'THINK' March 2024 Edition

The Advice NI Policy & Information team is delighted to publish the March 2024 edition of our policy eNewsletter ‘THINK’.

Issue in Focus - Stormont Returns

Advice NI Calls On New Minister And Executive To Act Immediately To Avert Looming Benefit Cap Cliff Edge

We have published a new policy briefing that calls on the new Minister for Communities and his Executive colleagues to act immediately to avert what is a looming cliff edge in terms of the welfare mitigation schemes due to end on 31st March 2025, in particular Benefit Cap mitigation.
As the briefing explains, ‘the issue of welfare reform almost brought the NI Assembly to the brink in 2015 due to concerns about its impact on vulnerable people.’ Whilst the Fresh Start Agreement provided the impetus for mitigating some of the harshest impacts of welfare reform, the future of that mitigation package has been uncertain.
In January 2020 the incumbent Minister for Communities gave an assurance that existing mitigations would be extended, and support for claimants affected by the Bedroom Tax will continue. Unfortunately, Benefit Cap mitigations were only extended to 31 March 2025. This means that we now face a renewed cliff edge looming next year.
The Department for Communities’ own annualised figures show that in the last complete year 2,160 individuals received a mitigation payment, amounting to £2,412,680 in protected benefits. We are clear that the loss of this support will have a devastating impact on those concerned, particularly in the teeth of a cost of living crisis and given recent cuts to Discretionary Housing Payments and Discretionary Support in the last 12 months.
In addition, our briefing also calls for a review of the overpayment recovery process in respect to Welfare Supplementary Payments. Advisers across the independent advice network are encountering cases where the method of payment to and recovery from the landlord excludes recipients from the discretionary waiver process.
Finally, we believe there is a broad consensus in favour of strengthening the welfare mitigation schemes, including by increasing the crisis support available via Discretionary Support and expanding welfare mitigation to encompass the two-child limit.
Benefit Cap mitigation #Cliffedge25 & strengthening support for the most vulnerable


Voluntary And Community Sector Outlines Its Concerns To The New Minister

NICVA has hosted a meeting for sector leaders with the new Minister for Communities, Gordon Lyons, to discuss the ongoing issues facing the sector, including funding uncertainties, increased demand for services, and the ongoing pressures caused by increased costs.
NICVA Chief Executive Celine McStravick outlined the challenges:
“Our sector faces immense pressures yet continues to step up through every crisis, providing a range of support and services to ensure that communities thrive and flourish. We look forward to working in partnership to move today’s dialogue into actionable solutions.”
In his own remarks, Minister Lyons said:
“Voluntary and community groups play a vital role in supporting communities across Northern Ireland.
“I have heard from leaders right across sector about the challenges of delivery at a time of increased costs and a rising demand for services.
“I want to pay tribute to the hundreds of organisations, their staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to deliver real and lasting change for people.
“I will continue to engage with the sector to ensure continued delivery of services to those who most need them in our communities across Northern Ireland.”

NICVA and sector leaders meet with new Communities Minister Gordon Lyons
Communities Minister hears concerns of voluntary and community sector leaders


Officials And Advice NI Brief Communities Committee On Department’s Priorities And Policy Issues

Colum Boyle, Department for Communities Permanent Secretary, attended a meeting of the Committee for Communities on 29 February to outline for members his department’s main priorities. Also present to give evidence were Paddy Rooney, Deputy Secretary for the Work & Health Group, and Mark O’Donnell, Deputy Secretary for the Housing and Sustainability Group.
Committee for Communities meeting, Thursday 29 February 2024
Minutes of Proceedings - 29 February 2024
In addition, at the session on 14 March the Committee heard oral briefings from Brenda Henderson, Deputy Secretary for Operational Delivery, and Paddy Rooney, Deputy Secretary for the Work & Health Group.
At the same session, Advice NI Head of Policy, Kevin Higgins, informed the Committee about key social policy issues identified within the independent advice network.
Committee for Communities Meeting, Thursday 14 March 2024
Meeting Thursday 14 March 2024


Student Hardship Funds Receive Financial Boost

Economy Minister Conor Murphy has announced an additional £1million to support students facing financial hardship as a result of increased costs of living. According to the Department, funds will be distributed to Queen’s University, Ulster University, the Open University, St Mary’s University College and Stranmillis University College for eligible students at those institutions to apply for.
Announcing the additional funds, Mr Murphy said:
“I encourage any student who feels that they may be eligible for additional support to contact their higher education institution and apply. I also urge the institutions to ensure they apply eligibility criteria as flexibly as possible when considering applications for support from students."
See the nidirect page on Support Funds for further information, including contact details for each institution.
Murphy announces additional £1m of financial support for students


New Education Minister Promises To Consult On School Uniform Price Cap

Paul Givan, the newly-installed Education Minister at Stormont has told the Assembly that he is planning a public consultation on introducing a price cap for school uniforms. The consultation will also look at placing current guidance for schools on uniform policy into legislation.
Committing to take steps to deliver an equal system for all families, Mr Givan told the Assembly:
“Uniform policies must be developed with the best interests of the child and young person at heart.
“For my part, I will issue proposals for consultation in the near future seeking the views of stakeholders, parents and children as we move to provide a level playing field for families from all backgrounds.”

Minister pledges to act on affordability of school uniforms
School uniforms: Education minister to consult on price cap


Cost Of Living Support For Community And Voluntary Sector Announced

Communities Minister Gordon Lyons has announced that 287 Voluntary and Community organisations funded through the Department’s Voluntary & Community Division (V&CD) and Community Empowerment Division (CED) will receive additional financial support amounting to £1500. Announcing the funds, Mr Lyons said:
“I remain acutely aware of the challenges that persist within the voluntary and community sector due to the ongoing cost of living crisis. Organisations continue to face significant cost-of-living pressures as running costs continue to increase and the impact can be significant for the most vulnerable in our communities, at a time when demand for services and support remains high. The groups that will benefit from this funding are at the forefront in the delivery of key services across many of our most at-risk communities.”
Minister announces £1500 Cost of Living Support for Voluntary and Community organisations


Social Policy News

Reviewing The Key Budget Announcements

Much of the post-budget analysis focused on the further cut to National Insurance announced by the Chancellor, but there were several less headline-grabbing policy changes that will be of interest to those of us working in welfare rights.
These included an extension to the maximum repayment period for Universal Credit advance payments from 12 to 24 months, additional funding for the processing of disability benefit claims, a further increase to debt value thresholds in DROs, and an end to standing charges for energy customers on prepayment meters. The government also committed to reform of the High Income Child Benefit Charge.
Funding for emergency assistance through the Household Support Fund was extended by the Chancellor, but only for 6 months, leaving many councils and advice services concerned about how they will meet rising demand for this support.
As always, it remains to be seen which reforms will be implemented here in Northern Ireland, and how quickly this will happen.
Policy paper: Spring Budget 2024
Budget summary: Key points from Jeremy Hunt's speech
Back for more? Putting the 2024 Spring Budget in context
Citizens Advice Data Insights March 2024 - Spring Budget with Mike Brewer and Ignacia Pinto


Move To UC Update From Department For Communities

On 13 February 2024 stakeholders received an update from Paddy Rooney, Deputy Secretary for the Work & Health Group in the Department for Communities, regarding the Department’s plans for the expansion of the Move to UC programme in Northern Ireland.
Since 16 October 2023, the Department has been issuing Migration Notice letters to people in all postcode areas across NI receiving Working Tax Credits and/or Child Tax Credits and no other legacy benefits.
The latest update advised that, from April, the Department plans to begin issuing Migration Notice letters to people in receipt of the other legacy benefits: Housing Benefit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance and income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
The exceptions are those in receipt of income-related Employment and Support Allowance only or income-related Employment and Support Allowance and Housing Benefit, whose migration has been delayed until 2028/29, in line with the Chancellor’s announcement in the 2022 Autumn Statement.
Separate plans are being developed for Tax Credits claimants who are over State Pension age, and therefore it is expected that their Migration Notices will be issued later in the year.
As the managed migration process provides more extensive financial protection to those moving from legacy benefits to Universal Credit. and given claimants will not be able to return to their legacy benefits once a claim to UC is made, we are encouraging people to always seek independent advice before making a claim.


DWP Publishes Latest Move To UC Insight

Updated findings from the Department for Work and Pensions address concerns about the number of Tax Credits claimants not making a claim for Universal Credit under managed migration. For the period from July 2022 to August 2023 DWP found that the proportion of households issued with a Migration Notice that made a claim to UC was 74%. The majority of these households were Tax Credit-only claimants.
In order to better understand the reasons for people deciding not to make a claim, DWP carried out in-depth interviews with couples who were previously on Tax Credits and chose not to make a claim to UC. Despite a low response rate, the Department has identified the following key themes: 

  • Households have experienced a change in circumstances which they thought would affect their eligibility for UC.
  • A perception that households would only receive a low amount of UC award.
  • Universal Credit places greater requirements on self-employed claimants than the Tax Credit system.
  • Some couples previously on Tax Credits had savings higher than the £16,000 threshold and therefore believed they would not be eligible for UC.

