'THINK' October 2021 Edition
The Advice NI Policy & Information team is delighted to publish this October 2021 edition of our policy eNewsletter ‘THINK’.
As usual, we have all the latest legislative updates, statutory rules, announcements and briefings.
- Advice NI role in flagging the cost of living crisis, fuel poverty crisis and continued uncertainty regarding welfare mitigations legislation;
- The work of Joanne Farrell, of Belfast Unemployment Resource Centre regarding a client who was sent a letter disallowing the Daily Living component of PIP, as he ‘lived in sheltered accommodation’;
- Latest ‘Information Updates’ section;
- 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.
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The Advice NI Policy & Information Team
Benefit Claimants to Face Devastating Blow if Mitigations Legislation Not Introduced
“We call on all political parties and the NI Executive to recognise what has taken some considerable time to build and not risk losing everything as a result of further delay and disagreement. The people who rely on this support need and deserve no less.”
Professor Eileen Evason CBE, Chair, Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group 2016
Kevin Higgins, Advice NI, Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group member
Advice NI Response to: Shaping Future Support: The Health and Disability Green Paper
The health and disability green paper explores how the welfare system can better meet the needs of disabled people and people with health conditions now and in the future, enabling people to live independently and move into work where possible. The consultation focuses on the main benefits paid to disabled people and people with long-term health conditions of working age.
GOVUK - Shaping future support: the health and disability green paper
Advice NI Response
Universal Credit Guide
Ulster University state it is the UK's first claimant-led guide to universal credit. The experiences of the claimants are detailed in the online document. The Universal Credit Guide is a core output from a research collaboration between UC: Us participants, the universities of York and Ulster, Housing Rights and Law Centre NI. The research was funded by ESRC.
Exemption from requirement to satisfy habitual residence test or past presence test in N.I.
In force from 25 September 2021, the Social Security (Habitual Residence and Past Presence) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2021 (SR.No.269/2021) exempt specified persons who have come to the UK from Afghanistan from the requirement to satisfy the habitual residence test (HRT) or the past presence test (PPT) for means-tested benefits and disability and carer benefits.
New Advocacy Service for Sexual and Domestic Abuse Victims
The Department of Justice and the Police Service of Northern Ireland have worked with voluntary sector partners to develop the ASSIST NI advocacy service. Three specialist organisations are working in partnership to deliver the service – Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid, Foyle Women’s Aid and Men’s Advisory Project. The service is being rolled out on a phased basis.
The ASSIST NI Advocacy Service Manager, Michelle Martin, stated: “We are delighted to present ASSIST NI, the new advocacy service for Northern Ireland. We strive to ensure that victims are provided with trauma-informed, victim led, bespoke support to meet individual needs and manage risk."
DoJ - Long welcomes advocacy service for sexual and domestic abuse victims
Government Launches Support for Vulnerable Households Over Winter
Vulnerable households across the country will be able to access a new £14m support fund to help them with essentials over the coming months as the country continues its recovery from the pandemic.
GOVUK - Government launches £500m support for vulnerable households over winter
N.I. Assembly Passed a Motion Calling on the Executive to Maintain the UC £20 Uplift, for the Remainder of the Current Financial Year
That this Assembly recognises the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased reliance on the welfare system; notes that the £20 universal credit uplift has provided a lifeline to many low-income families; registers serious concerns about the devastating impact that its proposed removal would have at this critical juncture in the recovery period; further recognises that the removal of £20 per week from thousands of families will push more people into poverty at a time when one in four children already lives in poverty, increase reliance on food banks and increase homelessness, as well as having dire consequences for our local economy; and calls on the Minister for Communities, in the absence of action from the Westminster Government, to liaise with her Executive colleagues to retain this uplift for the remainder of this financial year, and to commit to expediting a long-term strategy to tackle the shameful levels of poverty and social deprivation across Northern Ireland, which remain among the highest in Europe.
NI Assembly - Official Report October 21
Thanks to Joanne Farrell, of Belfast Unemployment Resource Centre.
