'THINK' March 2023 Edition

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

Issue in Focus: Sanctions

Following the reintroduction of conditionality requirements, there has been a consistent move by the Westminster government to increase the number of people receiving Universal Credit who are subject to work-related requirements, with an estimated 120,000 additional claimants nationally affected by the most recent increase to the rules in January 2023. The Chancellor announced in his Budget a further planned extension to the earnings threshold.

Ultimately, increased requirements and reviews will place more obligations on the claimant, and the risk of being sanctioned increases, resulting in a reduction in the amount of benefit payable. Concern about the effectiveness has been voiced from a number of quarters, and we include below questions raised in Parliament regarding sanctions and an impact evaluation of the Universal Credit Administrative Earnings Threshold Amendment Regulations.

Figures show that last year in Great Britain, 98% of adverse sanction decisions were for failure to attend a mandatory appointment at the Jobcentre, and information for Northern Ireland presents a similar picture. In those cases, sanctions remain in force until the claimant engages with the Department and attends a rearranged appointment. Therefore, Advice NI recommends that all claimants:

  • read their claimant commitment carefully;
  • adhere to the imposed requirements and consult independent advice for guidance on negotiating with the Department;
  • contact their work coach or local Jobs & Benefits office as soon as possible to re-schedule if they cannot make a required interview.



What are the earnings thresholds in UC?

There are two earnings thresholds for Universal Credit. These are the “Administrative Earnings Threshold” (AET) and the “Conditionality Earnings Threshold” (CET).

The CET is the ultimate limit for conditionality – anyone with earnings above the CET should not be subject to any work-related requirements. In general, the CET is earnings equivalent to 35 hours per week at national minimum wage (NMW). However, it will be lower for people with relaxed work-related requirements due to caring responsibilities or health conditions. For couples, the CET is the combination of the individual thresholds.

The AET, on the other hand, sets the floor below which claimants are placed in the so-called ‘Intensive Work Search’ group, unless they are exempt on the basis of limited capability or childcare responsibilities. This means that full conditionality requirements will apply and they have regular interaction with a Work Coach. From 30 January 2023, the AET is set at earnings equivalent to 15 hours per week at NMW for single people and 24 hours per week for couples.

What is the current system?

Claimants who earn more than the CET are placed in the ‘Working Enough’ conditionality group, where no conditionality requirements are applied and the claimants do not regularly interact with a Work Coach.

Those claimants earning above the AET but below the CET are placed in the ‘Light Touch’ group where they may receive some form of support from a Work Coach. This will be less than those in the ‘Intensive Work Search’ group, but more than those in the ‘Working Enough’ group.

What does this change mean?

Raising the AET results in a number of claimants in the ‘Light Touch’ group moving to the ‘Intensive Work Search’ group where they receive additional support from their Work Coach.

As a consequence of these regulations Work Coaches will engage with these claimants on a more regular basis. This will entail reviewing and agreeing new Claimant Commitments with all of those claimants, setting appropriate requirements and reviewing these regularly. Those claimants will also be eligible for access to training, skills provisions and intensive job seeking support.

The Universal Credit (Administrative Earnings Threshold) (Amendment) Regulations 2023
ADM Memo 1/23 – Universal Credit – Changes to Administrative Earnings Threshold Levels 2023


Main Public Sector Union Attacks Proposed Changes to Conditionality

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has heavily criticised proposed changes to the sanctions system outlined by the Chancellor in his recent Budget as an “attack on claimants”. The PCS statement also raises concerns about the proposed automation of decision making, which the union says will lead to a “computer says no” approach to sanctions, and also highlights the “worrying” intention to involve Work Coaches in this part of the process, which could “destroy relationships between them and the claimants they support”.

Budget announcement - what it means for DWP members


Understanding, Avoiding & Challenging Sanctions Guide

In conjunction with Law Centre NI and Citizens Advice, we designed a guide to assist frontline generalist advisers in their work supporting benefit claimants who are at risk of being sanctioned or who have been sanctioned. Much of the content of that guide remains relevant, and can be accessed via the Advice NI website.

Understanding and Avoiding Sanctions Guide


Universal Credit Sanctions Statistics

The Department for Communities provide regular sanctions statistics for Universal Credit. The most recent release related to the period ending November 2022, and was published in February 2023.

Those statistics show that the total number of claimants with a deduction from their award of Universal Credit due to a sanction was 1,060 in November 2022, which is the largest number on record since the introduction of the benefit in 2017. It also represents an increase of 32.5% on the figure from the previous release for August 2022 (800).

Since the reintroduction of full conditionality at the beginning of 2022 there has been a sharp increase in the number of sanctions imposed. The Department assures us that the vast majority are open-ended sanctions arising from failure to attend appointments, which will cease as soon as the claimant re-engages, but this is nonetheless indicative of the central role of conditionality in the Universal Credit system.

Universal Credit Publication (Data to 30 November 2022): Sanctions


DWP Sanctions Statistics

Figures from the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) show that Universal Credit sanction rates in Great Britain are DOUBLE what they were prior to the pandemic. Sanction rates were just under 3% in April 2019, but have risen to 6.5% by October 2022.

Rightsnet highlighted that the figures also show how in the last year 98.4% of adverse sanction decisions were for failure to attend or participate in a mandatory interview.

DWP Sanctions stats
Universal credit sanction rate reached almost 7 per cent in October 2022 (paywall)


NIDirect Sanctions Information

A summary of sanctions for Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support is available at NI Direct.

