'THINK' - October 2023 Edition

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

Issue in Focus: Move to Universal Credit

Move To Universal Credit Scaling Commences

The latest phase of the ‘Move to UC’ started on Monday 16 October, with Migration Notice letters being issued across all postcodes to Working Tax Credits and/or Child Tax Credits recipients who receive no other legacy benefit.
Deputy Secretary of Work and Health at the Department for Communities, Paddy Rooney said, ‘We are approaching the final implementation stage of UC with the utmost care. We will closely monitor the impact of implementation and ensure that all of the proper help, advice and support is available to everyone throughout the ‘Move to UC’ process.’
Advice NI continues to emphasise the key message not to make a claim for UC without a Migration Notice. Moving before instructed to do so by the Department will mean missing out on important transitional protections designed to maintain the person’s existing benefit entitlement. We are particularly conscious of a recent communication from HMRC to Tax Credits claimants about preparing for the move, and have updated the Move to UC page on our website to note that this should not be treated as an instruction to claim UC.
‘Move to UC’ to begin next week


Fears For Farmers And Other Self-Employed People

Advice NI, Rural Support and The Ulster Farmers’ Union have expressed their collective concern over the impact on many of the 134,000 self-employed people in Northern Ireland who currently rely on tax credits and who will be impacted by ‘Move to UC’.
Kevin Doherty, Chief Executive of Rural Support said:
‘The migration to Universal Credit is something which many farm families are unaware of and will have significant implications for those who rely on Tax Credits and in particular those with children of school age. No longer is this payment based on annual income, instead figures must be submitted on a monthly basis, with no allowance being made for seasonal income such as lamb sales or Single Farm Payments which has the potential to eliminate any benefit income for several months.
‘We know many will struggle with the monthly reporting element and will need additional help at an additional cost. Farm families are struggling with the cost of living at a time when farm business margins are also being squeezed. They need to be aware of the change to Universal Credit, what is involved and the implications which for most families will see further reduction to their household income.’

Advice NI, Rural Support and The Ulster Farmers’ propose that self-employed people should receive a fairer and more equitable assessment under Universal Credit to encourage a more dynamic and entrepreneurial economy and calls for:

  • Actual earnings to be used in the Universal Credit assessment as opposed to the artificial assumed ‘Minimum Income Floor’
  • Annualised administration of Universal Credit for the self-employed in line with the tax year as opposed to the requirement for monthly reporting of cash-in and cash-out
  • Creation of a dedicated independent support service for the self-employed to assist and support them to navigate Universal Credit

‘Move to Universal Credit’ for farmers and other self-employed people: A Burden or a Benefit?


Early Warning System

The Advice NI Policy & Information team has established an Early Warning System to log Move to UC issues identified by front-line advice staff. Any cases raised with the team that relate to managed migration will be logged in a spreadsheet, which will then be circulated on a weekly basis both to Universal Credit management within the Department and to Advice NI members.
The goal is to address emerging issues before they develop into serious problems for claimants, and we have already held meetings with the Department to clarify rules and procedures in relation to self-employment, leading to a commitment from the Department to improve support for self-employed claimants with the reporting of income and expenditure.
To raise a case through the Early Warning System please contact either Bridget or Matt by email, ensuring that case summaries are anonymised to protect client data.

Social Policy News

Advice NI Campaigns For Up-rating Of Benefits In Line With Inflation

People on the lowest incomes – both in and out of work – have endured a decade of austerity; with freezes and cuts to social security benefits and in-work support; hollowing out support, undermining resilience and ability to cope with adversity.
They now find themselves disproportionately affected by the current cost of living crisis; crushing energy bills and faced with the stark choice of going cold or hungry to make ends meet. The Consumer Price Index figure announced today by the Office for National Statistics stands at 6.7%, with inflation at 12.2% for essential food items and non-alcoholic beverages such as milk, vegetables, bread, cereals, meat and eggs.
As the current Prime Minister and Chancellor have failed to commit to benefit uprating in line with inflation for next year, Advice NI has initiated a Parliamentary Petition calling on Government to uprate benefits by inflation. At 10,000 signatures, the Government must respond to this Petition.
Please sign and share the petition online.
Uprate Benefits by Inflation: Otherwise the poorest will get poorer
A new report from the Resolution Foundation reviews the potential consequences of failing to uprate in line with inflation and concludes it ‘would be a very bad idea indeed.’
‘A decision not to uprate working-age benefits in line with inflation would affect more than four-in-ten (9 million) working-age households in the UK. And the losses for many would be material: if key benefits were frozen, a single adult working at least 20 hours a week at minimum wage with an illness or disability claiming UC would see their annual income fall by £610, for example; a working couple with two children on UC earning the same would experience a £1,202 shortfall over the course of the year; and a similar working couple with three children in receipt of UC would suffer a dramatic £1,622 fall to their income next fiscal year.
‘Freezing benefits in 2024-25 would drive up inequality and impoverish many: 400,000 more children would grow up in poverty next year as a result. Some may argue that this approach is needed to ‘correct’ for the ‘generous’ uprating decision of last autumn, but this is wrong: if working-age benefits were uprated next April in line with September’s inflation figure, they would still only return to the real value they had on the eve of the pandemic.’
Rates of change: The impact of a below-inflation uprating on working-age benefits