Joanne had a client who was sent a letter, denying the Daily Living component of PIP, as he ‘lived in sheltered accommodation’. This despite client being in receipt of zero care services. Joanne challenged this, and secured both payment of DL component, plus backdating. Other clients, across N.I., are receiving letters saying that as they reside in Sheltered Accommodation they cannot get the Daily Living component of PIP. Advice NI’s policy team approached the department for clarification.
Can PIP confirm the legislation used to justify these letters?
‘The daily living component is not payable if a person has been placed in accommodation, arranged or provided by the Health and Social Services Trust under the Health & Personal Social Services (NI) Order 72, art 14(A)’
Is said legislation included in the letters, to inform clients & their reps?
‘PIP decision notifications do not include any legislation’
In cases where client lives in hostels/sheltered/supported housing, is there a specific checking procedure [like directly contacting the hostel] that Case Managers need to follow before reaching a decision?
‘Yes, where a customer enters this type of accommodation, specific PIP forms are issued to both the Health and Social Care Trust and those who manage the Accommodation, to establish the provision under which they have been placed there. I have asked for all case managers to be reminded of the correct action to take where a person enters this type of accommodation.’
Joanne’s intervention not only secured vital monies for the client, but also the department case managers have been reminded of the correct action to take in these cases; a great result for future claimants. Congratulations Joanne!
For information the full guidance is as follows:
The Advice for Decision Making Guide states:
A care home is an establishment that provides accommodation together with nursing or personal care for people who;
- are or have been ill or
- have or have had a mental disorder or
- are disabled or infirm or
- are or have been dependent on alcohol or drugs.
An establishment is not a care home if it is a hospital, an independent clinic or a children’s home
The Decision Making Guide states:
The decision maker should consider the following when deciding whether the person is receiving free in-patient treatment (health care) in the accommodation arranged or provided by the Health and Social Services Trust;
- the accommodation is held to be a hospital or similar institution which is maintained or administered by the Health and Social Services Trust or
- the claimant has been placed by the Health and Social Services Trust in the accommodation
They will not be patients if they are in accommodation which is not directly maintained or administered by the Health and Social Services Trust, or if placement is made under any provisions other than Article 5(1)(a) or Article 14(A) of the Order.
PIP Guidance - Sheltered accommodation:
Accommodation owned by the HSCT may be described as ‘very sheltered accommodation’ and referred to as flats or flatlets. Such accommodation is often provided in the same way as council houses or flats.
An indication that this may be the case will be information that the person is claiming HB. Where it is not clear that the HSCT is renting the accommodation to the tenant under the Housing Acts, form PIP.3011 should be sent to find out what legislation is being used.
The daily living component is payable: if form PIP.3011 shows that the Housing Acts are being used, or a letting agreement quoting them is produced,
The daily living component is not payable: if form PIP.3011, completed by the finance or legal department of the HSCT, quotes Health and Personal Social Services (NI) Order 1972.
 WR (NI) Order 15, art 90(3)
 HPSS (Quality, Improvement and Regulation) (NI) Order 03
 H&PSS (NI) Order 72, art 14(A)
High Street Scheme – ‘Spend Local’ Pre-Paid Card
Following up on last month’s briefing, Advice NI have been informed about alternative applications processes for the High Street Scheme for applicants that do not have a National Insurance Number (NINO).
Asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking and refugees waiting for a NINO can submit an application with support from the Northern Ireland Council of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS) by completing an online form (advice and assistance is available by contacting email@example.com or 07516448493).
All others that would otherwise be eligible but who have never been issued with a NINO should contact the main Department for the Economy helpline on 0800 046 8330 (lines are open from Monday to Friday between 8am–6pm). Applicants should make clear to the agent answering the call that they have never been issued with a NINO. There have been reports that call handlers have refused to take applications in this manner and we have raised this with the Department for the Economy, but given the short window for making an application would encourage clients to be persistent.
Bereavement Support Payment
Following two landmark court cases there have been some important changes to eligibility for Bereavement Support Payment. To address these changes and place them in their proper context we have produced a comprehensive information briefing:
The briefing reviews the eligibility criteria and payment procedures for Bereavement Support Payment, with reference to both guidance and legislation, before going on to address the recent cases and the Department’s responses. The changes open up the possibility for claims from cohabiting partners and those whose deceased partner was incapable of meeting the contribution conditions due to being unable to work.