Benefit Sanctions


Conditionality Guides

There are a range of useful sources online summarising the expectations on Universal Credit claimants, which must be set out for each individual in their Claimant Commitment. It is essential that claimants negotiate that commitment on the basis of their actual circumstances, taking into account any health conditions, caring responsibilities and earnings from employment.

Citizens Advice: Changing your claimant commitment
Public Law Project: Claimant Commitments
revenuebenefits: Universal credit: Claimant commitment  
turn2us: What activities will I have to do when claiming Universal Credit?
Welfare Rights Bulletin: Lack of commitment?
If you have any queries about sanctions that you would like raised with Universal Credit, email bridget@adviceni.net


Social Policy News

Advice NI AGM 2022 Video

At our Annual General Meetings, we like to highlight the fantastic work our staff, advisers & members do. Check out our video, which recaps the work the independent advice network did in 2022 & how we can help with issues such as benefits & debt.

Advice NI AGM 2022 Video


Managed Migration to Universal Credit Set to Begin

The Department of Communities (DfC) have announced that 500 Tax Credit recipients based in Northern Ireland will be included in the next Department for Work and Pensions ‘Move to UC’ discovery phase, which will start on 17 April 2023. Those affected will receive a Migration Notice letter from DfC informing them that they have 3 months to make a claim for Universal Credit. The Notice will include additional information about what is required, and claimants will also be able to access support through a dedicated Move to UC helpline on Freephone 0800 012 1331, Textphone 0800 012 1441 and a UC Video Relay Service for sign language users.

Discovery phase for ‘Move to UC’ to begin in April

Our Social Policy Briefing on the ‘Move to UC’ contains a wealth of helpful advice and information, and we will be holding a number of events in the coming weeks and months to support claimants through the transition.

Advice NI Social Policy Briefing Paper: Move to Universal Credit


Significant Welfare Changes in Chancellor’s Budget

On 15 March 2023 the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, presented his Budget to the House of Commons. Perhaps as a consequence of an improved economic forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Budget included significant policy announcements, particularly with regard to benefits and childcare. Key headlines from the Budget were:

  • childcare costs in Universal Credit to be paid upfront, rather than in arrears as currently, and a significant increase in the maximum amount that can be claimed;
  • extension of ‘support’ for the long-term sick and disabled, older workers, parents and young people;
  • increase in the Administrative Earnings Threshold to 18 hours per week, and removing the couple’s threshold;
  • strengthening the sanctions regime, including automating parts of the process ‘to improve efficiency and reduce error’;
  • plan to scrap the Work Capability Assessment and link health-related element of Universal Credit to entitlement to Personal Independence Payment;
  • significant extension of free childcare provision in England to children aged 9 months to 3 years, in phases between April 2024 and September 2025.

Our Information Officer, Matt Cole, spoke to Linda McAuley for On Your Behalf and sounded a note of caution, emphasising that much of the Budget would take time to implement and in a number of areas would require a change in the political position at Stormont before they would apply here. This point was particularly emphasised with regard to the extension of childcare provision by Employers For Childcare in their response.

Spring Budget 2023
Spring Budget 2023 speech
‘Back to work Budget’ supporting people to return to the labour market
On Your Behalf: Budget 2023: Benefits, Pensions and Childcare
Employers For Childcare: Budget leaves Northern Ireland families further behind in childcare support
Budget 2023: Chancellor announces benefit reforms to ‘remove the barriers that stop people who want to from working’ (paywall)


DWP Publishes Health & Disability White Paper

Allied to the Budget, the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions has published a new White Paper, Transforming Support, proposing major changes to the social security system for people with health conditions and disabilities.

Presenting the paper to the Commons, Mel Stride described the proposals as ‘an ambitious policy reform package that will transform the health and disability benefits system and help disabled people and people with health conditions to start, stay and succeed in work.’ He also outlined the three key aspects of the system addressed in the White Paper:

  1. abolition of the Work Capability Assessment, and introduction of a new Universal Credit ‘health element’ tied to eligibility for Personal Independence Payment;
  2. increased investment in ‘tailored support’ for disabled people, to be delivered by work coaches;
  3. simplification of procedures for applying for and receiving health and disability benefits.

Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper
Publication of the Health and Disability White Paper: Statement made on 15 March 2023
Spring Budget 2023 factsheet – Disability White Paper
Government outlines plans for abolition of the universal credit work capability assessment in new Health and Disability White Paper (paywall)

Welfare rights campaigners immediately raised concerns about aspects of these proposals, which are expected to take time to implement and therefore may be subject to amendment. Despite the positive headline regarding the scrapping of the WCA, the big concern is the potential for these changes to push more people, especially those who are potentially vulnerable, into the punitive sanctions regime.

Thread by @PollardTom at Thread Reader App


Energy Payment Scheme Online Portal

Northern Ireland households without a direct relationship to a domestic electricity supplier can now apply for government support through the Alternative Funding process.

This portal is for those people without a direct relationship to a domestic electricity supplier – such as park home residents, people living in care homes and households who get their energy through a commercial contract – who will not have been eligible to receive the government’s £600 energy payment automatically from an electricity supplier.

To check eligibility and apply for the £600 payment, people are being asked to search for “Apply for energy bill support if you do not get it automatically in Northern Ireland”. There is a similar portal for applications by people who live in England, Scotland or Wales, but those in Northern Ireland will be re-directed to the specific NI application pages if they tick the ‘I live in Northern Ireland’ option.

A telephone helpline is also available for those unable to complete the online form.