Consumer Rights Survey Launched

Advice NI launch an Information Briefing aimed at raising awareness of the major players involved in consumer protection in Northern Ireland, including in the important area of scams and illegal money lending.
Speaking about the Briefing, Kevin Higgins, Head of Policy, Advice NI said:
“We are indebted to our Research Volunteer Yuji Yamaguchi for carrying out this important piece of work. Now more than ever consumers need to be aware of their rights and how to enforce them and this guide will assist advisers and the general public alike to understand some key consumer protection issues, the key players involved in consumer protection and how to seek help and support when things go wrong.”
Yuji Yamaguchi, Research Volunteer, Advice NI added:
“I am deeply grateful to Advice NI for the opportunity to carry out this piece of work and I am grateful to all the stakeholders for their engagement in the research. It has been immensely fulfilling on a personal and professional level; and I trust that the ‘Who Does What’ guide will be of practical use for advisers and the public in Northern Ireland”.
At the launch, Mabel Stevenson, Utility Regulator said:
“The Utility Regulator is pleased to have played a part in the production of this report. It is crucially important that consumers are aware of the range of protections that exist and this report helps to make this information clear and accessible.”
Ronan Convery, Senior Empowerment Officer at the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland added:
“It was great to meet Yuji and help him put together this guide to consumer protection in Northern Ireland. The guide provides an overview of the wealth of support that is available for consumers in Northern Ireland, including the functions of the Consumer Council, which include consumer empowerment, complaints investigations, undertaking research, and representing consumers.”
Who Does What for Consumer Protection in Northern Ireland? A Brief Overview


Advice NI Respond To DWP’s WCA Consultation

The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) is undertaking a consultation on proposed changes to the activities and descriptors in the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which were last comprehensively reviewed in 2011.
In particular, the DWP is seeking views on:

  • amending the activities and descriptors in the Work Capability Assessment so that assessments reflect greater flexibility and availability of reasonable adjustments in work, particularly home working
  • the application of Risk to Self or Others under the Universal Credit (UC) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) circumstances in which a claimant is to be treated as having limited capability for work and work related activity (LCWRA)

Work Capability Assessment: activities and descriptors
Responding to the consultation, the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers (NAWRA) has said that the DWP fails to give good reasons for its proposed changes, which amount to a benefit reduction for people with disabilities and health conditions, which the government appear to have pursued without conducting a proper impact assessment.
NAWRA’s response to the DWP’s consultation on proposed changes to the work capability assessment
Advice NI’s response to the consultation highlights important points in relation to:

  • why the proportion of Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity (LCWRA) outcomes at WCA have risen significantly;
  • why 15% of new claims awarded LCWRA or ESA Support Group (SG) under ‘substantial risk’;
  • what is the evidential basis for change, given high standards in terms of decision making and financial accuracy;
  • Government should NOT make changes to the ‘substantial risk’ criteria.

You will be able to view a copy of our response through the Policy section of the Advice NI website shortly.


Boiler Replacement Scheme Closed By DfC

The Department for Communities has announced the closure of the Boiler Replacement Scheme.
The Scheme, which offered a grant of up to £1,000 for homeowners to replace boilers that are over 15 years old, has ended due to budgetary constraints, and applications will no longer be accepted.
The Department will continue to fund the Affordable Warmth Scheme to help those on lower incomes with the costs of energy efficiency measures. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) will continue to replace boilers for those people who have already received formal approval. Anyone whose applications cannot be processed should be contacted by NIHE.
Closure of Boiler Replacement Scheme