 The Department is now planning a large-scale survey of non-claimants alongside internal data analysis and monitoring of calls to the Move to UC helpline.
In addition, DWP has also revealed its initial findings from a discovery exercise with wider legacy benefit claimants in receipt of Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, and Employment and Support Allowance with Tax Credits. Of particular note is the additional support provided to this cohort by the Department, including by telephone, in-person and online, as well as the Help to Claim service delivered by Citizens Advice:

  • The main source of help for claimants was from friends/family, followed by the dedicated Move to UC helpline and then the Jobcentre.
  • Proportion of telephone claims was much higher at 15%, compared to 3% across the wider UC service.
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants currently have the highest claim rate and they appear to be most comfortable with doing their claim online.
  • People on income-related Employment and Support Allowance were more likely to say they required help with making their claim.
  • Housing Benefit claimants currently have the lowest claim rate.
  • Enhanced Support was provided through outbound calls and home visits.
  • 42 extensions were given to claimants (representing 8% of the migration notices sent).

The Department now intends to look at ways that these findings and further discovery activity can inform improvements to the process for wider legacy benefit claimants.
Move to Universal Credit – insight on Tax Credit migrations and initial Discovery activity for wider benefit cohorts


Universal Credit Conditionality Changes For Lead Carers

Advice sector stakeholders have been informed by the Department for Communities of a change in policy arising from the Spring Budget 2023 relating to Universal Credit claimants who are lead carers. The Department’s says that the purpose of this change is to give this group of claimants ‘more regular support from a work coach to help improve their prospects of work in the future.’
The Department defines a lead carer as ‘the person in a household with the main responsibility for looking after a child (this includes lone parents). This could be a parent, grandparent, kinship carer, adoptive parent, or other guardian dependent on their individual family circumstances.’
In practice, the Department has been contacting those lead carers with a child in the household aged 3-12 to review their Claimant Commitment, with a view to increasing their expected hours of work-related activity up to a maximum of 30 hours per week.
The Advice NI Policy & Information team would like to emphasise that this change is not based on any legislative amendment to the rules relating to entitlement to Universal Credit. As such, claimants are not obliged to amend their Claimant Commitment in order to increase their expected hours of work-related activity. The rules that apply continue to be those outlined in chapters J1-J3 of the Advice for Decision Making guide.
The Department does emphasise in its communication that work coaches have been instructed to consider ‘each claimant’s individual circumstances including the availability of suitable childcare, and to tailor the claimant’s work hours accordingly. It has been highlighted that there should be no automatic increase to the lead carer's work hours to 30 hours.’ As such, any clients that are concerned about the impact of this policy change are strongly encouraged to raise this with their Work Coach. Advisers can make use of the usual escalation routes and should contact the Advice NI Policy & Information team for assistance when needed.


Further Extension Of UC Surplus Earnings Threshold Confirmed

A signed determination from the Minister of State for Employment has confirmed the extension of the temporary de minimis of £2,500 on surplus earnings in Universal Credit. The temporary de minimis is now due to end on 31 March 2025. The announcement was originally made by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement.
The determination explains that the 'temporary de minimis period' is the period during which 'the relevant threshold' for the purposes of calculating surplus earnings under Regulation 54A of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013 is £2,500 rather than £300.
This document only applies to Great Britain, but Advice NI has been assured by the Department for Communities that the extension will also apply to Northern Ireland claims and that necessary action is being taken to formalise this position before the end of March.
Letter dated 22/02/2024 from Jo Churchill MP to the Deposited Papers Clerk regarding signed Determination to extend the temporary Universal Credit surplus earning de minimis of £2,500 from 1 April 2024


Government Announces New Immigration Measures

The Home Office has announced a number of ‘measures to transform the UK’s legal migration system, bolster border security and drive down unsustainable and unfair levels of migration’. They include:

  • Reforms that will restrict care workers from bringing dependants and require care providers to register with the Care Quality Commission if they are sponsoring migrants, which will come into force on 11 March;
  • The laying of Immigration Rules, which will include the removal of the 20% going rate discount for occupations on the Shortage Occupation List on 14 March;
  • A new increase to the minimum salary required for those arriving on the Skilled Worker visa, from £26,200 to £38,700, on 4 April;
  • Increasing the minimum income requirement threshold in stages for family visas, starting at £29,000 from 11 April.

Home Secretary underlines commitment to cut net migration
Written Statement: Legal Migration Implementation Update
Dates confirmed for changes to income thresholds for family and skilled worker visas


Consumer Council Offers Advice Following Recent Energy Tariff Reductions

Following price reductions announced by Power NI and SSE Airtricity gas, which come on the back of reductions in electricity tariffs announced by both Budget Energy and SSE Airtricity earlier this year, the Consumer Council is advising consumers to consider switching supplier to get the best deal possible.
Commenting on the reductions, Raymond Gormley, Head of Energy Policy at the Consumer Council, said:
“These tariff decreases are welcome news as they indicate a downward trend in wholesale energy prices. We work closely with the Utility Regulator and regulated supply companies to help protect and support consumers during price increases and we also ensure that that any cost savings are passed onto consumers as soon as possible during price decreases.
“We know from our research that most consumers in Northern Ireland are still really worried about home energy prices. We urge anyone who is struggling to pay their energy bills or top-up their meters to contact their supplier directly for help and support.”
“Now that there is some change in electricity prices with the regulated and unregulated suppliers, we encourage consumers to use our free online Energy Price Comparison Tools to check that they are on the best deal or if they could save money by switching supplier, billing method or tariff.”

Consumers who do not have internet access or would like additional support in checking energy tariffs can call the Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022.
Consumer Council encourages consumers to consider switching energy supplier due to series of price decreases


Concerns Raised About Automated Monitoring Of Benefit Claimants

The Public Law Project has highlighted significant concerns with the Department for Work and Pensions’ plans to expand its use of machine learning to investigate alleged fraud and error in the benefits system, likening the risks to those involved in the Horizon IT scandal at the Post Office.
Although the DWP offers the reassurance that “staff will always take any decision related to suspending benefits, and any signals of potential fraud or error will be looked at comprehensively before action is taken,” campaign groups such as PLP are still concerned about the potential impact on the most vulnerable.
In a blog post on its website, PLP has outlined 5 ways in which the government must work to mitigate those risks:

  1. Humans must not over-rely on machines 
  2. Humans need to understand the machines 
  3. Systems must be transparent  
  4. Automated systems must be scrutinised independently 
  5. People affected by automated decisions must be able to contest the outcomes 

Shameem Ahmad, chief executive of the Public Law Project, told the Guardian: “As the Horizon scandal shows, reliance on automation carries a high risk of harm. Using automation in a system that impacts the income of over 40% of the UK population is a huge risk … Tackling fraud is legitimate. Punitive mass surveillance is not the way to do it.”
Scrap plans to scan accounts of benefit claimants or risk new scandal, MPs told
How can the government avoid the next Horizon scandal?


Latest Statistics Prompt Renewed Focus On NEETs

New estimates from the Office for National Statistics suggest that 851,000 young people aged 16 to 24 were not in education, employment or training (NEET) between October and December 2023. This would constitute 12% of all young people in the UK. This was a rise of 0.3 percentage points on the year, but a fall of 0.2 percentage points on the quarter.
Young people not in education, employment or training (NEET), UK: February 2024
Responding in part to the figures in a speech to the Demos think-tank, Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary Liz Kendall said that a Labour government would give particular attention to the issues facing NEETs. This would include investment in mental health support, careers advice, skills development, employment support, and adjustments for those with disabilities. However, Kendall also emphasised that existing conditionality would be maintained and even strengthened:
“This is our commitment to young people. We value you. You are important.
“We will invest in you and help you build a better future, with all the chances and choices this brings. But in return for these new opportunities, you will have a responsibility to take up the work or training that’s on offer.
“Under our changed Labour party, if you can work there will be no option of a life on benefits.  Not just because the British people believe rights should go hand in hand with responsibilities.
“But because being unemployed or lacking basic qualifications when you’re young can harm your job prospects and wages for the rest of your life. This isn’t good enough for young people or for our country.”

