activity safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period. When choosing the descriptor, the health professional should also consider an individual’s ability over a 12-month period, ensuring that fluctuations are taken into account. For each activity, if a descriptor applies on more than 50 per cent of the days in the 12-month period, that descriptor should be chosen. In general, health professionals should record function over an average year for conditions that fluctuate over months, per week for conditions that fluctuate by the day, and by the day for conditions that vary over a day.

The department closely monitors all aspects of the assessment process, including how we assess fluctuating health conditions like multiple sclerosis. There are no current plans to make changes to the 50 per cent rule.


PIP & Universal Credit

UIN 181056
Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if he will amend assessment criteria for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) to ensure that claimants who are not eligible for PIP but who (a) are eligible or (b) would be eligible for the Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity group can access long term financial support.

Tom Pursglove


As part of our proposal for reform, people that are receiving both PIP and UC will receive a new UC health element as part of their claim. However, in today’s benefits system some people who are determined to have LCWRA do not receive PIP. This is also the case for some people that are in the ESA Support Group.

For this group, we will carefully consider whether they meet the PIP assessment and eligibility criteria. As we develop our reform proposals, we will consider how disabled people and people with health conditions who need additional financial support may receive it.


Chronic Illness & Disability

UIN 180352
Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with reference to the statement in Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper, published in March 2023, that his Department will begin testing matching people’s primary health condition to a specialist assessor, whether he plans to (a) train existing assessors or (b) recruit additional specialist health assessors to deliver this policy.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

We are currently in the early stages of exploring how to test matching people’s primary health condition to a specialist assessor; working with stakeholders and service users to build our understanding of the range of specialisms we need to make available, as well as the improvements we need to make to the assessment process. As part of testing this, assessors will take part in training to specialise in the functional impacts of specific health conditions. We cannot say at this point whether we will recruit additional specialist health assessors to support this testing.


Chronic Illness & Disability: Employment Schemes

UIN 181238
Marsha De Cordova, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when his Department plans to open the Universal Support scheme for applications; and if he will publish the eligibility criteria for that scheme.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

Universal Support will begin in 2024 and will provide up to 12 months of high-quality Supported Employment, which adheres to the five stage Supported Employment Model of place, train and maintain.

Universal Support will support disabled people, people with health conditions, and people with additional barriers to employment, into sustained work.  Full eligibility criteria and the timetable and delivery approach for Universal Support will be confirmed following stakeholder engagement, including with local commissioners and the devolved administrations.


ESA: Substantial Risks

UIN 174376
Vicky Foxcroft, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many Employment Support Allowance claimants are in (a) the Work-Related Activity Group and (b) the Support Group on the basis of substantial risk.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants can be placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) or the Support Group (SG) on the basis of substantial risk to the physical or mental health of any person, as set out in the regulations 29 (2[b]) and 35(2) of the Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2008 (SI 794).

The table below shows the latest available number of claimants with ESA in payment in the WRAG and SG, who have been placed in those groups following a recommendation from a health professional following a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), that they be placed in those groups on the basis of physical or mental health risk.

Data on cases that are placed in the WRAG or SG on the basis of physical or mental health risk by the DWP decision maker, after reconsideration or after appeal (where that was not the recommendation of the health professional undertaking the WCA), are held, but could only be provided at disproportionate cost.
Claimants with ESA in payment, Aug-22
Support Group - Physical or Mental Health Risk: 253,100
WRAG - Physical or Mental Health Risk: 24,500


ESA Overpayments

UIN 182012
Drew Hendry, Scottish National Party

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Commons

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what data his Department holds on whether the recovery of Employment Support Allowance overpayments from claimants has been waived for mental health reasons in the last two years.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

During the period 1st April 2021 to date, 10 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) debts were waived on mental health grounds. The figures relate to legacy ESA and not New Style ESA, eligibility for which is primarily based on a claimant’s National Insurance record.

Overpayment recovery is subject to various legislative limitations and safeguards. Whilst the DWP has an obligation to protect public funds, our policy is to seek recovery without causing undue financial hardship to debtors.

Any claimants struggling with the proposed rate of deductions are encouraged to contact DWP Debt Management to discuss a temporary reduction in their rate of repayment.

In exceptional circumstances, where there are specific and compelling grounds to do so, a waiver can be considered. Full details on this can be found at Chapter 8 of the department’s Benefit Overpayment Recovery Guide.


Child DLA

UIN 170713
Marsha De Cordova, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, for what reason decision makers grant fixed-term rather than indefinite awards of Disability Living Allowance to children with lifelong disabilities and health conditions where the condition is not expected to improve.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

The length of an award of DLA is based on a claimant’s circumstances, taking into consideration that circumstances and needs can change over time, particularly those of children as they grow and develop and may become better able to meet some of their own care needs. Award reviews and renewals play an important role in making sure that children with health conditions and disabilities continue to get the level of financial support they need.

We keep our award duration guidance under review, responding to changes in claimant behaviour, changes in claimants’ needs and NHS waiting times. We have reviewed all our guidance and instructions to reduce the requirement for renewals for children whose conditions are unlikely to change.

UIN 175474
Sir Stephen Timms, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps he is taking to (a) support parents of disabled children and (b) help those parents return to work.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

…Recognising that high childcare costs can affect parents’ decisions about work and hours, the Government has announced improvements to the UC childcare element, offering additional financial support to parents starting work, or increasing their earnings…On the 24 November 2021, the Universal Credit taper rate was reduced from 63% to 55%, enabling claimants to keep more of their earnings. Parents also benefit from the Work Allowance, which is increasing by £500 a year, in addition to the normal benefits uprating.

When a dependent child is disabled, the claimant may qualify for Disabled Child Addition. To be eligible, the child must be receiving (DLA). DLA is available to eligible children under 16, regardless of the family’s income. Parents of disabled children, like all claimants, agree to commitments that are tailored to their circumstances and improve the likelihood of them moving into work.


JBOs & Autism

UIN 180279
Vicky Foxcroft, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with reference to the policy paper entitled Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper published on 15 March 2023, when the Department expects to make a decision on whether its framework for autistic customers can be rolled out across the whole network of Jobcentres.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

Improving the services that Jobcentres deliver to people with autism is a key part of ensuring customers with autism get the support they need, in the way they need it. Our autism accreditation test helped to build the knowledge and skills of our work coaches and improve our processes and systems to better support autistic jobseekers. We are now exploring whether we can roll out this accreditation across the whole Jobcentre network.