Thousands more households in Northern Ireland on course to benefit from £600 government help with energy bills


NIHE Rent Increase

The Department for Communities has confirmed that, from 4 April 2023 Housing Executive rents will increase by 7%. The Department claims that the increase “will provide funding for essential maintenance, improvements and investment while also keeping the rent affordable for tenants.”

The Housing Executive is offering support to tenants through its Financial Inclusion Team, which helps tenants by providing advice on benefits, budgeting and signposting to a range of sources of financial support.

The increase equates to an average additional £4.86 per week, increasing the average weekly rent for tenants from £69.49 to £74.35.

Housing Executive rent levels set for 23/24


Interest Rates & SMI

One of the important consequences of the Bank of England’s analysis of interest rates is that it dictates the level of support provided by Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI). The particular interest rate used to calculate SMI has increased to 2.54%, but this is not enough to trigger an increase in SMI, which currently stands at 2.09%. There has to be a shift of +/- 0.5% to trigger a change in the interest rate payable under SMI.

This means that, despite the huge hikes in mortgage interest rates for those on variable deals or whose fixed rate deals have ended, there will be a significant shortfall in SMI support.

We are asking the network to keep an eye on this important issue and to flag individual cases, particularly where clients would be media-willing, all with a view to increasing pressure for change on this important issue.

Effective interest rates - January 2023


HMRC to Launch Child Benefit Digital Claim Service ‘Later in 2023’

HMRC’s latest corporate report flags the department’s intention to introduce a digital claim process for Child Benefit this year, following on from its introduction of online systems for reviewing claim details and proof of entitlement.

HMRC says:

“During 2023 we will be bringing together digital services under a consistent brand and provide an improved digital experience... We will add new digital features and services regularly… such as moving Child Benefit online, making it easier for customers to change their personal details and request their NINO online.”

HMRC performance update: October to December 2022


Marie Curie asks for affordable increase to State Pension

Drawing on research it has funded at Loughborough University, the end of life charity Marie Curie has highlighted how small changes to eligibility for the State Pension could prevent terminally ill people of working age being driven into poverty. The researchers have calculated that giving this group early access to their State Pension could lift more than 8,600 dying people out of poverty every year.

The research also reveals that it would cost just £114.4 million per year, or 0.1% of the annual State Pension bill, and just £4 million more than the Department for Work and Pensions spent on overpaying the State Pension in error last year.

Mark Jackson, Marie Curie Senior Policy & Research Manager, says: "If you are diagnosed with a terminal illness under the age of 65 you are more likely to be driven into poverty as a direct result of that illness … The State Pension is the single most effective safeguard against poverty in our social security system … Extending that safeguard would prevent thousands of people living with terminal illness falling into poverty at the end of their lives … We're giving the Government a solution that could be implemented at an affordable cost to the state. In fact, the cost could almost be entirely covered … by simply reducing overpayment errors by the DWP. We urge the Government to account for this in its Spring Budget."

“Affordable” increase to pension budget could end poverty injustice for terminally ill, says charity


N.I’s Lowest Earning Households Left With Under £20 per Week After Bills & Living Costs

Northern Ireland’s lowest earning households have seen their discretionary income decrease by 46.7% compared to last year (from £37.11 to £19.78), meaning they have less than £20 per week to spend after bills and living expenses.

These figures come from the Consumer Council’s latest Northern Ireland Household Expenditure Tracker.

Q3 2022 Northern Ireland Household Expenditure Tracker


‘Ask for ANI’ Domestic Abuse Scheme

The ‘Ask for ANI’ (Action Needed Immediately) codeword scheme, which originally launched in pharmacies in January 2021, provides anyone at risk of abuse with support in accessing help and a safe space in which to do so.

Four Jobs & Benefits offices will take part in a nine-month pilot with specialist staff trained to help those suffering, or at risk of, abuse. Safe spaces will be available in Armagh, Andersonstown, Larne and Lisnagelvin, where individuals who ask for ‘ANI’ will be brought to a safe, private room.

The ‘ANI’ codeword alerts staff that the person is seeking immediate, urgent help. A clear process will be in place to help staff provide necessary support.

The pilot scheme will operate in the specified Jobs and Benefits offices from Monday 20 February 2023.

‘Ask for ANI’ domestic abuse scheme to be piloted in JBOs


Legislative Changes

New Laws Mean Changes for Private Tenants & Landlords

New laws governing private tenancies in Northern Ireland will come into effect from 1 April 2023.

The laws will affect both landlords and tenants within the private rented sector. While tenants are not required to take any action, they are advised to be aware of how the new law will affect them and their tenancies.
Under the changes, from 1 April private landlords will be required to:

  • provide tenants, including existing tenants, with a notice containing tenancy information;
  • provide tenants with a notice of variation when any changes are made to their tenancies;
  • provide receipts for any cash payment in relation to a tenancy.

There will also be new requirements in relation to tenancy deposits:

  • landlords only permitted to take or hold on to a tenancy deposit of no more than one month’s rent;
  • increased time periods for protecting and providing information on tenancy deposits;
  • failure to protect a tenancy deposit will become a continuing offence, no longer subject to a six-month time barrier to prosecution.

All private landlords who let a property under a private tenancy should already be registered under the Landlord Registration Scheme.

New laws mean changes for private tenants and landlords
The Private Tenancies Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 - A Guide to Sections 1-6 for Tenants and Landlords
Private Tenancies (2022 Act) (Commencement No.1) Order (Northern Ireland) 2023
Tenancy Information Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2023
Tenancy Deposit Schemes (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2023


Social Security Uprating Confirmed

Legislation has been passed confirming the up-rating of social security benefits in Northern Ireland for 2023-24. A full list of the new rates is available online.

Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order (Northern Ireland) 2023
Benefit and pension rates 2023 to 2024

In addition, new regulations relating to up-rating, which also amend benefit rates and limits falling outside the Up-rating Order, will come into force from 10 April.

Social Security Benefits Up-rating Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2023


Residence Rights for EU Nationals

On 21 December 2022 the High Court handed down a helpful judgement for holders of pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. The relevant case is:

R (Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens' Rights Agreements) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2022] EWHC 3274 (Admin).

This judicial review case was brought by the Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA) and supported by the European Commission and by the3million Ltd. The IMA ‘challenged the Home Office’s position that citizens with pre-settled status must make a second application to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) or face losing their rights under Part 2 of the Withdrawal Agreement.’

The Secretary of State will not appeal the judgment, which found the requirement for EU citizens to reapply to stay in the UK unlawful.

The government must now implement changes, in order to conform with the ruling in the case brought by the IMA. Lobby group the3million stated:

‘The court ruled people with pre-settled status cannot lose their residence rights just because they don’t make a second application to the EU Settlement Scheme before the expiry of their pre-settled status.

In addition, people with pre-settled status should not be denied permanent residence rights once they reach 5 years’ lawful residence just because they don’t make a second application for settled status.’

Independent Monitoring Authority successful in landmark High Court challenge against Home Office
IMA welcomes confirmation that Home Office will not pursue appeal in EU Settlement Scheme case
Thread by the3million on Thread Reader App
Extremely Helpful Landmark High Court Judgement For Those With EUSS Pre Settled Status


Extension of Pilot Scheme Testing UC In-Work Conditionality

The Department for Work & Pensions has extended its pilot scheme testing whether the imposition of work-related requirements on Universal Credit claimants who are in low-paid work will support them to increase their earnings. The pilot will continue for a further period of 12 months beginning on 19 February 2023. It does not apply to Northern Ireland.

Universal Credit (Work-Related Requirements) In Work Pilot Scheme (Extension) Order 2023


Further Extension to Assembly Election Deadline

The Westminster government has again pushed back the deadline for calling an election to the Northern Ireland Assembly in the wake of the failure to form a new Executive following last year’s election. The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Organ and Tissue Donation) Act 2023 retrospectively extends the deadline to 18 January 2024.

Regarding the Bill’s passage through the House of Commons, the Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris, said:

‘This Bill creates the time and space needed to focus attention on restoring Stormont and for UK-EU negotiations to reach a solution on the NI Protocol that meets the needs of people across Northern Ireland.’

It is unclear what the impact of the so-called Windsor Framework will have at this stage, although the leader of the DUP said ahead of the vote on the Framework in the House of Commons that his party ‘don't believe that this represents the significant progress that we need to see in order to have the institutions restored at this point.’ The Secretary of State retains the right under the amended legislation to call an Assembly election at any time.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Organ and Tissue Donation) Act 2023
Bill to extend NI Executive formation period progresses through House of Commons
Brexit: DUP will vote against Windsor Framework plans


Compensation Rates in Employment Cases Up-Rated

The Department for the Economy has increased the limits for payments and awards to workers in employment rights cases. Relevant legislation has been passed to up-rate the maximum amount of a compensatory award for unfair dismissal from £94,063 to £105,915 and the maximum amount of ‘a week’s pay’ for the purpose of calculating redundancy payments from £594 to £669. These changes will have effect from 6 April 2023.

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


Information Resources

£600 Energy Bills Support Scheme Information

Our latest Policy and Information Briefing provides an update to the Energy Bills Support Scheme and Alternative Fuels Payment, and answers frequently asked questions about the schemes.

Note: the Energy Bills Support Scheme is not a 'public fund' for immigration purposes and can be accessed by a person with no recourse to public funds (NRPF).

The updates to our Energy Bills Support Scheme and Alternative Fuels Payment briefing paper include information on:

  • What to do if the account holder has died
  • Issues around intermediaries and if you pay energy costs to someone else
  • What happens if you move house before the payment arrives
  • Detail on documentation required for nominated third parties

Energy Bills Support Scheme Info


Briefing Note on Voluntary Contributions & the State Pension

Due to the expiry of transitional arrangements related to the introduction of the New State Pension in 2016, we are seeing an increasing number of queries about whether it is worthwhile buying missing National Insurance contributions. To support those clients, we have published a short briefing note summarising the context and some appropriate steps people can take.

Voluntary National Insurance Contributions and the State Pension


New Guide to Rights & Entitlements

Community Advice Newry, Mourne and Down has published a new information booklet that provides an overview of entitlement to benefits and support and a concise summary of rights. An Overview of Your Rights and Entitlements is intended for clients and professionals outside the independent advice sector who support them, and seeks to increase awareness within the wider public of the support that is available and how to access advice.

A launch event was held at the Nautilus Centre in Kilkeel on 24 February hosted by Linda McAuley MBE from BBC Radio Ulster’s On Your Behalf consumer programme. Local MLAs, Councillors, Statutory and Voluntary Organisations were all in attendance. Community Advice Newry, Mourne and Down will be distributing print copies, but you can also access the Guide in ebook format via Amazon for £1.25.

Community Advice Newry, Mourne and Down Facebook Page


Updated Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) Information

We have added some new information on the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme to our website. By the end of 2024, ETAs will be a requirement worldwide for visitors who do not currently need a visa for short stays, including those visiting from Europe.

Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) Scheme

A more detailed analysis of the policy issues relating to free movement on the island of Ireland, with particular reference to the ETA, has been provided by the Centre for Cross Border Studies and the Committee on the Administration of Justice.