Life on benefits will not be an option under Labour, says Liz Kendall
Liz Kendall full speech: ‘How we’ll get Britain working again, and follow in the footsteps of Attlee, Wilson and Blair’


Concerns Raised About Lost Entitlement To UC For Carers And Parents Of Disabled Children

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) warns that poor administration within the Department for Work and Pensions means that many claimants are losing out on additional Universal Credit entitlement. In particular, those who become entitled to Child Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Carer’s Allowance don’t necessarily know they’re entitled to the extra UC, and yet the Department relies on them to notify it of their new entitlement.
CPAG notes that its ‘early warning system’ – which collates and analyses welfare rights cases from across the UK – has come across numerous cases of parents who have been short-changed in this way. Some carers on UC have gone for months or even years with no carer element in their UC, even though their UC entitlement is reduced by £1 for every £1 they receive from Carer’s Allowance.
Advice NI have also engaged repeatedly with the Department for Communities here in Northern Ireland on this issue but have received the same response – that the Department is reliant on self-reporting by claimants. We agree this approach is unsatisfactory and welcome CPAG’s call for improved data-sharing and an exercise to identify affected claimants.
Poor data-sharing at DWP short-changing universal credit claimants


HMRC And DWP To Undertake Corrective Exercise Relating To Lost State Pension Entitlement

Financial Secretary to the Treasury Nigel Huddleston confirmed to Parliament last month that HMRC has started contacting people potentially underpaid State Pension amounting to more than £1billion because of historical errors recording Home Responsibilities Protection.
Home Responsibilities Protection was a scheme that ran between 6 April 1978 and 5 April 2010 which reduced the number of qualifying years of National Insurance contributions a person with caring responsibilities needed to receive the full basic State Pension.
As Mr Huddleston explained in his statement:
“To correct this issue, potentially impacted customers will be invited to check their eligibility and make an application to HMRC for home responsibilities protection. To help individuals determine their eligibility, a self-identification tool is available on www.gov.uk. Where an application is successful, those with a state pension impact will have their award corrected and any arrears paid. HMRC and DWP will also trigger a wider communications campaign working with key stakeholders and representative bodies to ensure that all those who may be eligible are aware of this.”
Advice NI have since been contacted by HMRC to participate in this engagement activity, and we will share more information as it becomes available.
Home Responsibilities Protection: Corrective Exercise
Home Responsibilities Protection: correction of National Insurance records and State Pension entitlement


Northern Ireland Poverty And Income Inequality Report 2022-23

  • In 2022/23 18% of individuals in NI (approximately 349,000), were considered to be in relative poverty (BHC), an increase from 16% in 2021/22.

  • In 2022/23 14% of individuals in NI (approximately 271,000), were considered to be in absolute poverty (BHC), an increase from 13% in 2021/22.

  • Over the last ten years, the proportion of individuals in relative poverty (BHC) has fluctuated between a high of 22% in 2014/15 and lows of 16% in 2017/18 and 2021/22, while absolute poverty (BHC) generally decreased slowly from a high of 21% in 2013/14 to a low of 12% in 2020/21 before increasing slightly to the current position of 14% in 2022/23. The AHC measures followed a similar pattern.

  • Of all family types, ‘couples without children’ and ‘pensioner couples’ had the lowest risk of being in relative poverty (BHC), at 13%. The family type at the highest risk was ‘single with children’, at 38%.


Advice NI view: 

Crystal clear that, in order to address child poverty effectively:

  • Benefit Cap mitigations #CliffEdge25 must be addressed as a matter of urgency;
  • 2 child cap should be the centrepiece of any new mitigations package.

Northern Ireland Poverty and Income Inequality report 2022-23 | Department for Communities (communities-ni.gov.uk)


Legislative And Case Law

Court Of Appeal Dismisses DWP’s Interpretation Of Backdating Rules In UC

The Court of Appeal has rejected the Secretary of State's appeal against the Upper Tribunal’s decision that Universal Credit claimants have the right to seek backdating of their claim after the decision to award benefit from the date of claim has been made.
Lord Justice Underhill, giving the lead judgement, highlighted the unfairness of the DWP’s interpretation of the legislation, which was that claims for a past period could not be considered once a decision on entitlement had been made. However, the Court rejected this principle on the grounds that this excluded such decisions from the normal revisions and appeals procedures:
“In the case of a claim for universal credit the question whether it is in time will only arise in the context of a claim in respect of a past period, and it will depend, in accordance with regulation 26 (2) of the C&P Regulations, on a decision by the Secretary of State about whether the specified conditions are satisfied. But I do not think that can affect the correct construction of section 1 (1) [of the Social Security Administration Act 1992], which is not concerned only with universal credit. If the Secretary of State decides that the specified conditions are not satisfied, the claimant will not be entitled to the benefit for the past period; but there is no reason why that decision should not be treated simply as part of the determination of the claim, and subject, like the determination itself, to the procedures for revision and appeal.”
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v Miah [2024] EWCA Civ 186
Court of Appeal rules that there is no requirement for a universal credit claimant to request backdating before their claim is determined (paywall)
Updated guidance from CPAG following the judgement is that any request for backdating after the initial decision has been made should be treated as a request for mandatory reconsideration, thereby opening up the right of appeal. This is largely in keeping with decision making guidance issued by both DWP and DfC last year following the decision of the Upper Tribunal.
In addition to updating this guidance, CPAG's view remains that the DWP should urgently amend the online claim form for UC so that it asks claimants whether they would like their claim to commence from an earlier date.
No requirement to request backdating before a claim to universal credit determined
ADM Memo 4/23 - Claiming Universal Credit for a past period - effect of Upper Tribunal decision


Increase To Debt Relief Order Disregard Limit Implemented

From 1 February 2024 a higher disregard of £2,000 applies for the purposes of determining the value of a person’s motor vehicle in connection with a Debt Relief Order (DRO).
In order to be able to apply for a DRO a person must meet strict monetary eligibility criteria which were last changed in 2016. The current limits are that a person must own assets that are not worth more than £1,000 in total (essential household items such as bedding, and furniture are excluded as are tools or other equipment that are essential for work), have no more than £50 surplus income each month, after paying tax, national insurance and normal household expenses, and have debts of £20,000 or less. In addition, one domestic motor vehicle worth no more than £1,000 is excluded from the asset criteria.
These limits increased in England and Wales from 29 June 2021 to £30,000 of debt, £2,000 of assets, £75 surplus monthly income, and £2,000 for a motor vehicle. The intention had been to introduce similar changes in Northern Ireland, but the collapse of the Assembly prevented the relevant legislation being passed. However, the Department for the Economy has since established that the limit relating to the value of a motor vehicle could be increased. This is because it is subject to different legislative procedure and Assembly approval would not be required. The relevant amendment was made on 19 December 2023.
Following the resumption of the Executive, Advice NI is lobbying the Department to promptly take the necessary steps to ensure parity on the other limits.
The Insolvency (Amendment No. 2) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2023


Jobseekers’ Right To Limit Job Search Reduced To 4 Weeks

New regulations have been issued by the Department for Communities in relation to the period that jobseekers can restrict their job search to their preferred sector. The Statutory Rule amends the Universal Credit Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 and the Jobseeker’s Allowance Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 to reduce the period for which limitations on work-related requirements are permitted, from 3 months to 4 weeks.
The amendment also includes a provision for claimants who have a permitted period in place when the regulations come into force. Under the transitional arrangements any existing permitted period will end either four weeks after the regulations come into force or at the end of the previously agreed permitted period, if that is sooner.
The changes came into operation from 23 February 2024.
The Universal Credit and Jobseeker’s Allowance (Work Search and Work Availability Requirements - limitations) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2024


Information Resources

Guidance On Changes To Transitional SDP Published

The Department for Communities has published a decision makers memo on the implementation of the additional amounts of the transitional SDP amount/element awarded to those Universal Credit claimants entitled to a Severe Disability Premium on their legacy benefit award prior to their claim for UC.
The Memo confirms that the new amounts will apply to new UC claims made under natural migration from 14 February 2024, but that application to claims made before that date is still to be determined. A detailed summary of eligibility criteria, as well as amounts payable, are also provided.
Further confirmation of procedures has since been provided by the Department in an update to stakeholders on 8 March. This reiterated that relevant updates to UC computer systems and processes are in place to allow the additional amounts to be included on new claims, but that further work with the Department for Work and Pensions is needed to allow backdated payments.
ADM Memo 1/24 - Universal Credit - Transitional Provisions - The Additional Amount


New Law Centre Guide To Managed Migration

Law Centre NI have made an FAQ document relating to Move to UC available via their website. The document provides an overview of key concepts in Universal Credit Managed Migration. This includes guidance on important issues such as the deadline day and access to extensions and the erosion and loss of transitional protection.
The document is especially noteworthy for highlighting that Tax Credits claimants with a qualifying young person aged 19 should not receive a Migration Notice at this stage. This is due to a discrepancy between the rules that apply to these households on UC compared to Tax Credits. Claimants in this position should contact the Department for Communities to seek a cancellation of their Migration Notice.
FAQ Universal Credit Managed Migration