Universal Credit: Restoration of the Minimum Income Floor
As we know, the Minimum Income Floor was restored for self-employed claimants to Universal Credit from 1st August 2021. However, the Universal Credit (Coronavirus) (Restoration of Minimum Income Floor) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2021 provided for the continuation of easements in specific cases at the discretion of the Department.
The Department has now published a memo for decision makers on the application of these regulations, which you can read here.
Bedroom Tax and Sanctuary Schemes
An amendment to regulations on the application of the under occupancy criteria for housing costs came into effect on 1st October 2021 to provide protection for victims of domestic violence. The Department for Communities has published memos for both Universal Credit and Housing Benefit decision makers outlining the procedures that should be followed when dealing with this type of claim:
ADM Memo 13/21 / HB Memo 4/21 – Under Occupancy Deduction – Sanctuary Scheme
PIP: Application and Award Timescale
Mr Clarke asked the Minister for Communities what is the average timescale from receipt of application to a decision for PIP. (AQO 2554/17-22)
Ms Hargey: The most recently published PIP statistics, which cover the period from June 2016 to the end of May 2021, show that the average timescale from claim registration until a decision is made is 13 weeks. The average time reported is calculated from the point of the initial claim registration, and includes the time that is taken for the claimant to return the PIP form issued following registration, the assessment process and the decision by the Department. Depending on the circumstances, some claims are processed significantly quicker than that, such as in cases where the special rules for terminally ill people apply, where the clearance time is two weeks. All processes are kept under constant review.
Mr Clarke: The Minister will accept that the organisation that runs PIP has come under much public criticism about the timings and, indeed, how it has treated some people. She referred to the 13 weeks in her statistics. Although my question did not refer to appeals, the Minister will probably know from her briefing that appeals run into many months. Given that many of those people are in a vulnerable state and depend on that income, what is the Minister doing to try to address that and reduce the time that those people have to wait to get their payments?
Ms Hargey: The 13 weeks relates to the process of applying for PIP, and all that. My answer did not deal with appeals. If we took your question up wrongly, we will clarify that. We have had the NIPSO report and others that have been done around the whole PIP process. I am working on the implementation of the recommendations that came out of that. From August 2021, I have taken the audit function of PIP back in-house to really look at how we manage the contract around it. I have made a policy decision to bring all PIP assessments in-house. However, again, I need Executive approval for the financial uplift that I would need to do that.
A big reason for delay is the availability of health evidence on somebody's condition. In the longer term, we are trying to work with the Department of Health. We have looked at the Scottish model and others where they have a new approach that is based on health trusts; it is trusts that carry out initial assessments. That information would then be fed directly into the Department through a data-sharing process. We are beginning to look at that. However, because of the pandemic, there have, obviously, been delays in trying to bring that forward in Health. That work will continue in the time ahead. We will continue to keep that under review and make changes where we can. The longer-term objective is to bring those assessments back in-house and to end the privatisation of assessments.
NI Assembly - Official Report October 21
AQW 22885/17-22 Mr Jim Allister (TUV - North Antrim)
To ask the Minister for Communities why Personal Independence Payment offices have not reverted to face-to-face meetings; and whether a date has been set for their resumption.
Face-to-face assessments for Personal Independence Payment resumed on 1 July 2021. Initially this is only for those people who are unable to take part in a telephone assessment due to their condition, for example people with hearing or speech impairments, people who do not have a telephone or those who experience technical difficulties with calls. The Department will continue to monitor its policy in this area as Covid-19 restrictions change.
AQW 22254/17-22 Mr Justin McNulty (SDLP - Newry and Armagh)
To ask the Minister for Communities what steps she is taking to ensure that the processes for interrogating mandatory reconsiderations for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) awards are as robust and thorough as an appeal process; and how she is planning to reduce the average clearance time for PIP awards from 13 weeks so as to ensure those in critical need receive timely support.
I refer the Member to my answer to AQW 21663/17-22. The Appeals Tribunal process is independent of the Department.