Free movement on the island of Ireland


National Minimum Wage & National Living Wage Guide

NI Business Info has produced a guide to the National Minimum Wage and the National Living Wage for employers in Northern Ireland. These minimum wage rates are the hourly rate that workers should be paid by their employers depending on their age or whether they are an apprentice.

National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rates change every April. The current minimum wage rates are in effect from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023, with new rates in place from 1 April 2023.

National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage
Minimum wage rates increase from 1 April 2023


Updated Guidance on Discretionary Waivers

The Law Centre has updated its guidance document on applying to the Department for Communities for a discretionary overpayment waiver. The purpose of the document is to:

  1. Outline the background to the law and policy, highlighting the relevant changes;
  2. Outline the reasons a waiver should be granted;
  3. Outline how to seek a discretionary waiver;
  4. Outline the type of evidence necessary to support a waiver request;
  5. Outline options if the waiver request is refused.

Overpayments In Social Security & The Discretionary Waiver - Updated Guidance



Latest Government Poverty Statistics Released

The Households below average income (HBAI) statistics reveal living standards in UK households, as determined by disposable income. The statistics reveal that although there was an overall increase in real terms median household income over the last year, household incomes of individuals in the bottom quarter of the income distribution showed real terms reductions and the percentage of individuals in relative low income increased.
Responding to the statistics, Peter Matejic, Chief Analyst at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:

“Child poverty and pensioner poverty are rising again. This is a shameful trend that should jolt the government into action – we cannot allow it to become the norm.

These figures also show the stark consequences of the government’s decision to remove the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit in October 2021. The increase played a crucial role in reducing the number of children living in poverty in the previous year – progress that has now been reversed.

Most worryingly of all, much of the data in today’s statistics covers the period before inflation began to spiral and the cost of living crisis started to bite. Poverty was already on the increase as we entered this crisis and despite the support provided by the government over the last year the situation has continued to worsen for millions.

Inflation remains in double digits and rents have rocketed. Benefit levels are so low that people cannot afford to buy food or heat their homes. At the very least the government must ensure that the basic rate of Universal Credit is actually linked to the cost of essentials if it expects to make any meaningful progress on poverty.”

Households Below Average Income: an analysis of the UK income distribution: FYE 1995 to FYE 2022
JRF: annual figures show unacceptable increase in poverty


NIHRC Submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has published its report to the United Nations as part of their work in monitoring the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the report the Commission makes over 80 recommendations to better ensure the protection of children’s rights. Particular concerns include the impact of child poverty, education, health and social care, and the youth justice system. NIHRC has advised the UNCRC to consider making recommendations including:

  • ensure that comprehensive strategies and action plans are implemented in NI for the eradication of child poverty;
  • ensure that all children with special educational needs in NI are promptly and comprehensively assessed and provided with the appropriate support;
  • take urgent steps to ensure that children’s social care services in NI meet demand and address the full range of complex needs, as they arise.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission warns more must be done to protect children’s rights


Unleashing the Power of Civil Society

The Law Family Commission on Civil Society was established over two years ago by Pro Bono Economics and the Law Family to investigate the third sector’s role in the UK. In January, it released its final report, which suggests that charities, social enterprises and community and voluntary organisations should be at the heart of economic growth. The report makes six broad proposals to achieve that goal:

  1. Building productivity and organisational effectiveness
  2. Creating timely, accessible data and robust evidence about the sector
  3. Improving the scale, distribution and impact of funding for the sector
  4. Bringing businesses and civil society together
  5. Strengthening relationships with policymakers
  6. Unleashing potential at local and regional level

Unleashing the Power of Civil Society Report
Scope NI: The growing role of charities in society must be embraced


Through the Eyes of Young Migrants

New research from the Social Change Initiative (SCI) highlights racism experienced by children of migrant families in Northern Ireland and calls for more determined action from government and society to address the issue.

"They hold on to a dream that it is better where they came from or where their parents came from," the report finds. "This hope is also driven by a sense of a lack of belonging they said is due to their everyday experiences within schools and the community. They dream of being somewhere they won’t be picked on, where there are ‘more people like me’."

Through the Eyes of Young Migrants Report


NI Consumer Insights

Which? has surveyed a nationally representative sample of consumers in Northern Ireland in order to understand their specific experience of the cost of living crisis. The resulting report shows the level of pressure that rising prices have placed on household budgets and demonstrates the financial and emotional toll this is taking on people. Key findings were:

  • The cost of living dominates consumers’ concerns in Northern Ireland. Worry about energy, food and housing costs has increased significantly compared to last year. Worry about fuel prices (88%) was higher in Northern Ireland than in the other UK nations.
  • Financial difficulty is rising, with 63% of consumers in Northern Ireland saying their household had to make an adjustment to cover essential spending in the last month. This compares to 46% last year and is higher than the adjustment rate in the other UK nations.
  • Parents in particular are feeling the squeeze, being more likely to have made a financial adjustment (77%) or missed a payment than other types of households.
  • Consumers in Northern Ireland are suffering emotional and even physical harm from rising prices, with many reporting skipping meals and just over a fifth (25%) losing sleep over the cost of living.
  • Rising prices are damaging trust in business, with trust in the energy, food, broadband and mobile sectors having dropped compared to last year. The energy sector had the lowest level of trust, at -21.

Consumers in Northern Ireland 2023: A cost of living crisis briefing


Labour Market Reports

Monthly labour market statistics are published by the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency (NISRA). Figures for March show improvements in employment rates, whilst the unemployment rate has returned to its pre-pandemic position. Economic inactivity, a key focus for the Chancellor’s Budget, sits at 26.4%.