Bereavement Support Website Launched

A new website providing accessible resources for people who are experiencing bereavement has been launched by the Department for Health. The site provides a centralised hub for information relating to a range of bereavement issues, including palliative care, pregnancy and baby loss, sudden or traumatic loss, as well as practical support including financial and legal advice. There will also be a suite of training and education materials for carers and professionals.
Northern Ireland bereavement support website launched
Bereaved NI


House Of Commons Library Research Briefings

The following research briefings (including updates) have been published by the House of Commons Library since the last issue of THiNK:
Managed migration: Completing Universal Credit rollout
The impact of the two-child limit in Universal Credit
People claiming unemployment benefits by constituency
The communication of State Pension age increases for women born in the 1950s
Child Maintenance: Fees, enforcement and arrears (UK) 
Rising cost of living in the UK
Energy efficiency of UK homes
Fuel poverty in the UK
Gas and electricity prices during the ‘energy crisis’ and beyond
Domestic energy prices
Spring Budget 2024: Background briefing
Spring Budget 2024: A summary
Spring Budget 2024: Reaction
National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No.2) Bill 2023-24
Spring Budget 2021: personal allowance and higher rate threshold
VAT on tourism and hospitality services
VAT on solar panels and other energy-saving materials
The new alcohol duty system
Inheritance tax: Current policy and debates
Key documents: taxation
Changes to legal migration rules for family and work visas in 2024
The financial (minimum income) requirement for partner visas
UK immigration fees
Cost of naturalisation as a British citizen, 1975-2024
Asylum statistics
Switching off 2G and 3G in the UK
Rural mobile coverage in the UK: Not-spots and partial not-spots
5G in the UK
Post office numbers
The future of local banking services and access to cash
Parking FAQs
Legal help: where to go and how to pay
Northern Ireland devolution: Safeguarding the Union
The Northern Ireland Protocol and Windsor Framework
Northern Ireland Protocol/Windsor Framework: New devolution deal
British Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill 2023-24
Local growth funds
The end of REUL? Progress in reforming retained EU law
The European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998
Economic Indicators
Regional and National Economic Indicators
Inflation: Key Economic Indicators
Household Debt: Key Economic Indicators
Housing Market: Key Economic Indicators
UK Labour Market Statistics
Employment – National: Key Economic Indicators
Unemployment – National: Key Economic Indicators
Unemployment – International Comparisons: Key Economic Indicators
Youth unemployment statistics
National Minimum Wage statistics
Average Earnings: Key Economic Indicators
Interest Rates and Monetary Policy: Key Economic Indicators
Women and the UK economy
Coronavirus: Long covid
Childhood Immunisation Statistics



Latest Benefit Statistics Published

The most recent set of benefit statistics covering the period to November 2023 have been published by the Department for Communities. These show that:

  • Universal Credit (UC) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) continue to see a substantial rise in claims, with UC claimant numbers rising by 9.9% annually and PIP by 10.6%.
  • Of the 160,580 claimants on UC, only 19% (30,520) were in the ‘searching for work’ conditionality regime, whilst more than half (51%) had no work-related requirements. 24% were in work.
  • There were 99,500 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants, of whom the vast majority (91%) were in the Support group.
  • Of the 12,260 Income Support claimants, 29% (3,550) are categorised as lone parents and 38% (4,670) are disabled.

Benefits Statistics Summary Publication (National Statistics) - November 2023


Impact Of UC Sanctions On Mental Health

A new report from Money and Mental Health highlights the toll on those with mental health problems arising from the pressure to manage their Universal Credit account. 57% of respondents advised that mental health problems impacted their ability to apply for and manage their UC account.
Headlines from the report include: 

  • Many people with mental health problems rely on support from friends and family to help them manage their benefits.
  • People are struggling to get this support with Universal Credit, because of flaws in the design of the Universal Credit system.
  • Without support, people are at substantially higher risk of being sanctioned, and some people are being cut off from Universal Credit altogether.

In light of these findings, Money and Mental Health have made the following recommendations:

  • Clearer advice on the correct process and what information claimants need to share to get support from a loved one.
  • Making the online process much more accessible and user-friendly, by adding prompts and drop down menus to guide people.
  • Giving people more flexible options to share information about their Universal Credit account with loved ones – for example, the option to give a friend or relative view-only access, or to allow loved ones to get notifications.

Universal Credit and sanctions: the toll on people’s mental health
Set up to fail


NEA Publish Latest Fuel Poverty Monitor Findings

National Energy Action (NEA) and Energy Action Scotland (EAS) published their most recent Fuel Poverty Monitor report on 31 January.
This year’s report focuses on the fuel poverty strategies that exist across the UK nations, noting the differences in each government’s approach, before considering the actions that are being taken to meet the targets set in the strategies. This includes an analysis of how each separate part of the plan is coming together, and how the current suite of policies operate to meet the different fuel poverty targets. There is also an overview of the case for alleviating fuel poverty through improving energy efficiency across a number of different actors, whether it is fuel poor households themselves, their landlords, the broader economy, or the environment.
The report also highlights the fact that the Northern Ireland government has no fuel poverty targets, and no up-to-date strategy, with Warmer Healthier Homes dating back to 2011, which, as the report points out, ‘predates several significant changes within the broader context of the economy, energy policy and the transition to net zero, meaning that it can no longer be considered fit for purpose.’
In conclusion, NEA and EAS recommend the following key steps to ensure that the English fuel poverty target, or its equivalent. is met throughout the UK:

  • New, more ambitious cross-departmental strategies are desperately needed in light of the energy crisis.
  • HM Treasury must commit to significant additional investment to meet legal duties and capture the full benefits of meeting these goals.
  • Funding must be complemented by effective regulation.

UK Fuel Poverty Monitor 2022-23
A recording of a launch event for the report can be viewed on NEA’s YouTube channel:
Fuel Poverty Monitor Launch


Child Poverty In Northern Ireland

A new report on child poverty by the Comptroller and Auditor General has found that almost one in five children in Northern Ireland are living in relative poverty (before housing costs), with little sustained reduction in levels over the last eight years. In addition, 8% of children live in persistent poverty.
The report also sets out a lack of significant progress on the main child poverty indicators in the 2016-22 Child Poverty Strategy, with around 20 per cent of children here living in relative poverty before housing costs, and between 7 and 9 per cent living in low-income households that cannot afford basic goods and essential activities. Progress is being held back further by the failure to implement an overall Anti-Poverty Strategy for Northern Ireland.
In light of the findings, the report makes several recommendations, with particular focus on the implementation of the Department for Communities’ Anti-Poverty Strategy through ‘properly defined and more specific actions’ and with the oversight of an ‘an independent monitoring mechanism’. In addition, DfC is encouraged to work with DWP to develop ‘a more nuanced poverty measure’ for Northern Ireland.
Commenting on the report, Comptroller and Auditor General Dorinnia Carville said:
“Northern Ireland has not had a strategy to deal with child poverty for almost two years, during a cost-of-living crisis. A failure to tackle child poverty early and effectively risks lifelong impacts to children’s health, education and general development. There is also a considerable cost to the public purse, with previous estimates indicating costs of child poverty to be between £825 million and £1 billion annually.”
Child Poverty in Northern Ireland


State Of The Nation Report On The UK’s Social Security System

A new report from IPPR and Changing Realities highlights a series of ‘previously unreported’ flaws with the current social security system in the UK, including single people being pushed into poverty by the wide gap between earnings and Universal Credit and high levels of rent shortfall for those in private rental accommodation.
The report sets out a package of reforms to pull the UK’s social security system into the 21st century, which echo the recommendations of Northern Ireland’s own Cliff Edge Coalition:

  • Increase the core entitlement for all households on Universal Credit by £50 a month, with an equivalent for those on legacy benefits. This alone would lift 350,000 people out of poverty.
  • Remove the two-child limit and benefit cap, to tackle child poverty and restore the link between entitlement and need.
  • Introduce a second-earner work allowance and reduce the taper rate to 54 per cent (towards a goal of 50 per cent over the next parliament), to support parents, tackle the gender pay gap and improve work incentives so that work always pays.
  • Tackle the five-week wait by introducing two weeks of backdating for new claims, to reduce claimant debt in the system, with additional reforms to how debt is collected.

Caroline, a Changing Realities participant, said:
“Sanctions, the five-week wait, an ‘any job will do’ approach and a sense of being ‘on my own’ with work coaches merely doing a job and not providing personalised support. How can we make people’s lives better if children, disabled people, and families feel they are being punished?
“We need to listen to people, give them a hand up and the ability to see a way out. The ideas set out in this report could be the change we need to make that happen.”

