'THINK' November 2021 Edition
The Advice NI Policy & Information team is delighted to publish this November 2021 edition of our policy eNewsletter ‘THINK’.
As usual, we have all the latest legislative updates, statutory rules, announcements and briefings.
- Excellent news from Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey concerning welfare mitigations legislation;
- The work of Housing Rights regarding the Private Tenancies Bill;
- Universal Credit and upfront childcare costs;
- Latest ‘Information Updates’ section, including Universal Credit work allowance and taper rate changes;
- All the latest NI Assembly and Commons Questions & Answers.
And much, much more,
Please do email the Team if you would like to find out more about our work or would like to discuss or priorities for the year ahead.
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss any policy matters, content, feedback or comments. We'd be happy to share ideas on areas to focus on, content suggestions and other ways of getting involved.
The Advice NI Policy & Information Team
Mitigations Extended For a Further Three Years
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has confirmed that Mitigations will be extended for a further three years. The extension closes existing loopholes on the bedroom tax and benefit cap. Minister Hargey said:
“This ensures that low-paid workers, families and vulnerable people will continue to be protected… It will also close loopholes, meaning that over 600 families with children who are denied payments, will receive them.
The extension of the welfare protection payments and the closing of the loopholes is long overdue and is something to build on moving forward. The schemes will be kept under review, and I will be announcing details of an Independent Review Panel to examine existing welfare protection measures in the near future….I would also like to acknowledge the many individuals and organisations who have worked on having these vital protections extended, such as the Cliff Edge Coalition. Securing this extension now means progress can be made within the current mandate.”
BBC: Stormont Agrees to Extend Mitigations
Minister Hargey Commissions Welfare Mitigations Review
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has announced the appointment of an Independent Advisory Panel to review welfare mitigation measures. A final report will be produced by February 2022.
The Independent Advisory Panel will be chaired by Les Allamby, former Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. He will be joined by independent panel members and departmental officials with expertise in the field of social security.
The independent panel members include Louise Coyle, NI Rural Women’s Network; Liam Devine, Clanrye Group; Craig Harrison, Marie Curie; Kerry Logan, Cliff Edge NI Coalition and Housing Rights; Sinead McKinley, North Belfast Advice Partnership; Mark Simpson, UC:Us and Ulster University; Koulla Yiasouma, NI Commissioner for Children and Young People; and Jonathan Portes of King’s College, London.
DfC: Communities Minister Hargey Commissions Welfare Mitigations Review
UC Childcare Costs
Upfront childcare costs will be payable for the first month for people commencing employment who are claiming Universal Credit or are in receipt of other income-based benefits.
The Universal Credit (Childcare Costs) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2021 amended the Universal Credit Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 by ensuring that an Adviser Discretion Fund [ADF] payment from the Department for upfront childcare costs will be included when calculating the childcare element in the person’s Universal Credit award.
Parents who are eligible for the childcare element of Universal Credit (UC) and other income-based benefits can apply for a non-repayable grant of up to £1,500 from the Department’s Adviser Discretion Fund (ADF) which will be paid in advance to a registered childcare provider. Any amount awarded for childcare costs will be included within the maximum £1,500 limit payable for ADF awards in a 12 month period. Applications for the grant begin 25 October.
DfC: Communities Minister removes significant barrier to employment for parents
Universal Credit taper to be reduced to 55%, and work allowances increased by £500
Regulations now provide for the changes to the UC work allowance and taper rate.
Additionally, the policy intention behind its proposal for 18-month minimum award periods for those receiving PIP - to reduce the frequency of health assessments - can be more effectively met by better triaging of cases and testing a new 'Severe Disability Group’.
Plans to create a new housing element of pension credit in place of pensioner housing benefit are now intended to take effect in April 2025 (previously April 2023) to align with the full rollout of working-age housing benefit into UC.
Government has accepted the Low Pay Commission's recommendation for an increase in the national living wage to £9.50 an hour from April 2022, as well as increases in the national minimum wage (paragraph 5.5).
Implementation 24 November 2021.
HM Treasury: Autumn Budget And Spending Review 2021
Legislation: Universal Credit Regulations 2021
In force from 8 November 2021, the Social Security (Information-sharing in relation to Welfare Services etc.) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2021 (SR.No.289/2021) correct an error in Part 3 of the Social Security (Information-sharing in relation to Welfare Services etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 that restricts the NIHE, and others who hold information for a prescribed purpose, to only use and supply information held for prescribed purposes relating to welfare services. The new regulations amend the 2016 Regulations to ensure that relevant organisations can also lawfully use/supply information that they hold for prescribed purposes relating to housing benefit.