Labour Market Reports



DfC Survey on Infrastructure & Support for Charities

The Department for Communities is seeking responses from charities about organisational capacity and their need for infrastructure support. This is part of a wider review of the needs and priorities for voluntary and community organisations and volunteers. The closing date for responses is 7th April 2023.

Voluntary and Community Sector Infrastructure and Support


APG Reducing Harm Related to Gambling: Public health Approaches to Gambling-Related Harms in NI

Advice NI submitted a response to the All Party Group on reducing harm related to gambling. Excerpt:

‘While financial concerns may present as the most immediate issue, the problem gambler may experience other gambling related harms [as detailed later in this response], so debt is not an isolated issue for problem gamblers. 

It could be suggested that a multi-strand approach with different agencies would have the most potential, and be best placed to address issues that arise from gambling: in November 2021, the APG report on the future of gambling regulation recommended that: The relevant Executive Departments (Communities, Health, Education and Justice) must work closely to both prevent and treat gambling related harm and end a disjointed Executive approach.

One of the challenges faced by DfC and other regulatory agencies, is that Gambling products are developed, marketed, and operated by a highly differentiated and profitable global industry. In order to challenge this, Northern Ireland lawmakers should be prepared to implement robust legislation, regarding issues including age-related access, advertising restrictions etc.’

Find the response in full here: Advice NI Response to Gambling & Public Health Consultation


Domestic & Sexual Abuse Strategy Consultation

The Departments of Health and Justice have announced a public consultation on a new draft Domestic and Sexual Abuse Strategy.

The strategy, covering the period 2023-2030, applies to all victims, regardless of age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity and background, while also recognising that women are disproportionately affected by domestic and sexual abuse.

The departments want to get a broad range of views from the public. In particular, they want to hear from those who have experienced domestic or sexual abuse, their families, as well as those who provide specialist support. The draft strategy proposes four key pillars - partnership, prevention, support and justice.

The consultation runs for 12 weeks, from Tuesday 7 February, 2023, until Tuesday 2 May, 2023.

Consultation on new Domestic and Sexual Abuse Strategy published today


NI Government Online Consultation Tool

A new online tool helps you find and participate in consultations and surveys run by a number of NI government departments.

Have Your Say


Cross Border Workers Survey

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in the Republic of Ireland is seeking the views of cross-border workers as part of a research study on cross-border employment on the Island of Ireland. Cross-border workers are invited to contribute via an online survey. All responses are anonymous. The survey closes on 11th April 2023.

Survey of Cross Border Workers – Have your say & influence policy development

Funding Opportunities

Small Grants for Summer Playschemes (UK)

Grants of between £500 and £1,000 will soon be available to registered charities across the UK to fund summer playschemes for children between the ages of 5-16 years.

Charities with an annual income of less than £100,000 can apply for funding to run playschemes for a minimum of two weeks or ten days during the summer holidays.

Priority will be given to small, local schemes involving a large number of children especially those with disabilities or from disadvantaged backgrounds. If the applicant is not a registered charity, then a registered charity may apply on the scheme’s behalf.

The funding is being made available through the Woodward Charitable Trust’s Summer Playscheme.

The closing date for applications is the 6th April 2023, and currently only accept on-line application forms.

Children’s Summer Playschemes Guidelines


Family Fund

'Your Opportunity' is a dedicated grants programme which aims to enhance the life of a disabled or seriously ill young adult.
You can apply for a Your Opportunity grant if you:

  • are the main parent or carer of a disabled, or seriously ill, young adult aged 18-24, who lives at home with you
  • have not had a Your Opportunity grant on behalf of your disabled young adult, in the past 12 months
  • have lived in the UK for the last six months
  • have a low household income, or receive a benefit such as Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit etc.

More information is available at the Family Fund website.

Your Opportunity (18 to 24 year olds)


National Lottery Community Funding

You can apply to the National Lottery Community Fund to deliver new or existing activity or to change and adapt to new and future challenges, including the current cost-of-living crisis.

Funding from £10,001 to £500,000 is available to those who help people make changes to improve their lives and/or help communities build on their strengths and share things they’ve learned.

Funding Programmes: People and Communities


Parliamentary Questions

Benefits Overpayments

UIN 133554
Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many instances of benefit overpayment that were not attributable to a fault made by the claimant in each year since 2018.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

Information on the levels of official error in the benefit system is captured in the annual Fraud and Error in the Benefit System publication, which reports that the rate of official error within the department has remained steady at 0.4% since 2018, except for 2021-2022 where the rate dropped to 0.3%.

Year Official Error Rate Value of Error
2021-2022 0.3% £700m
2020-2021 0.4% £800m
2019-2020 0.4% £800m
2018-2019 0.4% £700m

Fraud and error in the benefit system: financial year 2021 to 2022 estimates


UIN 133557
Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many instances of benefit overpayment that were not attributable to a fault made by the claimant were (a) requested to be waived by claimants and (b) waived by his Department in each year since 2018.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

The Department for Work and Pensions only started to categorise waiver requests in 2020/21. Information from 2020/21 onwards can be found in the table below:

Year Waivers requested relating to Official Error O/E Waived
20/21 12 3
21/22 97 5
22/23 (to date) 104 25

Section 105 of The Welfare Reform Act 2012 states that any overpayment of Universal Credit, new style JSA or ESA, in excess of entitlement, is recoverable. The department therefore seeks to recover benefit overpayments accordingly, but remains committed to doing so without causing undue financial hardship.