Awareness Campaign For Victims And Survivors Of Historical Institutional Abuse

The Executive Office has announced the launch of the next phase of the awareness campaign for victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse.
This phase of the campaign will focus on using digital media and outdoor advertising to increase awareness of the support, services and compensation available for victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse.
The campaign continues to highlight the roles of the Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse (COSICA), the Victims and Survivors Service (VSS) and the Historical Institutional Abuse Redress Board (HIARB).
Awareness Campaign for Victims and Survivors of Historical Institutional Abuse


Cross Border Living And Working

A new series of ‘Cross Border Living and Working’ online events, coordinated by the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) on Thursday 14 September, with representatives from the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre prominent.
The second online event in the series will take place on Wednesday 15 November. Annmarie O’Kane from the Centre for Cross Border Studies, Sharon Dillon from North Connacht and Ulster Citizens Information Service, and Kevin Higgins from Advice NI will all present information on the issues and trends that are arising from their work.
INOU launch Cross Border Living and Working online series


Court Of Appeal Reconfirms Landmark Judgement On Bereavement Support

Following on from Law Centre NI’s highly important victory in the O’Donnell case, in which the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal ruled that the refusal of Bereavement Support Payment to the family of a woman who was unable to work was unlawful, the Public Law Project has succeeded in bringing its own case before the Court of Appeal of England and Wales.
In the recent case, the High Court found, on the basis of O’Donnell, that it was unlawful to exclude surviving families from receiving Bereavement Support Payments where the person who died could not work because of life-long disability. In the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Underhill, Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing and Lord Justice Falk agreed with that position and rejected the Secretary of State’s appeal.
Jwanczuk v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2023] EWCA Civ 1156
Court of Appeal dismisses DWP's appeal in favour of disabled woman's widower
Law Centre NI case central to wider change: successful outcome for bereavement benefit case in England and Wales


Real Living Wage Boosted

The Living Wage Foundation has announced a 10% increase in the real Living Wage. As a result, real Living Wage rates rise to £12 an hour across the UK (an increase of £1.10 per hour), and £13.15 an hour in London (an increase of £1.20 per hour).
Recent research by the Living Wage Foundation found that despite inflation easing, the cost-of-living crisis is far from over, with 60% of those earning below the real Living Wage visiting food banks in the past year and 39% regularly skipping meals for financial reasons.
Real Living Wage increases to £12 in UK and £13.15 in London

Legislative Changes

New Agreement On Social Security Coordination Incorporated Into Existing Rules

New legislation makes provision for the modification of certain social security legislation in Northern Ireland following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA) to incorporate the agreements in the Convention on Social Security Coordination between Iceland, the Principality of Liechtenstein, the Kingdom of Norway and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland signed in London on 30 June 2023.
As the associated Explanatory Memorandum for the Convention makes clear, the agreement establishes a number of common features of social security coordination between the countries concerned:

  • Provides that persons are subject to the social security legislation of either the UK or Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein in respect of the matters covered by the Convention.
  • Ensures that all employed persons (and their employers), as well as self-employed persons are not liable for social security contributions in the UK and the EEA EFTA States at the same time.
  • Provides for the aggregation of relevant periods of social security contributions in respect of those benefits in scope of the Convention. The general principle of aggregation means that relevant periods of contributions, work or residence, in the UK and the EEA EFTA States may be taken into account when determining a person’s eligibility for those benefits covered by the Convention.
  • Provides eligible individuals with access to those benefits that are within scope of the Convention. 
  • Provides for eligible individuals to receive certain UK benefits in the EEA EFTA States and EEA EFTA State benefits in the UK.
  • Maintains the uprating of the UK State Pension paid to state pensioners in the EEA EFTA States.
  • Ensures that where the UK or an EEA EFTA State is responsible for an individual’s healthcare, that individual will be entitled to reciprocal healthcare cover in the other States. This includes healthcare cover for state pensioners, those exporting maternity allowance, and certain categories of cross-border workers, as well as necessary and emergency healthcare cover for people visiting an EEA EFTA State or the UK. Planned treatment in the other State will also be covered, including for maternity care.