Legislation: Social Security Regulations 2021
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has said that measures she is introducing through the Assembly will help make gambling safer. Hargey stated:
“I am bringing a Bill through the Assembly which contains provisions that:
- create new offences which make it illegal for young people under 18 to be in areas where high-stake gaming machines are located;
- give any future Minister the power to introduce a statutory levy on the gambling industry;
- provide some clarification of the rules around prize competitions.”
The Minister is also launching a short, focused consultation on a Mandatory Code of Practice for the gambling industry with key stakeholders this week.
DfC: Steps Underway to Make Gambling Safer
NI Assembly: Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements Bill
Energy Price Comparison Tool
Energy prices are rising this winter. The Consumer Council has a free price comparison tool:
Consumer Council: Comparison Tool
Budget Autumn 2021
‘To ensure that work always pays, the government is increasing the National Living Wage to £9.50 an hour from April 2022, and is reducing the taper rate in Universal Credit (UC) from 63% to 55%, as well as increasing work allowances in UC by £500 a year. UC represent an effective tax cut for low income working households in receipt of UC worth £2.2 billion in 2022-23. Freezing fuel duty and duty rates on alcohol will also help with the cost of living’
HM Treasury: Autumn Budget And Spending Review 2021
The Resolution Foundation produced an assessment of the measures announced in the October 2021 Budget. Excerpt below:
The combined impact of polices announced by the Chancellor – including on Universal Credit, reduced Alcohol and Fuel Duties and higher Council Tax, Income Tax and National Insurance – will deliver a 2.8 per cent income boost to the poorest fifth of households by the middle of the decade, but an income hit of 2 per cent to middle-income households, and a 3.1 per cent hit to the richest fifth of households.
The reduction in the taper rate in Universal Credit will bring an additional 400,000 families into the benefits system next year. Around 75 per cent of the 4.4 million households on Universal Credit will be worse off as a result of decisions to take away the £20 per week uplift despite the Chancellor’s new Universal Credit measures in the Budget.
Resolution Foundation: Analysis of Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021
Capita Settlement to family of the late Philippa Day
At the conclusion of the inquest into Philippa’s death, assistant coroner Gordon Clow delivered a damning indictment of systemic problems at the Department of Work and Pensions and their agent Capita and concluded Philippa’s mental health illness had been “exacerbated” by the way her benefits were processed. He said: "Were it not for this problem, it is not likely that she would have [taken the act which ended her life] on the 7th or 8th of August."
Philippa died following a long struggle over her Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefits claim in 2019. Leigh Day partner Merry Varney, who represented the family, said:
“Through this settlement, and the public investigation into how the DWP and its agents treated Philippa, a young mother with physical and mental health conditions which led to damning findings by the Coroner, the law has delivered some accountability for and recognition of the wrongs Philippa suffered and the devastating impact on her family.
Capita has shown acceptance of their failures and a willingness to ensure their mistakes are not repeated, however there remain too many examples of the DWP, which controls the financial circumstances of the majority of people too sick to work, acting inhumanely to those receiving benefits and a continued resistance by the DWP to transparent investigations into benefit related deaths.
Until the DWP changes its attitude, people like Philippa and her family remain at risk of gross human rights violations and ‘benefit related deaths’ are just another example of preventable deaths of people with disabilities occurring without any proper investigation or scrutiny.”
Leigh Day: Philippa Day family secure settlement from Capita
Housing Executive Homelessness Strategy: Consultation Launch
The Housing Executive is considering significant additional investment in the prevention of homelessness, and is seeking views on its new draft strategy for addressing homelessness in Northern Ireland, which was published today.
In accordance with the Housing (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2010 the Housing Executive has a statutory duty to publish a new homelessness strategy at least every five years. The Homelessness Strategy 2017-22 was published in April 2017 and the need for a new homelessness strategy arises from both our statutory duty and the need to ensure that our work to address homelessness is reflective of current challenges, particularly in terms of the impact the pandemic has had on homelessness in Northern Ireland.