The average time reported is calculated from the point of the initial claim registration and includes the time taken for the claimant to return the PIP form issued following registration, the assessment process and the decision by the Department. Dependant on the circumstances some claims are processed significantly quicker than this, such as cases where the special rules for terminally ill apply, where the clearance time is 2 weeks. All processes are kept under review.
AQW 22328/17-22 Miss Rachel Woods (GPNI - North Down)
To ask the Minister for Communities, further to the McLaughlin case, whether she will introduce an early payment scheme for bereaved families that are facing financial hardship as a result of the delay in bringing forward a remedial order on Bereavement Benefits.
I very much welcome the introduction of the Remedial Order which will enable the legislation to better reflect the way in which today’s society lives and I fully appreciate the difference that this financial support will make to surviving partners with dependent children.
The declaration of incompatibility made by the Supreme Court in the McLaughlin case did not affect the validity of section 39A of the 1992 Contributions and Benefits Act, in accordance with section 4(6)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998. The 1992 Act therefore remains in force, and as such, my Department is bound to comply with it.
As the 1992 Act does not make provision for payment to a surviving cohabitee, payment cannot lawfully be made to any persons not currently covered by the provisions of the Act. However, I anticipate that the remedial order will be retrospective to the date of the Supreme Court Judgement.
AQW 23066/17-22 Miss Rachel Woods (GPNI - North Down)
To ask the Minister for Communities what plans her Department has to communicate to cohabitees, bereaved since August 2018, that they may be eligible to make a retrospective claim once the remedial legislation is passed.
The process for claiming Widowed Parents Allowance (WPA) and Bereavement Support Payment (BSP) for eligible surviving cohabitees with dependent children will be confirmed closer to the point of the Remedial Order becoming law.
The niDirect website will be updated as necessary, as the Order progresses.
AQW 22994/17-22 Miss Rachel Woods (GPNI - North Down)
To ask the Minister for Communities (i) how her Department notifies bereaved cohabitees, who are not married or in a civil partnership, of upcoming changes in eligibility to bereavement benefit rules; (ii) whether this information will be put on NI Direct or other advice websites; and (iii) whether social security advisors will encourage current potential claimants to make a claim, so that the date of claim is registered to facilitate correct payment once legislation is changed.
My officials are currently working on the operational policy arising out of this proposed change to the legislation. This work includes consideration of the best way to communicate the proposed change to the general public at large and individual claimants, to ensure that those who will be eligible are aware of the position.
Private Tenancies Bill
AQO 2418/17-22 Mr Declan McAleer (SF - West Tyrone)
To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on the Private Tenancies Bill (NIA Bill 32/17-22).
The Private Tenancies Bill completed Second Stage of the legislative process on Monday 13 September.
Provisions in the Bill will make the private rented sector a safer and more secure housing option for people living in it by improving the standards and conditions. These much needed changes will ensure a better regulated and fairer private rented sector offering greater protection to Private renters.
Winter Fuel Payments
AQW 23011/17-22 Mr Alex Easton (IND - North Down)
To ask the Minister for Communities when the 2021 Winter Fuel Payments will be made.
Most Winter Fuel Payments will be paid automatically through the Department for Work and Pensions IT system, during November and December 2021, with all payments made by 14 January 2022.
Warm Homes Discount
AQW 22977/17-22 Mr Andy Allen (UUP - East Belfast)
To ask the Minister for Communities why Northern Ireland does not offer the Warm Home Discount Scheme that is delivered in other parts of the UK.
I have been advised that officials from the Department for Economy met with relevant officials in Britain to discuss whether the scheme could cover here. It was determined that this was not possible because the underpinning legislation makes the scheme specific to Britain.
Fuel Poverty Taskforce
AQW 22975/17-22 Mr Andy Allen (UUP - East Belfast)
To ask the Minister for Communities whether she will establish a departmental lead fuel poverty taskforce.
I can advise that my officials have had engagement with the Utility Regulator in relation to increased energy costs and wider issues relating to fuel poverty. These include exploring what can be done this winter and which other interested parties may need to be involved.