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.


Universal Credit Sanctions

UIN 149521
Rachael Maskell, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if he will take steps to ensure that people who are eligible for Universal Credit but receive a nil award as a result of a sanction are not prevented from accessing other benefit payments.

Guy Opperman, Conservative

This depends on the individual eligibility criteria for other benefits.


UIN 161378
David Linden, Scottish National Party

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to the Answer of 8 March 2023 to Question 157005 on Universal Credit: Disqualification, when his Department last made an assessment of the effectiveness of the deterrent effect of benefit sanctions on Universal Credit claimants who have been subject to repeat adverse sanction decisions.

Guy Opperman, Conservative

We have made no such assessment.


UIN 163835
Chris Stephens, Scottish National Party

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many benefit claims were subject to sanctions by constituency in the last three months for which data is available; and how much was the (a) total and (b) average sum of benefit income lost by claimants due to sanctions by constituency in that period.

Guy Opperman, Conservative

The latest monthly statistics, taken from Stat-Xplore, on the number of Universal Credit full service claimants with a payment that has been reduced due to a sanction, by Westminster parliamentary constituency, for September to November 2022, are provided in the attached spreadsheet.

The additional information requested for (a) and (b) is not readily available and to provide it would incur disproportionate cost.

Sanctions are only ever applied when a claimant fails to meet their agreed conditionality requirements without good reason.



UIN HL5908
Lord Field of Birkenhead, Crossbench

To ask His Majesty's Government how many and what proportion of benefit claimants currently under sanction (1) are in paid employment, (2) are receiving hardship payments, (3) have a medical condition, or (4) were in hospital or attending a medical appointment when they were deemed to have failed to comply.

Viscount Younger of Leckie, Conservative

The information requested for parts (2), (3) and (4) is not readily available and to provide it would incur disproportionate cost.
In November 2022 (4%) of those who received a sanction were in the working – with requirements and working – no requirements conditionality regimes.

Sanctions are only ever applied when a claimant fails to meet their agreed conditionality requirements without good reason. These requirements are developed and agreed in discussion with their work coach and tailored to their individual capability, capacity and specific circumstances, including any health conditions or disability, ensuring they are realistic and achievable.

Those who are not expected to look for work, such as those with severe health conditions, including mental health conditions, are not subject to requirements or sanctions.


UC Administrative Earnings Threshold

UIN 141525
David Linden, Scottish National Party

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to the Answer of 7 February to Question 135449 on Universal Credit, when he expects to be able to evaluate the impact of the Universal Credit (Administrative Earnings Threshold) (Amendment) Regulations 2022 on claimants.

Guy Opperman, Conservative

We are monitoring the implementation of the changes in the Administrative Earnings Threshold in order to gather insights into how to best support people in work to increase their earnings. The impact evaluation of the September AET rise will not take place for some time, as it will take a while for earnings increases to materialise given claimants need time to discuss their goals and situation with their Work Coach, consider their options with their employer and family, and take the necessary steps to grow their income.

UIN 146975
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many and what proportion of Universal Credit claimants impacted by the rise in the Administrative Earnings Threshold from 26 September 2022 have been sanctioned due to not meeting the requirements associated with being in the Intensive Work Search Group, as of 17 February 2023.

Guy Opperman, Conservative
This data will not be available for some time.


Universal Credit & SMI

UIN 142865
Beth Winter, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to the Answer of 1 February to Question 133806 on Support for Mortgage Interest, what the reason is for the requirement for the Bank of England's published monthly average mortgage interest rate to exceed the Support for Mortgage Interest standard interest rate by 0.5% before the latter is updated.

Mims Davies, Conservative

The primary purpose of SMI is to provide owner-occupiers receiving an income-related benefit with a level of support that is sufficient to protect them from the threat of repossession. Lenders recognise that the payments we make will not always mirror the mortgage-holders liability, but we expect that they will, nonetheless, exercise forbearance.

On 31st January 2023, the Bank of England released their latest monthly average mortgage rate. This relates to December 2022 and stands at 2.51%.

The rate at which SMI is paid changes only when the Bank of England average varies from the rate in payment by 0.5% or more. Through guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority, lenders are aware that a change to the rate of SMI payments is triggered only in these circumstances and so should continue to offer tailored forbearance to their customers.

While SMI is kept under review, particularly when markets are more volatile, there are currently no plans to amend this policy. No assessment has been made of the financial impact on recipients of changing the standard interest rate before the trigger point.

UIN 149671
Byrne, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, for what reason Support for Mortgage Interest payable to Universal Credit claimants who make mortgage payments has not been revised and increased in line with mortgage interest rates.

Mims Davies, Conservative

The primary purpose of SMI is to provide owner-occupiers receiving an income-related benefit with a level of support that is sufficient to protect them from the threat of repossession. Lenders recognise that the payments we make will not always mirror the mortgage-holders liability, but we expect that they will, nonetheless, exercise forbearance.

The rate at which SMI is paid changes only when the Bank of England’s average mortgage rate varies from the rate in payment by 0.5 percentage points or more. Through guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority, lenders are aware that a change to the rate of SMI payments is triggered only in these circumstances and so should continue to offer tailored forbearance to their customers. While SMI is kept under review, there are currently no plans to amend this policy. There has been no assessment on the impact of rising mortgage repayments for those claimants who are in receipt of SMI. Therefore, there has been no estimate made on the number of Universal Credit claimants who have been made homeless due to increases in mortgage interest rates.