As part of the public consultation, the Housing Executive will also be asking for comment on how to improve the appropriateness and availability of temporary accommodation, in its draft strategic plan.
Beginning on 19th November, an online consultation event will focus on the Homelessness Strategy 2022-27: Ending Homelessness Together before the first event on the Homeless to Home, a Strategic Action Plan for Temporary Accommodation is hosted on Friday 26th November.
A final event will be held on January 12th to give members of the public - and those working in the housing and homeless sector - a chance to have their say on the strategy and action plan. Deadline for responses is Jan. 25 2022.
NIHE: A Step Change in Homelessness Prevention
Fuel Poverty Coalition
(FPC) Northern Ireland has launched a new ‘Manifesto for Warmth’, which details 7 key asks to help eradicate Fuel Poverty in Northern Ireland. This can found on the Coalition’s website at: A Manifesto for Warmth (2021).
Department of Finance: October Monitoring 2021 – 2022. Written Statement by Finance Minister Murphy:
The Department for Communities submitted a bid for £55 million to mitigate the withdrawal of the £20-per-week Universal Credit uplift in 2021-22. While it is clear that this vital support should be retained it should, of course, be funded by the British Government. It is deplorable that this support should be removed from the most vulnerable at a time when households are facing unprecedented price increases.
If the Executive is to fund the uplift the money will have to come from our block grant, which already provides significant resources to mitigating welfare reform and other policies introduced by the Conservative government. This was acknowledged when the Universal Credit issue was discussed at the Executive meeting on 21st October.
Unfortunately, there are not sufficient resources in the monitoring round to adequately fund Health and meet the UC bid. Another important factor is the need to provide a commitment to funding the uplift in future years if we are to avoid creating another cliff-edge at the end of March.
Certainty over future funding is also essential before investing significant amounts in developing the IT system that would be necessary to implement the change.
Given that the Executive is likely to face a similarly constrained financial position going forward I set out the pro-rata reductions to Departments other than Health that would be needed to fund the UC uplift on a long-term basis. The Executive did not proceed with this option but it was agreed that the Executive would have a dedicated discussion on wider anti-poverty initiatives.
NI Assembly: Department of Finance - October Monitoring 2021 - 2022
Bill to Improve Employment Rights of Zero Hours Contract Workers Passes First Stage in Assembly
Employment (Zero Hours Workers and Banded Weekly Working Hours) Bill passed First Stage and ordered to be printed. The explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill advises that -
‘By creating a less precarious environment for workers in this type of employment, who are often required to be readily available but with no guarantee of work, the Bill aims to provide certainty to the number of hours that they may typically expect to receive and the associated income.'
NI Assembly: Employment (Zero Hours Workers And Banded Weekly Working Hours) BILL
Housing Rights Gives Evidence to NI Assembly, re: Private Tenancies Bill
Housing Rights gave evidence to the NI Assembly Communities Committee on the new Private Tenancies Bill.
Housing Rights strongly welcome the Bill as a necessary first step in improving the experience of all in the sector, but particularly those low income tenants dealing with insecure and inadequate housing. The Bill contains 11 substantive clauses and three schedules which provide for a series of amendments to the Private Tenancies Order (Northern Ireland) 2006.
Kerry Logan, on behalf of Housing Rights, provided a written submission to the Committee’s Call for Evidence; and in addition to welcoming the clauses, made a number of specific points and proposals for amendments.
Housing Rights wishes to see a number of the clauses strengthened. These include those relating to the requirement for a rent receipt for payment in cash (Clause 3), the limit on the amount of deposit which can be charged (Clause 4) the proposals regarding rent increases (clause 7) and the provision to strengthen security of tenure by extending the notice to quit period required (clause 11).
In addition, to maximise the effectiveness of the bill, it is vital that all actors in the sector are aware of the requirements under the new legislation when these come into force. To that end, a comprehensive programme of information, advice, support and training as appropriate should be put in place.
Housing Rights: Housing Rights Written Evidence Private Tenancies Bill 2021
Housing Rights: Housing Rights Gives Evidence NI Assembly Committee New Bill
DfC & DWP Engagement
AQW 24129/17-22 Mr Andy Allen (UUP - East Belfast)
To ask the Minister for Communities what engagement she has had with counterparts in the Department for Work and Pensions on the future social security model and delivery across the UK.