PIP Assessment Recordings
Sam Tarry, Labour UIN 16261
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps she will take to ensure that recordings of personal independence payment assessments by private providers are stored securely; and who will have access to those recordings and for what purpose.
Justin Tomlinson, Conservative
Claimants may use their own equipment to record their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) face to face assessment, should they wish to, as stated in the PIP Assessment Guide (PIPAG). Certain devices that are capable of editing, real-time streaming or video recording the session are not approved. Non-approved devices include (but are not limited to) PCs, tablets, smart phones, MP3 players, smart watches, and devices that are not capable of providing a verifiable media copy that can be easily checked during the assessment. Acceptable formats for such recordings are restricted to CD and audio cassette only.
We are currently working with providers to deliver an audio recording service for face to face assessments, which resumed on 17 May 2021, that removes the requirement for the claimant to provide the equipment and we aim to complete this as soon as practically possible.
Following assessment, a complete and accurate copy of the recording will be created for both parties. This will ensure that both the claimant and the department have access to an identical copy of the recorded assessment. It is not possible for the HP to provide the claimant with a copy of the audio recording in an acceptable format at the end of the assessment, however, a copy of the recording will be sent to the claimant following the assessment by secure delivery.
The department has worked closely with both PIP assessment providers to ensure the storage of recordings meet the required DWP Security Standards. Access to recordings in the provider space is strictly limited, monitored and controlled. Those who have access will only do so for the purposes of producing a claimant copy of the recording, for complaint resolution purposes or for benefit decision appeal proceedings.
Owen Thompson, Scottish National Party UIN 51772
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment she has made of the impact of the 3.2 per cent rise in inflation on the financial wellbeing of recipients of universal credit.
David Rutley, Conservative
The Chancellor announced a temporary six-month extension to Universal Credit uplift at the Budget on 3 March to support households affected by the economic shock of Covid-19. Universal Credit has provided a vital safety net for six million people during the pandemic, and the temporary uplift was part of a COVID support package worth a total of £407 billion in 2020-21 and 2021-22.
Separately to the Universal Credit Uplift, the Secretary of State completes an annual review of most benefit rates for people below State Pension age to determine whether they have retained their value in relation to the general level of prices. Where prices have increased relative to the value of those benefits, the Secretary of State will increase certain disability and carers’ benefits – such as Personal Independence Payments and Carer’s Allowance – at least in line with that increase. She may also decide to increase other benefits, such as the Universal Credit Standard Allowance. That decision is discretionary, but it is conventional that these rates are also increased in line with the increase in prices as measured by the Consumer Price Index. The up-rating review is conducted in the Autumn of each year, with the outcome announced in November and the new rates implemented the following April.
Kate Osamor Labour UIN 47029
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when her Department plans to stop the universal credit and legacy benefit claims of individuals who qualify for EU Settled Status but have not yet applied for that scheme.
Chloe Smith, Conservative
The Government has made clear its commitment to safeguard the rights of EEA nationals, and their family members, living in the UK prior to the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. They have done this though the introduction of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).
The scheme opened to the public on 30 March 2019 and the deadline for the scheme for those resident in the UK by the end of the transition period was 30 June 2021. Every day thousands of people are being given status through the EUSS and to date the Home Office have received more than 6 million applications.
There is scope to make a late application based on reasonable grounds for missing the deadline. The Home Office have also released guidance for late applications and reiterated their general approach under the EUSS which is to look to grant status, rather than looking for reasons to refuse. Those covered by the Withdrawal Agreement who submit a late application to the EUSS will also be able to access benefits and services, if they are eligible, from the point their application is validated, and identity has been verified.
From 1 July 2021, the Department has continued to work in collaboration with the HO and HMRC to undertake further engagement activities and give those without status further opportunity to apply to the EUSS. Claimants that fail to make a late application will not have entitlement to benefits unless, and until, they apply. The Department is however taking all reasonable steps to engage claimants and provide them with multiple opportunities to apply before taking compliance action. This includes engaging with relevant customers through scheduled face to face and telephony contact, and Universal Credit (UC) journal prompts. The Department’s visiting service is also available for those customers who are identified as the most vulnerable.