Calls for ‘quick win’ changes to social security as claimants say system leaves them ‘scared, exhausted and drained’
Snakes and ladders: Tackling precarity in social security and employment support
New report by IPPR and Changing Realities: quick policy fixes to create a modern social security system fit for purpose


Resolution Foundation Analyses Impact Of The Two-Child Limit And The Benefit Cap

A new report from the Resolution Foundation think-tank has taken a deep dive into the impact of the two-child limit and the benefit cap on families on benefits in Great Britain. According to the report, ‘nearly half a million families are hit by at least one of these policies’ and a majority of those affected by the two-child limit include at least one parent who is working. The numbers represent a ten-fold increase in those affected by the policies in the last decade.
The report is clear that the policies are having a deleterious impact on low-income families in Great Britain, forcing more children into poverty – an impact that, the report concludes, ‘will worsen over time’. In fact, scrapping both policies would add £1,000 to the incomes of the poorest families at a cost of just £5.5 billion to the Treasury. Unsurprisingly, the Resolution Foundation recommends scrapping both the two-child limit and the benefit cap.
In Northern Ireland both policies are mitigated through Welfare Supplementary Payments. For this reason, as outlined above, we have called on the new Minister for Communities to act quickly to avoid the looming cliff edge with respect to the benefit cap.
Catastrophic caps



Domestic Customer Service In The Energy Sector

The Utility Regulator is seeking stakeholder views on their proposals to improve energy supplier customer service levels for domestic customers across four areas:

  • Consumers in vulnerable circumstances;
  • Customer contact centre services (this includes call centres and all mediums of written contact including social media platforms and emails);
  • Setting fixed direct debits; and
  • Returning of customer credit that has accrued on the customer account.

The ongoing constructive engagement with consumer representative bodies, suppliers, and consideration of lessons learned from other jurisdictions to improve consumer service standards has informed the development of the proposed mandatory requirements, which the Regulator believes will strengthen the regulatory framework and better protect consumers.
The closing date for the consultation is 5pm on 28 May 2024.
Consultation on Energy Supplier Customer Service Levels


NI Assembly Questions

Anti-Poverty Strategy

AQW 6234/22-27, tabled on 13/02/2024 by Ciara Ferguson, Sinn Féin

To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on progressing the Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Answered on 21/02/2024

I am committed to delivering long-term, sustainable solutions to poverty in all its forms for our communities right across Northern Ireland.
I am currently considering the next steps to be taken in relation to an Executive Anti-Poverty Strategy.


Benefit Cap

AQW 6084/22-27, tabled on 09/02/2024 by Mark Durkan, SDLP

To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on his Department's work to extend the benefit cap mitigations.

Answered on 15/02/2024

Legislation approved by the Assembly in 2022 ensures that all families with children who are receiving Housing Benefit are entitled to a Welfare Supplementary Payment to mitigate the impact of the Benefit Cap. Equivalent payments are currently provided to eligible families who are receiving Universal Credit. These payments will continue until 31 March 2025.
My Department has a statutory obligation to produce a report on the operation of the ongoing mitigation schemes by the 31 March 2025. This report will include proposals for the future delivery of the welfare mitigation schemes.


Childcare Strategy

AQW 5459/22-27, tabled on 05/02/2024 by Patsy McGlone, SDLP

To ask the Minister of Education for an update on the development of an Executive Childcare Strategy.

Answered On Date: 16/02/2024

Since my appointment as Education Minister, I have made the development and implementation of the Early Learning and Childcare Strategy a priority and while I have stated that our ambition should not be limited, it is important that we take time to carefully consider our options and to secure the necessary funding. To that end I plan to meet parents, providers, and those with an interest in the strategy, to hear firsthand how best we can meet the developmental needs of young children whilst helping to reduce the cost of childcare.


Cost Of Living

AQW 5486/22-27, tabled on 05/02/2024 by Andy Allen, UUP

To ask the Minister for Communities what measures are under consideration to support households impacted by the rising cost of living.

Answered on 12/02/2024

The Department for Communities has been at the forefront of delivering support to households impacted by the rising cost of living.
In response to the cost-of-living and energy crises, the UK Government announced a package of one-off payments for disabled claimants, pensioners and those on income-related benefits. Northern Ireland claimants are included in these payments which are intended to provide additional financial support in response to the rise in the cost of living.
The most recent Cost of Living Payments have been delivered throughout 2023/24 with a final payment of £299 to eligible people in receipt of an income-related benefit to be paid in February 2024. Further information is available at: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/cost-living-support
My Department provides financial support through the Discretionary Support Scheme that can offer help towards short-term living expenses or with the purchase of household items for those people in an extreme, exceptional or crisis situation.  Depending on personal circumstances applicants could be offered either an interest-free loan or a non-repayable grant.
In addition, from April 2023 benefits and state pension were increased by 10.1%, in line with the September 2022 rate of inflation. From April 2024 benefits will be increased by 6.7%, in line with the September 2023 rate of inflation, whilst the state pension will be increased by 8.5% in line with the increase in average earnings between May and July 2023.
My Department also provides help through the Affordable Warmth scheme, as well as the Winter Fuel Payments to those who are eligible. Funding has been allocated to our Social Supermarket Scheme to help those in or at risk of food poverty.


Cross-Border Healthcare

AQW 5521/22-27, tabled on 05/02/2024 by Mark Durkan, SDLP

To ask the Minister of Health whether he intends to reopen the Republic of Ireland Reimbursement Scheme.

Answered On Date: 09/02/2024

Reducing waiting times for elective access is a key priority for me. Current waiting times are unacceptable, no one should have to wait longer than necessary for the surgery they need. While good progress has been made in tackling waiting times in some areas, there remains much more to be done. Within the constraints of existing budgets, I’m committed to taking whatever actions I can to tackle these waiting times and ensure that patients are treated as quickly as possible to ensure best possible outcomes.
As you will be aware, I introduced the Republic of Ireland Reimbursement Scheme (RoIRS) on 30 June 2021 as part of the Elective Care Framework to help reduce NI waiting lists. The scheme was a limited 12-month administrative version of the Cross-Border Healthcare Directive (CBHD) which ceased to apply to NI following the UK’s exit from the EU. In June 2022, I announced that the RoIRS would be extended beyond the planned 30 June 2022 deadline, until an additional £5m of new funding had been committed. The RoIRS closed to new applications on Wednesday 21 September 2022 when the additional £5m funding had been exhausted. Given the pressing demands for funding across many areas of health and social care no further funding could be assigned to this scheme.
Any future funding allocation to a similar scheme to help reduce waiting lists will now need to be considered as part of a broader review of resource investment in Waiting List Initiatives.


Debt Respite

AQW 7796/22-27, tabled on 29/02/2024 by Ciara Ferguson, Sinn Féin

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail (i) when the consultation on a new debt respite scheme will commence; and (ii) when a report will be published.

Answered on 11/03/2024

My officials have developed draft debt respite policy proposals in preparation for a public consultation, which I expect to consider in the coming weeks.


Disability Strategy

AQW 5487/22-27, tabled on 05/02/2024 by Andy Allen, UUP

To ask the Minister for Communities (i) for an update on the disability strategy; and, (ii) whether an update to disability legislation is being considered.

Answered on 12/02/2024

I am considering the next steps to be taken in the development of an Executive Disability Strategy. This will include consideration of the need for a review of disability legislation.


Fuel Poverty Strategy

AQW 6599/22-27, tabled on 15/02/2024 by Andy Allen, UUP

To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on the fuel poverty strategy.

Answered on 23/02/2024

A Fuel Poverty and Just Transition Strategy to provide a long-term framework for addressing fuel poverty and its impacts is in development, with intensive pre consultation stakeholder engagement underway.
We are engaging with and bringing together people from a wide range of organisations to help shape the strategy to alleviate fuel poverty and assist with meeting Net Zero targets while ensuring a Just Transition.
This phase will be followed with a public consultation on a draft Fuel Poverty Strategy in autumn 2024.


Fundamental Review Of Allocations: Intimidation Points

AQW 6940/22-27, tabled on 20/02/2024 by David Brooks, DUP

To ask the Minister for Communities whether he is considering significant reform, or removal, of points awarded due to intimidation in reviewing the Housing Executive housing points allocation system.

Answered on 26/02/2024

Work has been ongoing in relation to the Fundamental Review of Social Housing Allocations. My officials are working with the Housing Executive to consider the way forward for the proposal relating to intimidation points. This includes independent research which is due to be complete by the end of March 2024.
Once options in relation to this proposal have been further developed, I will give them my consideration.