The Department has regular engagement with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on all social security delivery models. Officials also attend all relevant DWP meetings, programme boards, etc.
I have commissioned independent reviews of the Discretionary Support and welfare mitigation schemes. The reviews will be completed by expert panels including academics and people from the independent advice sector at both strategic and grassroots levels. This will provide an important opportunity to consider what can be done better to ensure we provide the best possible support to the people who need it most.
The Department is also working with a range of partners to consider the housing and social security issues associated with the future use of Discretionary Housing Payments. This is all part of my ongoing review of the social security system to ensure it is meeting the needs of those who rely on it.
JBO Staff & Vocational Advice
AQW 23983/17-22 Mr Robin Newton (DUP - East Belfast)
To ask the Minister for Communities how Jobs and Benefits staff, advising job seekers, gain knowledge and experience in order to offer up-to-date vocational careers advice.
Each Jobs & Benefits office has at least one Employer Adviser whose role it is to work with local employers who are seeking to recruit. The Employer Advisers in turn work closely with work coach teams so that staff are aware of local job opportunities and any associated training requirements.
All offices also receive quarterly infographics on local labour market conditions which includes occupational areas where vacancies exist. Using this local labour market knowledge, work coaches work with individuals to understand their employment aspirations and will agree appropriate actions which can include participating in training or upskilling.
Jobs & Benefits offices work closely with local Further Education colleges to ensure that there is an awareness of vocational training requirements and opportunities. Further Education Colleges, other training providers and employers are regularly invited to attend weekly Team Time information sessions in Jobs & Benefits offices to increase work coach awareness of the training requirements associated with particular sectors. In the event that an individual requires more specialist advice or follow up, work coaches will signpost individuals to the Careers Service.
HSC Staff Recognition Payment
AQW 23613/17-22 Mr Peter Weir (DUP - Strangford)
To ask the Minister for Communities what steps have been taken to minimise the impact of the HSC Staff Recognition payment on receipt of benefits by those who are eligible for both.
The Minister for Health, Robin Swann, announced details of the Special Recognition Payment on 27th January 2021. Following this announcement, I wrote to Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, on two occasions, requesting that urgent consideration was given to ensuring that his proposal to make a one off payment of £500 to key workers was disregarded from social security benefits.
Unfortunately, agreement was not secured and, while officials worked to find a practical solution, payments must be treated as earnings in the usual way and consequently may impact on the recipient’s benefit entitlement.
Terminal Illness & Benefits
AQO 2564/17-22 Mr Mervyn Storey (DUP - North Antrim)
To ask the Minister for Communities when she will introduce legislation to extend the current six-month criterion for automatic entitlement to social security benefits for people with a terminal illness.
I anticipate this legislation will be introduced into the Assembly in November. This reform remains a priority for my Department and I am committed to bringing the legislation through the Assembly during this mandate.
AQW 23928/17-22 Mr Gerry Carroll (PBPA - West Belfast)
To ask the Minister for Communities what emergency financial measures she will implement to protect the increased number of people facing fuel poverty this winter.
My officials have had engagement with the Utility Regulator in relation to increased energy costs and wider issues relating to fuel poverty. These discussions are exploring what can be done this winter.
AQW 25162/17-22 Mr Robin Newton (DUP - East Belfast)
To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the number of Personal Independence Payment appeals that have been awaiting a hearing for (i) 6 to 12 months; (ii) 12 to 24 months; and (iii) longer than 24 months.
The number of Personal Independence Payment appeals that have been awaiting a first date of hearing for (i) 6 to 12 months; (ii) 12 to 24 months; and (iii) longer than 24 months is set out in the table below.
6 – 12 months: 392
12- 24 months: 609
Longer than 24 months: 251
Debt Organisations: Support
AQW 23982/17-22 Mr Robin Newton (DUP - East Belfast)
To ask the Minister for Communities whether she has any plans to increase the level of support allocated to organisations providing support and advice to individuals and families in debt.
In addition to annual funding of around £6.6m in community based, independent advice services, which includes regulated debt advice; I have recently allocated an additional £3m to Councils to allow for increased investment in our community and advice sector where it is needed. I have also launched a Financial Inclusion Fund of c£700,000 which will be distributed by Councils to community organisations on the ground, to increase the level of support available to individuals and families in debt.