Social Security (Iceland) (Liechtenstein) (Norway) Order (Northern Ireland) 2023
Convention on Social Security Coordination between Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Information Resources

Tax-Free Childcare Guidance Published

HMRC have published the Technical Manual for the administration of the Tax-Free Childcare scheme. The Tax-Free Childcare Technical Manual is a guide to the law relating to Tax-Free Childcare.
Tax-Free Childcare was introduced in early 2017 to help eligible working parents with the cost of childcare. Tax-Free Childcare is broadly available to parents of children aged 11 or under, or disabled children aged 16 or under, across the UK. To be eligible, a parent and their partner (if they have one) must expect to earn on average, at least a weekly amount equal to the National Minimum or National Living wage multiplied by 16 hours, and each have an adjusted net income of no more than £100,000 per year.
Tax-Free Childcare Technical Manual


New Guide To Employment Tribunals

You can now download a new guide to employment tribunals from the Law Centre NI. The guide is intended to help people navigate the Tribunal system and provide guidance on the processes and requirements that apply before making a legal claim.
Law Centre NI's employment hub advises on employment law and provides a representation service for employees and workers.
LCNI Employment Tribunal Guide


A New Approach To ‘Legacy’ Overpayments

For a long time, the responsibility of ‘legacy’ benefit claimants to disclose relevant information, the manner in which they are required to do so, and the overpayments to which failure to properly disclose have given rise have been understood in the context of a single case heard in the House of Lords almost 20 years ago.
In a recent issue of CPAG’s Welfare Rights Bulletin, Simon Osborne looks at some case law which might herald a change in approach, and which might more accurately reflect the modern, computerised benefit system now in operation.
‘Legacy’ overpayments – a change in the weather?


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:
Proposals to abolish the Work Capability Assessment
The National Disability Strategy: Content, reaction and progress
Food Banks in the UK
The High Income Child Benefit Charge
Guaranteed Minimum Pension (GMP) equalisation
Occupational pension increases
Cost of Living Payments: Overview and FAQs
Rising cost of living in the UK
The Energy Bill and households: FAQs 
Domestic energy prices
Petrol and diesel prices
Households off the gas-grid and prices for alternative fuels
UK immigration fees
The Barnett formula and fiscal devolution
Public spending during the Covid-19 pandemic
Mobile roaming in the EU after Brexit
The Turing Scheme


Department For Communities Budget

The Department for Communities (DfC) has published its Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) Final report on Budget allocations for the 2023-24 financial year. The report reflects the responses from 240 individuals and organisations, but regrettably only identifies a limited set of mitigations for budget restrictions that Advice NI Chief Executive Bob Stronge described as ‘absolutely unacceptable’.
Permanent Secretary Colum Boyle said:
‘In broad terms, the measures we set out in the original EQIA will be taken forward. However, we have identified a number of mitigations, including additional funding for Discretionary Support Grants; initiatives around Supporting People, Employability and Homelessness. On the last of these, through continued robust financial management, we have been able to allocate an increase of £5m above the 2022-23 level to address demand pressures and the increased cost of temporary accommodation.’
Department publishes final EQIA report on budget allocations 2023-24


Consumer Council Takes Economic Temperature Of NI Public

The Consumer Council’s latest Pulse Survey reveals that a considerable number of respondents were being affected adversely by the challenging economic environment. Almost three in five (56%) felt that their household was worse off relative to 12 months ago, nearly two in five (37%) were pessimistic about the financial position of their household in 12 months’ time, whilst a similar number (39%) agreed that recently their mental health had been negatively affected by their financial situation. However, the number of respondents holding these views decreased when compared to the results from the November 2022 survey (down from 74%, 53% and 50%, respectively).
For nearly two-thirds (64%) of respondents, it was necessary to cut back spending on essentials after their mortgage/rent and any loan or overdraft payments had been made – the rising price of essentials (42%) was most likely to have been identified as the biggest consumer issue faced in the last three months. When their mortgage/rent and all essential bills had been paid, almost a fifth (18%) of respondents stated that they have £50 or less remaining each month.
The vast majority of respondents were concerned about the prices of home energy (96%), food (95%), and petrol and diesel (86%). In order to improve their financial situation, reducing home energy usage (43%) and reducing the amount spent on food shopping (40%) were the changes that respondents were most likely to have made recently. When seeking information on budgeting or saving money, websites (35%) were the source most likely to have been used.
Northern Ireland Consumers & the Cost of Living - Pulse Survey July 2023


Impact Of Make the Call

A research study examining the reach of Make the Call within Northern Ireland has been published by the Department for Communities. It was undertaken as part of the Department’s Economic and Social Research Programme 2022/24 and examines the demographic characteristics of those who have had engagement with Make the Call.
The report concludes that ‘the reach of Make the Call across NI is comprehensive in terms of the range of people engaging.’ However, the study is purely statistical and does not address the effectiveness of the service for users.
An Examination into the Reach of Make the Call