UIN 163851
Dr Matthew Offord, Conservative

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether it is his policy to increase the level of payments through the Support for Mortgage Interest scheme in line with increases in the Bank of England base rate.

Mims Davies, Conservative

It is not SMI policy to increase the level of SMI payments in line with increases in the Bank of England’s base rate.

The standard interest rate we pay is set at a level based on the Bank of England's published monthly average mortgage interest rate. We have selected this 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 per cent of all banks and building societies' mortgage business. It is also updated on a regular (monthly) basis.

The standard interest rate is currently set at 2.09% and will only change when the Bank of England’s average mortgage rate differs by 0.5 percentage points or more from the rate in payment.


PIP & Huntingdon’s Disease

UIN 136852
Emma Hardy, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what guidance is provided to assist Personal Independence Payment assessors making decisions on a person with Huntington's disease; and if he will publish a copy of that guidance.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

The Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment considers the impact of all conditions on an individual’s ability to live independently, not just the nature and severity of their impairment. The role of the assessment provider (AP) is to provide independent advice against a series of activities set out in legislation and devised by the department. The decision on benefit entitlement rests with the DWP, not the AP.

The department has not specified that APs employ health professionals (HPs) who are specialists in specific conditions or impairments. Instead, the emphasis is on ensuring they are experts in disability analysis, focusing on the effects of health conditions and impairments on the individual’s daily life. All PIP HPs have access to a Condition Insight Report (CIR) on Huntington’s disease, compiled in collaboration with the Huntington’s Disease Association.

We have no plans to publish this guidance as it is intended for internal use only.


PIP & Mental Health

UIN 140233
Neil Coyle, Independent

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how access needs for people with mental health needs are met when making claims for Personal Independence Payments.
Tom Pursglove, Conservative

Many claimants who make a claim to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) may have a mental health condition.
PIP claimants with a severe mental health or behavioural condition, learning disability, developmental disorder or cognitive impairment, who may have difficulty engaging with the claims process, and with no support network in place, can be provided with additional support during the claims process if they need it.

This support can include help filling in the claim form or the claimant questionnaire, and additional protections for failing to return the questionnaire, or for failing to attend a face-to-face assessment. If the claimant requests it, we can involve a third-party representative and engage with them at every stage, including the health assessment.

GOV.UK also contains links to Easy Read guides to PIP and videos.. which help explain each of the elements of the PIP claims process for those who may find it difficult to understand. We also ensure all staff in customer-facing roles undertake mandatory mental health awareness training to equip them with the knowledge and skills to be able to support claimants with mental health conditions.


ESA & Permitted Work

UIN 137894
Seema Malhotra, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps his Department is taking to ensure that all claimants are made aware of permitted work and the PW1 form.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative

The Employment and Support Allowance permitted work rules strike a balance between encouraging claimants to build their confidence, undertake some part-time paid work, and plan a gradual move to sustained employment, while continuing to receive benefits; and, on the other hand, providing the incentive to move off benefits entirely and into full-time work.

People can find information about permitted work and the PW1 form on GOV.UK, or by talking to their Work Coach. If GOV.UK is not an option, Work Coaches can issue a PW1 form and a guidance leaflet (DWPFO1) to the claimant.


State Retirement Pension

UIN 136786
Richard Foord, Liberal Democrat

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what estimate his Department has made of the number of people who will not meet the 35 qualifying years in order to receive the full new State Pension due to prolonged periods of low-income work.

Laura Trott, Conservative

The Government has made no such assessment.

The Government has ensured that people with earnings below the Primary Threshold continue to have their entitlement to State Pension protected. Although the Primary Threshold, when people start making National Insurance Contributions, has increased from £190 to £242 per week in 2022/23, the Lower Earnings Limit (LEL) remains at £123 per week in 2022/23 (£6396 per annum). The LEL is the level of earnings above which people are treated as having paid National Insurance, even though they have not paid Contributions.

People with earnings from a single employer above the LEL, receive a Qualifying Year of National Insurance, which counts towards their State Pension eligibility. For people on low incomes, there is a wide range of National Insurance credits available, including people in receipt of Universal Credit, ensuring they can achieve the best possible State Pension outcome when they reach State Pension age. Information about these can be found on www.gov.uk/national-insurance-credits/eligibility


Independent Review of State Pension Age

Stephen Timms, of the Work & Pensions Committee, wrote to the Minister for Pensions to find out about the publication of the independent review of the State Pension age:

‘…You said that the report of Baroness Neville Rolfe’s independent review of the State Pension age and the Government Actuary’s Department’s report would be published in due course. The Government has announced that it plans to conclude its own review in early 2023.
The Committee has asked me to write to you asking you to publish these reports immediately to enable it to effectively scrutinise the Government’s own review when that is published. This would be in line with practice for the first review of the State Pension age: the reports by the independent reviewer (John Cridland) and the Government Actuary were both published on 23 March 2017, in advance of DWP’s own review on 19 July 2017.’
The Minister’s Response:

‘Thank you for your letter…regarding the Government’s second State Pension age review. Work is well underway on the review which we will publish by May 2023. As you note, at the Autumn Statement 2022 the Chancellor committed to concluding the review in early 2023.
We are of course considering the full range of evidence to reach decisions that are robust, transparent and provide fairness to both taxpayers and future pensioners.  This includes the evidence from the Government Actuary’s report and the independent report led by Baroness Neville-Rolfe.
We are planning to publish both the Government Actuary’s report and the independent report no later than the Government’s report. Although this is a different publication schedule to the last review, the issues are still under consideration and so we think this approach is more appropriate.’