£5 Million Charity Funding
AQW 24219/17-22 Mr Andy Allen (UUP - East Belfast)
To ask the Minister for Communities to outline when she will bring forward proposals to support charities and social enterprises using the allocated £5 Million funding.
I am currently examining a number of options which have been developed with sectoral partners. I plan to bring forward schemes in the coming weeks that can most effectively use the £5 million allocated by the Executive for the benefit of charities and social enterprise sectors.
DfC Interpreting Services Costs
AQW 24110/17-22 Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP - Foyle)
To ask the Minister for Communities to outline the amount spent by her Department since January 2020 on interpreters to assist non-English speaking individuals seeking welfare support.
My Department has spent just over £142,000 on interpreters to assist non-English speaking individuals seeking welfare support during the period 1 January 2020 to 31 October 2021.
Minority Ethnic Development Fund
AQO 2671/17-22 Miss Rachel Woods
(GPNI - North Down) To ask the First Minister and deputy First Minister for an update on the review of the Minority Ethnic Development Fund.
Since it was established in 2002, the Minority Ethnic Development Fund has grown in scope, quantum and ambition. It has supported and delivered hundreds of projects and helped thousands of people.
To ensure maximum benefits for our minority ethnic communities, and in line with our commitment in the Racial Equality Strategy, a review of the fund was completed last year.
The resulting report included 10 recommendations and officials are working on implementation.
We are particularly pleased to have launched the 2021/22 Fund earlier than in previous years in line with one of the recommendations. Indeed our Racial Equality Subgroup placed paramount importance on this, recognising the stability early funding commitments gives to the sector, and how it enables earlier planning for, and implementation of, support to minority ethnic communities here.
We are now committed to implementing the remaining recommendations and work has begun on many of these including moving to a three year funding cycle, and how to better implement an outcomes based approach to monitoring and evaluation.
We do not underestimate the importance and relevance of the Fund to the sector and we remain committed to exploring and applying the other longer term recommendations in the months and years ahead.
UC Minimum Income Floor
Catherine West, Labour UIN 53305
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if she will commit to permanently removing the minimum income floor when assessing self-employed workers for universal credit.
Mims Davies, Conservative
Universal Credit supports people into self-employment where self-employment is the best route for them to become financially self-sufficient. The Minimum Income Floor encourages individuals to increase their earnings and make a success of their business through developing their self-employment. It also addresses flaws in the previous Tax Credit system which allowed self-employed claimants to receive full State support while continuing to declare very low earnings and to prevent people from under-declaring earnings in the future. This restores fairness for the taxpayer.
Universal Credit & Mental Health
Bill Esterson, Labour UIN 60398
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what representations she has received on the impact of using the universal credit online journal on people with mental health conditions.
David Rutley, Conservative
Universal Credit is a 24 hour, seven days a week, digital service that allows claimants to manage their own data and account online at a time which is convenient for them. Via their account, claimants can check their Universal Credit benefit payments, notify us of changes and record notes on the online journal facility.
To enable Work Coaches to provide a tailored experience for all claimants, including those with mental health conditions, Work Coaches are able to record in a free text format, through the use of ‘pinned notes’ in the Universal Credit system, information which supports staff in identifying and recording circumstances of individual claimants.
However, if claimants are unable to make a digital claim, they can make and maintain their claim via our Freephone Universal Credit helpline. When a claim is made by telephone, claimants do not need to provide an email address and are not given an online account to maintain, nor an online journal to manage. A telephone claim is also clearly marked on the service to remind DWP staff to use alternative channels to communicate information with claimants and their monthly award statement will be sent via post.
PIP & Travel for Vaccine
Jonathan Reynolds, Labour UIN 53236
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether a claimant's ability to travel and receive the covid-19 vaccine has been used by her Department as evidence when assessing a person under activity 11 of the Personal Independent Payment assessment.
Chloe Smith, Conservative
Personal Independence Payment Activity 11 – planning and following journeys considers a claimant’s ability to plan the route of a journey in advance, their ability to leave the home and embark on a journey and their ability to follow the intended route once they leave the home.
Health Professionals are expected to consider in the round the ability of an individual to carry out the activity safely, to an acceptable standard, reliably and repeatedly using their clinical expertise, the evidence provided and their observations of the claimant’s functional ability.
Guidance does not specifically direct Health Professionals to consider a claimant’s ability to travel to receive a vaccine and the information requested about specific cases is not available.