Disability In The Cost Of Living Crisis

In 2022 the Consumer Council commissioned Social Market Research to explore how consumers, and particularly those with a disability, are coping financially during the cost of living crisis. It has now published a summary report that reviews the main findings relating to financial issues experienced by households with a disabled person and how the increasing cost-of-living is affecting those consumers.
Key findings included that consumers with a disability were more likely to say the cost of living has negatively impacted on their household income, 68% of those in receipt of Universal Credit say that the removal of the £20 uplift has negatively impacted them, whilst half of all consumers had sought help and advice to cope with the rising cost of living, with particular groups more likely to have sought help and advice including social housing tenants (70%) and those living in low-income households (73%).
Disability, Finances and Debt - households with a disabled person


Household Poverty In Northern Ireland

This report details the findings of a research study examining the risk and depth of income poverty for Northern Ireland households using administrative data. It was undertaken as part of the Department’s Economic and Social Research Programme 2022/24 and examines the characteristics of those households across various income groupings.
Key findings reveal that:

  • Of those households in poverty, 46% are single individual households. Only 32% of households overall are single individual households.
  • Increasing the number of adults in a household reduces the proportion of households in poverty.
  • Lone parent households have the highest proportion of households in or at risk of falling into poverty, with 37% of households being in poverty and a further 18% at risk of falling into poverty.
  • As the number of children increases, the proportion of lone parent households in poverty rises from 31% for one child, to 38% with two, 47% with three and finally 55% for lone parent households with four or more children.
  • Pension age individuals are shown to be less common in or at risk of poverty. 83% of pension age individuals are in the households considered to be most stable.
  • Households with no work related income made up 40% of households in poverty, and only 14% of those not in poverty. When benefit compositions were considered, 53% of households in poverty were in receipt of means tested benefits. 20% of households in receipt of means tested benefits were in poverty.

Examining the Risk and Depth of Income Poverty for Northern Ireland Households using Administrative Data


Reports Highlight High Levels Of Poverty Amongst Carers

Two recent reports from the Carer Poverty Commission – a group of experts gathering evidence on carer poverty in Northern Ireland – have laid bare the shocking extent of poverty amongst those caring for sick or disabled family members or friends.
The first report, published in August, found that one in four people providing unpaid care are living in poverty, higher than the rest of the UK. The Commission found that severe financial pressures are leaving local carers borrowing money from loan sharks, struggling to afford to eat, living in cold homes and relying on charity shops to get by.
Carers told the researchers that they feel ‘humiliated’ as they struggle to meet their sick loved ones’ extra energy, food and travel needs. They called for greater welfare support and other measures from Stormont to help carers survive financially.
One in four unpaid carers in NI living in poverty, research shows
Subsequent research published by the Commission this month shows that the social security system is ‘abjectly failing’ carers, with almost half of those receiving Carers Allowance in poverty, and one in six experiencing deep poverty, where their household income is 50% below the poverty line.
Alongside difficulties retaining employment, rising rents and the challenges of providing care, this is driving higher levels of carer poverty here than in the UK generally, with 28.3% of carers in Northern Ireland in poverty compared to 23.6% in the rest of the UK.
Craig Harrison, Public Affairs Manager for Carers NI, which leads the Carer Poverty Commission, said:
‘To have so many recipients of Carer’s Allowance living in such dire levels of poverty tells us very clearly that the benefit isn’t fit-for-purpose. The value of Carer’s Allowance payments translates to pennies per hour for those who are caring for someone around the clock … Trying to survive on Carer’s Allowance is forcing many local people to make gut-wrenching decisions every day. They’re having to turn their heating off, skip meals, raid their savings and get into debt because of the enormous holes in the so-called social security safety net.’
The latest report proposes a number of policy solutions, including sweeping changes to carer benefits, such as changes to eligibility criteria for Carer’s Allowance. and supplementary payments to ensure financial support meets ‘the bare minimum an individual needs to cover the essentials.’
Benefits system ‘abjectly failing’ NI’s unpaid carers, experts warn


Worrying Impact Of Delayed PIP Assessments

In response to increasing delays in the assessment of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claims, Citizens Advice have conducted an investigation into DWP’s ability to cope with higher demand. They found an assessment system under significant strain, which represents a serious concern from the perspective of the government’s proposed changes to work capability assessment, which will place a much greater emphasis on PIP assessments:
‘Record numbers of people are applying for PIP. More applications for the benefit mean greater demand for health assessments to determine new claimants’ eligibility and review existing claimant’s awards…. While long wait times for new claimants have been halved, that has been achieved by pushing back reviews for existing claimants.…With disabled people now twice as likely to be unable to cover their costs each month, compared to non-disabled people, it’s essential these delays are tackled quickly.’
To address these issues, Citizens Advice make the following recommendations to the DWP: 

  1. Continue to increase capacity in the system to carry out health assessments by recruiting more healthcare professionals
  2. Take steps to reduce the number of health assessments needed by making more decisions on the basis of paper applications and medical evidence (bypassing the need for a health assessment), and making better use of auto-renewals and longer-term awards.
  3. Introduce temporary measures to mitigate the problems experienced by people waiting for a review. That includes backdating any awards increased after a review and taking steps to prevent disruptions to passported benefits.