Fuel Poverty Strategy

AQW 6599/22-27, tabled 15/02/2024 on by Andy Allen, UUP

To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on the fuel poverty strategy.

Answered on 23/02/2024

A Fuel Poverty and Just Transition Strategy to provide a long-term framework for addressing fuel poverty and its impacts is in development, with intensive pre consultation stakeholder engagement underway.
We are engaging with and bringing together people from a wide range of organisations to help shape the strategy to alleviate fuel poverty and assist with meeting Net Zero targets while ensuring a Just Transition.
This phase will be followed with a public consultation on a draft Fuel Poverty Strategy in autumn 2024.


Hospital Travel Costs Scheme

AQW 5522/22-27, tabled on 05/02/2024 by Mark Durkan, SDLP

To ask the Minister of Health for an update on the commitment to review the Hospital Travel Costs Scheme and provision for parents with sick children.

Answered on 21/02/2024

Preparatory work has recently commenced in advance of updating the Travelling Expenses and Remission of Charges Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2004.


MOT Backlog

AQW 5496/22-27, tabled on 05/02/2024 by Stephen Dunne, DUP

To ask the Minister for Infrastructure for an update on plans to address the MOT backlog.

Answered on 14/02/2024

In 2022-2023, the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) conducted over 1.15 million vehicle tests which is the highest number ever recorded in a year. This increase in capacity has been achieved by adopting a range of measures including the recruitment of additional vehicle examiners, the use overtime to provide cover for leave and offering vehicle test appointments on Sundays and bank holidays, when testing is not normally available. Disappointingly, the number of vehicles that failed to attend a booked appointment in 2022-2023 was also the highest on record at 50,772.
A further vehicle examiner recruitment competition is due to launch later this month to fill staff vacancies across the DVA’s network of test centres.
The DVA appreciates that, in some cases, customers may not be able to have their vehicles tested before their current MOT certificate expires and has taken steps to ensure that motorists are still able to use their vehicles when they are unable to secure an MOT appointment before their current MOT expires. The latest information on MOTs is available on NI Direct at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/guide-booking-your-mot-vehicle-test and is also included as an advice note with every MOT reminder letter issued to customers.
Vehicle test appointments are released on a daily basis, when resources become available, so customers are encouraged to regularly check the booking system as they may be able to change their existing appointment to a different test centre and time if a slot becomes available. Information on how a customer can change, cancel or view their MOT appointment online is available on NI Direct at change, cancel or view MOT/vehicle test appointment.
To further increase vehicle testing capacity, the DVA is investing in new test centres. The construction of a new test centre at Hydebank, in Belfast, is nearing completion and will open later this year. The construction contract for a second new test centre at Mallusk has also been awarded and this new test centre is expected to open in 2025. Once fully operational, these two new centres will provide the capacity to test over 200,000 additional vehicles per annum, which will help the DVA meet the future demand for this service.


NHS Dental Services

AQW 5492/22-27, tabled on 05/02/2024 by Stephen Dunne, DUP

To ask the Minister of Health for an update on plans to increase provision of NHS dentists in North Down.

Answered on 13/02/2024

A key part of the access issues facing patients are the rates being paid to our dentists for treatment. The absence of Executive Ministers has meant that it has not been possible to progress the recommended pay uplifts for staffing groups for 2023/24. This is now my immediate priority, and I am meeting with Trade Unions in early course to take this forward. Officials have already been making arrangements in anticipation of funding being made available to ensure that uplifts can be implemented as quickly as possible.
I know that an additional £95m has been invested in General Dental Services via the Financial Support Scheme and Rebuilding Support Scheme since April 2020. This came to an end in July 2023 due to the severe financial pressures arising from the Department’s 2023/24 budget settlement.
A pilot scheme is currently running to provide appointments to unregistered patients who require emergency dental treatment during the working week. If a patient is not registered with a dentist, requires emergency dental treatment, and has been unable to access an appointment, they can contact their local Strategic Planning and Performance Group (SPPG) office for advice.
I am also conscious of the progress that has been made in the rest of the UK on dental reform and I will be discussing these issues with officials as soon as possible, to ensure that the sector here in NI is supported in delivering important care to patients. More immediately, officials have been developing investment proposals to further support General Dental Services and I will consider them in early course.


No-Fault Evictions

AQW 8216/22-27, tabled on 05/03/2024 by Daniel McCrossan, SDLP

To ask the Minister for Communities by what date he plans to introduce a ban on no fault evictions.

Answered on 11/03/2024

My Department is already progressing work to improve security of tenure through the introduction of much longer notice to quit periods, and I currently have no plans to introduce a ban on no fault evictions.


Real Living Wage

AQW 5718/22-27, tabled on 07/02/2024 by Patrick Brown, Alliance

To ask the Minister for the Economy (i) what steps his Department is taking to support the establishment of a Real Living Wage Foundation franchise in Northern Ireland; and (ii) when he expects this support to be rolled out.

Answered on 20/02/2024

My Department is exploring the possibility of funding a Real Living Wage Foundation franchise in the region. A business case is being developed on my Department’s ability to fund such a franchise and I expect to receive advice shortly.


Rent Controls

AQW 5428/22-27, tabled on 05/02/2024 by Gerry Carroll, PBPA

To ask the Minister for Communities what plans he has to introduce rent controls in the private rented sector.

Answered on 12/02/2024

The powers to control rents set out in Section 7 of the Private Tenancies Act (NI) 2022 (adding 5C to the 2006 Order) expired on 28 October 2023.
I therefore currently have no plans to introduce new rent controls in the private rented sector.


Skill-Up Initiative

AQW 5534/22-27, tabled on 05/02/2024 by Sorcha Eastwood, Alliance

To ask the Minister for the Economy whether his department plans to fund the Skill Up initiative beyond its current funding arrangements.

Answered on 17/02/2024

The Skill Up initiative has supported over 22,000 individuals since it was introduced in 2021. Having engaged with participants I am very aware of the positive impact that this has had for people right across the community. Skill Up is currently being evaluated and I will consider any new programme as part of the upcoming Budget exercise.


Social Sector Rent Increases

AQW 5497/22-27, tabled on 05/02/2024 by Kellie Armstrong, Alliance

To ask the Minister for Communities to outline (i) the average percentage increase in rents; and (ii) the average total increase in rents for each year between 2014-2024 for social homes owned by the Housing Executive.

Answered on 20/02/2024

In January 2024, my Department approved the 2024/2025 rent increase for NIHE homes of CPI+1%. This is equivalent to an increase of 7.7%, £5.72 per week.
The average increase in rents each year, 2014/15 to 2024/25:

2014/15 4.2 63.52 2.64
2015/16 4.85 66.60 3.08
2016/17 0.0 66.60 0.00
2017/18 0.0 66.60 0.00
2018/19 0.0 66.60 0.00
2019/20 0.0 66.60 0.00
2020/21 2.7 68.39 1.79
2021/22 1.5 69.41 1.02
2022/23 0.0 69.41 0.00
2023/24 7.0 74.24 4.86
2024/25 7.7 79.96 5.72


AQW 5498/22-27, tabled on 05/02/2024 by Kellie Armstrong, Alliance

To ask the Minister for Communities to outline (i) the average percentage increase in rents; and, (ii) the average total increase in rents for each year between 2014-2024 for social homes owned by each of the twenty housing associations in Northern Ireland.

Answered on 20/02/2024

My Department does not hold this information for 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17 or 2023/24. Information on the average increase in rents for social homes owned by each of the twenty Registered Housing Associations (RHAs) in Northern Ireland from 2017/18 to 2022/23 is provided by RHAs in their Regulatory Standards Annual Return. The figures, as provided by RHAs, are set out in the table below:

RHA 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21 2021/22 2022/23
Abbeyfield & Wesley 3% 3.60% 3% 3.45% 2.20% 5.15%
Alpha 1.55% 4.49% 2.08% 2.70% 1.50% 4.80%
Apex 2% 2% 3% 2.75% 1% 3.75%
Arbour 2% 3.50% 3.25% 2.65% 1.10% 3.95%
Ark 2% 2% 3% 2.90% 1.50% 4.10%
Choice 1.90% 2.79% 2.25% 1.47% 0.50% 3.48%
Clanmil 1.85% 4.52% 2.90% 2.92% 1% 3.90%
Connswater 3% 2.22% 1.97% 1.70% 1.60% 5.90%
Covenanter 0% 3% 2.80% 0% 0% 2.90%
Craigowen 0% 7.66% 2.44% 1.56% 3.15% 1.75%
Grove 1.25% 1.50% 1.50% 2.90% 2.90% 4.00%
Habinteg 2% 3.50% 2.60% 2.70% 1.50% 4.10%
Newington 2% 2% 1.40% 1.35% 0.50% 3.10%
NI Co-Ownership 2% 4% 3.30% 0% 1.30% 3.80%
North Belfast 1.75% 2.75% 3% 2.50% 1% 3.00%
Radius 1.99% 4% 2.4% 2.45% 1% 4.1%
Rural 2.95% 1.50% 2.95% 0% 1.60% 4.95%
St Matthews 1.50% 2.80% 2.40% 1.70% 0% 3.10%
Triangle 0% 2% 2.40% 2.70% 1.50% 4.60%
Woodvale and Shankill 2% 2% 2% 1% 0% 2%

ii) My Department does not hold the information requested.