Playing Catch-Up: The impact of delayed health assessments for Personal Independence Payment


Future Of Working Age Contributory Benefits

This report from the Social Security Advisory Committee assesses the future of working age contributory benefits for those not in paid work, which makes the case that the quality of administration and support provided should be at least comparable for people receiving those benefits to that provided by Universal Credit, especially in terms of access to job support.
The report makes 15 specific recommendations which encourage the government to set out a coherent long-run strategy for the role that it wants these benefits to play as part of the social security system.
SSAC Occasional Paper 26: The future of working age contributory benefits for those not in paid work
Government response: SSAC report on the future of working age contributory benefits for those not in paid work


Rethinking The Use Of Conditionality In Our Social Security System

New report from New Economics Foundation’s Head of Policy, Tom Pollard, which argues for an alternative approach to benefit conditionality, which would be better not only for people’s financial security and wellbeing but also their prospects of finding well-paid, secure and fulfilling employment.
In addition to making the case against the conditionality-centric system currently in operation, the report also sets out proposals for a new system to maximise engagement, with conditionality as a ‘backstop’, commencing from a position of low conditionality and seeking to build a positive relationship with the claimant.
This report is part of the NEF’s wider campaign for a ‘living income’.
From compliance to engagement


Front-line Analysis Of Child Poverty In The UK

Buttle UK has made its fifth annual publication of its State of Child Poverty report, which surveys over 1200 frontline workers who collectively support over 200,000 children and young people.
Joseph Howes, CEO of Buttle UK, said:
‘Our report demonstrates the catastrophic impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, which have meant more and more children are having to go without food, and the situations these challenges are creating are preventing them from having any chance to reach their potential at school. The increase in children and young people living in destitution is stark and worrying.
‘A child poverty strategy is needed to support in the longer term, but changes can be made now to pull hundreds of thousands of children out from the destructive grip of poverty. We urge the government to act now and support struggling families by lifting the two-child Universal Credit limit and introducing an Essentials Guarantee, ensuring benefits always cover the basic essentials.’

State of Child Poverty 2023


Poverty In The UK At ‘Damaging’ Levels

A new report summarises the findings of the Poverty Strategy Commission’s work since 2022. It brings together the first steps towards the Commission’s goals of building consensus around the need to tackle poverty in the UK and the tools and approaches that could be successful in doing so.
The starting point is that poverty in the UK is too high and has a range of damaging consequences for individuals in poverty themselves, their families and communities, and the whole of society.
The overall rate of poverty in the UK has remained stubbornly high, a third of children are in poverty and 7% of the population is in deep poverty. While some progress has been made in reducing poverty amongst certain groups, including pensioners and lone parents, these gains have started to be reversed. Deep poverty has become more prevalent and there has been little progress in closing the resilience gaps in outcomes like health, education, family stability and labour market opportunities experienced by people in poverty. The twin challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent cost-of-living crisis have only served to deepen these challenges.
Interim Report launch: A new framework for tackling poverty


Violence Against Women And Girls In Northern Ireland

Almost 98% of women surveyed for a report into violence against women in Northern Ireland experienced at least one form of violence or abuse in their lifetime.
The report, ‘Every Voice Matters!’ Violence Against Women in Northern Ireland’, led by Ulster University, also reveals that seven out of 10 of those surveyed had experienced some form of violence or abuse in the last 12 months.
A second report, ‘It’s Just What Happens’: Girls’ and Young Women’s Views and Experiences of Violence in Northern Ireland’ was led by Queen’s University Belfast. It found that 73% of girls aged 12-17 reported having experienced at least one form of violence in their lifetime.
Extent of violence experienced by women and girls revealed in new reports


Pivotal Assess The NI Political Vacuum

Pivotal, an independent Northern Ireland think tank, has published a briefing that considers the impact of the ongoing absence of proper government on public services here and looks at some of the effects this has on individuals, communities, businesses and other organisations.
The paper includes information about the current rules around decision–making, an assessment of the Budget position, examples of decisions that have and have not been made, and an analysis of the impact on public services. It finishes with recommendations for the best way forward, regardless of how the political dynamics play out.
Governing without government: the consequences