Two-Child Limit

AQW 8450/22-27, tabled on 07/03/2024 by Mark Durkan, SDLP

To ask the Minister for Communities for his assessment of the impact of the two child benefit cap on Universal Credit households.

Answered on 13/03/2024

This policy was introduced by the United Kingdom Government and under the principle of parity, the same measures apply in Northern Ireland.
It is estimated that 8,430 Universal Credit households were impacted by the two-child limit at November 2023.


Universal Credit 5-Week Wait

AQW 6601/22-27, tabled on 15/02/2024 by Andy Allen, UUP

To ask the Minister for Communities how many people receiving Universal Credit waited more than 5 weeks for their first payment, in the last 2 years.

Answered on 22/02/2024:

Between January 2022 and January 2024, operational records indicate that 97.8% of households claiming Universal Credit in Northern Ireland received either their first payment in full (96.2%) or in part (1.6%), at the end of their first assessment period.
Delays in making all full payments are due to claimants taking more time to provide the information needed to process their claim.


Water Charges

AQW 5426/22-27, tabled on 05/02/2024 by Gerry Carroll, PBPA

To ask the Minister for Infrastructure (i) for his assessment of the introduction of domestic water charges; and (ii) whether he has plans to introduce domestic water charges.

Answered on 15/02/2024

On the 20 September 2023 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland directed the Department for Infrastructure Permanent Secretary to carry out a public consultation on the introduction of domestic water and associated charges. This public consultation is ongoing having launched on the 7 December 2023 for a 14 week period. The consultation will close on 13 March 2024 and a report summarising the consultation responses will be compiled and presented to me for consideration.
I will not be introducing domestic water charges.


Parliamentary Questions

Attendance Allowance - Motability

UIN 14620, tabled on 19 February 2024 by Drew Hendry, Scottish National Party

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether his Department has made an assessment of the potential merits of including a mobility element in Attendance Allowance that enables access to the Motability scheme.

Answered on 22 February 2024 by Paul Maynard, Conservative

Attendance Allowance is intended to help those with a severe disability who have long term care or supervision needs which arise after reaching State Pension age. It has never included a mobility component, and so cannot be used in payment for a leased Motability scheme vehicle. Government mobility support is focused on people who are disabled earlier in life; developing mobility needs in older life is a normal consequence of ageing, which non-disabled younger people have had opportunity to plan and save for.
There is no constraint on what an award of Attendance Allowance can be spent on, and a recipient may choose to use this benefit to fund mobility aids.
In Scotland, Attendance Allowance is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and will be replaced in due course.

Child Maintenance

UIN 11496, tabled on 25 January 2024 by Dr Thérèse Coffey, Conservative

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how much child maintenance has (a) been recovered and paid to the receiving parent and (b) not been paid in each of the last three years.

Answered on 1 February 2024 by Paul Maynard, Conservative

The Department publishes quarterly statistics for the Child Maintenance Service and the latest statistics are available up to September 2023, with statistics for the amount of maintenance due and the amount paid published in Table 5 of the National tables.
The relevant information is included in the table below.
CMS does not measure the compliance of Paying Parents on the Direct Pay service. Unpaid Maintenance is the value of maintenance scheduled to be paid, but not received from a Paying Parent through the Collect and Pay service, including any transferred from Direct Pay.
CMS Money Due and Paid each Quarter, Great Britain, January 2021 to September 2023
Quarter Maintenance due to be paid via Direct Pay (£millions) Maintenance due to be paid via Collect and Pay (£millions) Maintenance paid via Collect and Pay (£millions) Unpaid Maintenance (£millions)
Jan to Mar 2021 203.1 58.3 45.4 12.9
Apr to Jun 2021 212.3 60.9 46.9 14.0
Jul to Sep 2021 217.1 63.1 47.4 15.7
Oct to Dec 2021 210.2 64.4 46.6 17.8
Jan to Mar 2022 207.1 66.8 45.6 21.2
Apr to Jun 2022 219.7 69.6 48.8 20.8
Jul to Sep 2022 231.2 71.4 49.4 22.0
Oct to Dec 2022 231.7 69.7 49.1 20.6
Jan to Mar 2023 237.0 72.0 49.1 22.9
Apr to Jun 2023 252.4 75.8 52.1 23.7
Jul to Sep 2023 263.2 79.1 57.5 21.6
Source: Child Maintenance Service Management Information
  1. The figures provided are for child maintenance only and do not include fees for the use of the service. Figures are rounded to the nearest £100,000.
  2. This table provides information on the amount of child maintenance owed by Paying Parents that was due to be paid in each quarter. It counts money due and paid for Paying Parents with an ongoing maintenance liability i.e., those for whom new child maintenance was arranged during the quarter.
  3. Movement between service types - If a case moves from the Direct Pay service to the Collect and Pay service due to build-up of arrears, the unpaid maintenance is transferred from the Direct Pay service to the Collect and Pay service. This will be corrected for with regard to the quarter in which the transition occurs, but previous quarters’ figures are not retrospectively adjusted.
  4. Payments outside of the statutory arrangement - This table does not include adjustments to the amount of child maintenance that should have been paid where parents have informed the Child Maintenance Service that they have made payments between themselves.
  5. In a very small number of cases a child maintenance payment may be refunded to the Paying Parent. These Paying Parents are currently still counted as compliant, and the money is counted as paid.
  6. In a very small number of cases a child maintenance payment may be incorrectly assigned to the wrong parent. If the money is then assigned to the correct parent, then the money paid will be counted twice.

UIN 14859, tabled on 20 February 2024 by Dr Thérèse Coffey, Conservative

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when he plans to respond to the consultation entitled Child Maintenance: Improving our enforcement powers through the commencement of curfew orders, published on 9 July 2022.

Answered on 23 February 2024 by Paul Maynard, Conservative

The Child Maintenance “Improving our Enforcement powers through the commencement of Curfew orders” consultation concluded on 12 August 2022. Several enforcement initiatives aimed at improving compliance are currently in train and we are considering our strongest enforcement powers more broadly and will consider the next steps and how curfews fit in as part of this.
The Child Maintenance Service already has a suite of strong enforcement powers at its disposal. These include, using Enforcement Agents (previously known as bailiffs) to take control of goods, forcing the sale of property, removal of driving licence or UK passport, deductions directly from earnings and bank accounts or even commitment to prison.

Employment And Support Allowance - National Insurance Credits

UIN 14253, tabled on 16 February 2024 by Neil O'Brien, Conservative

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment he has made of the adequacy of transition of claimants from Incapacity Benefit to the Employment and Support Allowance; and what assessment he has made of the potential impact of that transition on claimants' accruals of National Insurance credits.

Answered on 27 February 2024 by Mims Davies, Conservative

All Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants receive Class 1 National Insurance Credits as part of their award. If any claimants believe that an error has been made in the award of these credits they should contact the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
ESA was introduced in October 2008. From March 2011, the DWP began reassessing people on incapacity benefits (for example, Incapacity Benefit (IB) and Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA) ahead of moving them onto ESA.
The DWP made an historic error with the reassessment of IB cases when they were transferred onto ESA. This arose because the Department converted some IB and SDA claimants to Contributory ESA but did not consider whether they may also have been entitled to Income-Related ESA. A Legal Entitlement and Administrative Practices (LEAP) exercise was concluded in June 2021, the exercise reviewed around 600,000 cases and made 118,000 arrears payments, totalling £613 million pounds. Those claimants who have received arrears payments would have been entitled to receive National Insurance credits from the date they were transferred onto contributory ESA. The then Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work made a statement about the completion of this LEAP to the house on 7th July 2021. This statement can be found here.

Government Assistance

UIN 14687, tabled on 19 February 2024 by Stephen Morgan, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether he has made an assessment of trends in the level of demand for local crisis support.

Answered on 26 February 2024 by Jo Churchill, Conservative

Over £2bn in support has to date been allocated to Local Authorities in England through the Household Support Fund to support those most in need.
Councils continue to have the flexibility to use funding from the Local Government Finance Settlement to provide local welfare assistance.