Freezing of LHA Causing Severe Hardship

New research from Citizens Advice shows the impact that freezing the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate, itself just one part of a wider austerity agenda with respect to housing support, is having on those most in need. As Citizens Advice note in the report, and as we also see here in Northern Ireland, ‘thousands of people each month’ are at risk of homelessness. At the same time, many people are having to use other benefit income to cover rent or go without essentials to meet their bills.
In view of this situation, Citizens Advice make 4 essential recommendations to government to address this serious situation:

  • Restoring the link between LHA and the 30th percentile of local rent costs
  • Reforming the national limits on LHA rates
  • Returning the SAR upper age limit to 25
  • Increasing funding for DHPs

The Impact of Freezing the Local Housing Allowance


Destitution Levels In UK Continue To Rise

The latest study of destitution in the UK has been published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), and it finds that approximately 3.8 million people experienced destitution in 2022, including around one million children.
JRF describe this as a ‘shameful increase’ and call for ‘a bold and ambitious programme of action to address destitution and its corrosive impacts.’ The report makes the following recommendations:

  • Universal Credit should have an ‘Essentials Guarantee’ to ensure everyone has a protected minimum amount of support to afford essentials such as food and household bills. An independent process should determine the Essentials Guarantee level, based on the cost of essentials. Universal Credit’s basic rate would need to at least meet this minimum amount, and deductions would not be allowed to reduce support below that level.
  • Undertake wider reforms to social security, including: lowering the limit on deductions from benefits to repay debts; reforming sanctions so people are not left with zero or extremely low income; and ensure people can access disability benefits they are entitled to.
  • Ensuring cash-first emergency financial assistance is available in all areas, along with free and impartial advice services to address the crushing debt, benefits and housing issues that keep people destitute.
  • Enable everyone in our communities to access help in an emergency whether they have ‘no recourse to public funds’ or not – and resource local authorities to meet this additional need. Local authorities, charities, independent funders and housing providers should also work together to prevent destitution and homelessness for people with restricted entitlement.

Destitution in the UK 2023


Private Renting Pushes Poor To The Margins

A new academic study looks into ‘the rise – or rather, the re-growth – of the private rented sector (PRS).’ The study establishes ‘how this is leading to the steady exclusion of poorer households from more central locations in towns and cities, a phenomenon known as the suburbanisation of poverty.’ It shows a growing reliance on private renting, encouraged by government policy, and the impact on low-income households of living in insecure circumstances.
Joseph Elliott of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: ‘It’s clear that, in large cities in particular, the diminished role of the state in providing social housing and cuts to support through housing benefit have resulted in people in poverty being priced out of areas with access to the amenities we all need, such as easy access to work, shops and transport.’
Private renting and the suburbanisation of poverty
High rents and benefit cuts push poorer renters out of UK’s cities, report finds


Impact Of Rising Cost Of Living On Women

Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee is seeking submissions to its inquiry into the impact of the rising cost of living on women, as households continue to come under pressure from increased costs.
The Committee seeks written submissions addressing one or more of the following questions:

  1. How are rising food, energy, housing, and other costs affecting women compared to men? What are the challenges for women:
    • in different types of households For example, households with children; single parents; renters; house owners; women with other protected characteristics) and
    • whether there is any regional disparity in the effects of those costs?
  2. What long-term effects will the rise in the cost-of-living have on equalities for women?
  3. How effectively is the Government’s cost of living response helping women to meet the costs of essentials?
  4. What could the Government Equalities Office do to ensure the Government’s cost-of-living measures respond to any inequalities women face?
  5. What could businesses do to help women cope with increases to the cost of living and manage debt? For example, we are interested in hearing about:
    • The banking and finance sector, including on what measures it could take to identify and support victim-survivors of domestic or financial abuse.
    • Energy and utilities companies.
    • Telecoms providers.
    • Supermarkets.
    • Other sectors with practical solutions to helping customers and employees most in need (international comparisons are also welcome).