Sick Pay - Women

UIN 14883, tabled on 20 February 2024 by Neil Coyle, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if he will take steps to help support women to meet the lower earnings limit for statutory sick pay.

Answered on 23 February 2024 by Jo Churchill, Conservative

The government has taken steps to support all individuals to meet the Lower Earnings Limit (LEL).
At Autumn Statement 2023, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the government will freeze the LEL at 2023/24 levels in 2024/25. This follows on from freezing the LEL in 2022 to 2023, to support individuals with the cost of living. Since 2019, 500,000 more people now earn above that Lower Earnings threshold and can therefore benefit from Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

Social Security Benefits - Disability

UIN 14891, tabled on 20 February 2024 by Dr Philippa Whitford, Scottish National Party

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, which disability benefits chance to work guarantee will apply to.

Answered on 26 February 2024 by Mims Davies, Conservative

At Autumn Statement 2023, we announced that we will be introducing a new Chance to Work Guarantee. This will apply to the majority of Universal Credit (UC) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants who have been assessed as having Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity. The Guarantee means that, once introduced, the majority of people in this group will be able to try work without the fear of reassessment, within existing permitted work rules (ESA) and work allowance rules (UC).

Social Rented Housing - Universal Credit

UIN 10701, tabled on 22 January 2024 by Sir Stephen Timms, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if he will make it his policy that social housing tenants receiving universal credit have eligible housing costs paid for 53 rent weeks in 2024.

Answered on 25 January 2024 by Mims Davies, Conservative

Universal Credit always converts weekly amounts to monthly sums using 52 weeks. This may lead to a slight advantage to the claimant when converting weekly incomes and to a slight disadvantage when dealing with outgoings. The system is used because it is simple to operate and understand.
Discretionary Housing Payments can be paid to those entitled to Housing Benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit who face a shortfall in meeting their housing costs. Since 2011, the government has provided nearly £1.7 billion in Discretionary Housing Payments to local authorities.
See previous question on this issue from Sir Stephen Timms, UIN 2745, for further context.

State Retirement Pensions - Women

UIN 10968, tabled on 22 January 2024 by Alistair Strathern, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of compensating women born in the 1950s affected by changes to state pension age legislation.

Answered on 25 January 2024 by Paul Maynard, Conservative

The Ombudsman is considering this matter, he has not completed his final report and has yet to make any recommendations. When the report is complete the Government will carefully consider it.
It would not be appropriate to comment on the investigation and section 7(2) of the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 states that Ombudsman investigations “shall be conducted in private”.
Further information about the investigation is available from the Ombudsman’s website.

Two-Child Limit

UIN HL2370, tabled on 9 February 2024 by Lord Sikka, Labour

To ask His Majesty's Government what research they have carried out, if any, to ascertain the effect of the two-child benefit cap on the lives of the affected children and their families.

Answered on 23 February 2024 by Viscount Younger of Leckie, Conservative

There has been no research completed to ascertain the effect of the policy on the lives of the affected children and their families. However, DWP is committed to supporting families and helping parents into work. This requires a balanced system that provides strong work incentives and support for those who need it, but that also ensures a sense of fairness to the taxpayer and many working families who do not see their incomes rise when they have more children.

Universal Credit

UIN HL1702, tabled on 17 January 2024 by Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick, Labour

To ask His Majesty's Government how many Universal Credit claims were subject to (1) deductions (advance repayments), third party reductions and all other deductions, (2) reductions (sanctions and fraud penalties), and (3) suspension (stop in payment due to doubt over entitlement), in the 2022–23 financial year; and what was the (a) average, and (b) total, amount (i) deducted, (ii) reduced, and (iii) suspended; and what proportion does this represent.

Answered on 31 January 2024 by Viscount Younger of Leckie, Conservative

Information on 1) deductions and 2) fraud penalties for Universal Credit are provided in the tables below.
Table 1: Number of households with a Universal Credit Claim subject to at least one deduction, broken down by deduction type; the number of households with a deduction as a proportion of all universal credit households; what the total sum of deductions was; how much on average was deducted, in the 2022-23 financial year.
2022/23 Number of distinct UC claims Proportion of Universal Credit Claims subject to Deduction Total Amount Deducted Average Deduction Amount
Claims with deduction for an advance 2,400,000 38% £690,000,000 £40
Claims with deduction for third party 950,000 15% £227,000,000 £33
Claims with other deductions 2,200,000 34% £684,000,000 £49
All UC claims with at least one deduction 3,500,000 55% £1,601,000,000 £62
All UC claims 6,400,000      
Table 2: Number of households with a Universal Credit Claim subject to at least fraud penalty; the number of households with a fraud penalty as a proportion of all universal credit households; what the total sum of fraud penalties was; the average fraud penalty, in the 2022-23 financial year.
Table 2
Number of distinct UC claims in the 2022-23 Financial Year Number of households with at least one fraud penalty in the 2022-23 Financial Year Households with at least one fraud penalty as a proportion of all UC households Total amount of Fraud Penalties across the 22/23 financial year Average Fraud Penalty Amount for those households with a fraud penalty
6,400,000 330 0.01% £65,000 £200

  1. Average deduction amounts have been rounded to the nearest £1 and proportions have been rounded to the nearest percentage point. Fraud penalty reduction amounts are rounded to nearest £10 and proportions to the nearest 0.01 percentage point.
  2. Deductions include advance repayments, third party deductions and all other deductions, but exclude sanctions and fraud penalties which are reductions of benefit rather than deductions.
  3. "Advances" include all four UC advance types: New Claim, Benefit Transfer, Budgeting and Change of Circumstances.
  4. The table includes the number of distinct Universal Credit households subject to a deduction in the period 2022-2023. Any household with deductions in more than one assessment period within the period requested will only be counted once. Where a household has multiple deductions in the same assessment period, these figures provide the total of all deductions taken.
  5. The table includes the number of distinct Universal Credit households subject to a fraud penalty in the period 2022-2023. Any household with fraud penalty in more than one assessment period within the period requested will only be counted once. Where a household has multiple fraud penalties in the same assessment period, these figures provide the total of all fraud penalties taken.
  6. Figures are provisional and are subject to retrospective change as later data becomes available.
  7. This method for calculating the proportion is different to the usual reported figure which looks at a given month and historically has been around 45% for all UC households. See PQ UIN: 203044.
  8. Households could have more than one deduction type so adding claims by deduction type may not sum to the total of all deductions.
  9. Information on 2) reductions due to sanctions is provided below
Monthly statistics for April 2022 to March 2023, on the number of Universal Credit full service claimants with a payment that has been reduced due to a sanction, are published on Stat-Xplore, and are shown in the following table.
UC claimants in conditionality regimes where sanctions can be applied by month and sanction indicator from April 2022 to March 2023
Sanction indicator Yes No Total
April 2022 106,172 5,439,955 5,546,129
May 2022 108,969 5,432,866 5,541,837
June 2022 110,438 5,450,340 5,560,774
July 2022 117,527 5,502,514 5,620,041
August 2022 114,874 5,546,078 5,660,952
September 2022 117,671 5,566,557 5,684,229
October 2022 122,293 5,608,895 5,731,191
November 2022 117,397 5,639,386 5,756,783
December 2022 119,744 5,660,360 5,780,103
January 2023 118,395 5,681,209 5,799,601
February 2023 113,352 5,722,976 5,836,324
March 2023 120,086 5,733,100 5,853,189

  1. The sanction indicator for claimants can take the following values: Yes - Claimants payment is being reduced due to a sanction; No - Claimants payment is not being reduced due to a sanction.
  2. Statistical disclosure control has been applied to this table to avoid the release of confidential data. Totals may not sum due to the disclosure control applied.
  3. Statistics for Universal Credit Sanctions relate to the second Thursday of each month.
  4. These statistics include those sanctions which subsequently go on to be overturned. Claimants whose sanction is overturned will be repaid any deduction.
The information requested for average and total amount of benefit reduced due to sanction is not readily available and to provide it would incur disproportionate cost.
Information for part 3) suspensions is not readily available and to provide these would be at disproportionate cost.

Universal Credit - National Insurance Contributions

UIN 15229, tabled on 22 February 2024 by Gregory Campbell, DUP

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to the Answer of 27 November 2023 to Question 2787 on Universal Credit: National Insurance Contributions, whether he expects that all National Insurance records will be fully updated by HMRC by April 2024.

Answered on 27 February 2024 by Jo Churchill, Conservative

DWP completed the work to send 22 million records of Universal Credit customers to HMRC in order for them to update their National Insurance records in 2023. There remain a small subset of cases that need to be worked through manually. This work is in progress and will be completed by summer 2024. Records of customers who are over, or close to state pension age that need manual work are being prioritised.
See the government’s press release for more information about the Chance to Work Guarantee.