You can submit evidence until Tuesday 7 November 2023.
Impact of the rising cost of living on women


The Rights Of Older People

The Women and Equalities Committee is also conducting an inquiry into the question of whether older people’s rights are protected in equality law and whether there is an adequate framework to champion older people’s rights.
The Committee is particularly interested in submissions in respect to digital exclusion, the championing of older people’s rights, intersectionality, stereotyping and discrimination and labour market access.
You can submit evidence until Tuesday 31 October 2023.
The rights of older people


Automatic Enrolment For Workplace Pension Schemes

The Department for Communities has launched a 12-week consultation on a draft Equality Impact Assessment which considers proposals to extend Automatic Enrolment for workplace pension schemes.
The 12-week consultation sets out two key proposals, namely:

  • To seek powers to lower this age limit. Lowering the age at which workers will be automatically enrolled will help make saving the norm for young adults and enable them to save from the start of their working lives; and
  • to reduce or abolish the Lower Earnings Limit. In 2022/23, contributions are required to be made on earnings between the Lower Earnings Limit of £6,240 and the Upper Earnings Limit of £50,270. Reducing or abolishing the Lower Earnings Limit will enable those on lower earnings and multiple jobs to save from the first pound earned and to benefit from employee contributions on each pound earned.

The 12-week consultation closes at 5pm on 11 December 2023 and can be accessed via the Department’s website.
Consultation launched on extension of Automatic Enrolment


Temporary Extension To Social Economy Work Programme

The Department for the Economy funds the Social Economy Work Programme to deliver strategic support to the social enterprise sector. The Work Programme is currently delivered on the Department’s behalf by Social Enterprise Northern Ireland (SENI).
The current three-year work programme comes to an end in March 2024, and DfE has developed a draft one-year work programme to run from March 2024. The work programme takes a different approach to previous programmes, with greater focus on the outcomes that the Department would like to see. The draft objectives and activities have been developed to align with the 10x Economic Vision, specifically the inclusive growth ambitions.
Your views are welcomed on the proposals. It is the Department's intention to go to open call for delivery of objectives 1-3 of the programme in November 2023, taking account of feedback obtained. The research outlined under objective 4 would be taken forward separately by DFE.
Deadline for submissions is Tuesday 31 October 2023.


Role Of Regulators

The Industry and Regulators Committee is seeking written submissions to its inquiry into the role played by the 90 regulators operating across the UK. The inquiry will focus in particular on the relationship between regulators and the Government, and on how regulators are held accountable, including by Parliament.
You can submit evidence until Friday 1 December 2023.
UK Regulators

Funding Opportunities

NICVA Offer Training On Completing Funding Applications

As the voluntary and community sector face a squeeze on finances from a variety of sources, securing funding is essential but it’s a competitive environment. This in-person event taking place on the morning of 30 November 2023 gives a useful overview and the practical advice you need to complete funding applications with a focus on addressing emerging funding priorities.
A Practical Guide to Completing Funding Applications


Fundraising Forum At Windsor Park

The Chartered Institute of Fundraising will host its Autumn Fundraising Forum at Windsor Park, Belfast on Thursday 9 November 2023. Tickets are available via Eventbrite.
Autumn Fundraising Forum sponsored by Payaz


Community Funding From The National Lottery

The National Lottery’s Community fund is the largest community funder in the UK. Its current strategy is ‘It starts with community’ and is intended to support communities to:

  • Connect
  • Be environmentally sustainable
  • Help children and young people to access resources and experiences that help them thrive
  • Enable people to live healthier lives

Funding in Northern Ireland

Parliamentary Questions

Managed Migration to Universal Credit

UIN 197527,
Deidre Brock, Scottish National Party

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether his Department is taking steps to ensure protections for people with disabled worker status are maintained in the managed migration to Universal Credit.
Guy Opperman, Conservative
People who are being moved to Universal Credit (UC) from Employment and Support Allowance take with them their Work Capability Assessment decision. They are not required to have another assessment to get the disability element they are entitled to on Universal Credit.
At the point of moving over to Universal Credit as part of the managed migration process, all claimants will be assessed for transitional protection and paid where appropriate. Transitional protection is designed so that eligible claimants will not have a lower entitlement to Universal Credit than they had entitlement to legacy benefits, at the point they move to the new benefit system.

UIN 197530,
Deidre Brock, Scottish National Party

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps his Department is taking to ensure that legacy benefit claimants do not have their support terminated before moving to Universal Credit.
Guy Opperman, Conservative
It is a fundamental principle of social security in the United Kingdom that people need to make a claim for benefits. For those already in receipt of benefits, Parliament made it clear, though its passage of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, that entitlement to those benefits would cease as Universal Credit (UC) was implemented.
The Department provides a range of support to individuals, to assist them during migration including a dedicated DWP telephone line and signposting to independent support through the Help to Claim service.  Help to Claim is an independent service and is available to those moving from legacy benefits because of managed migration, voluntary moves, or a change of circumstances.
The Migration Notice is the key way in which we initially communicate with legacy benefit claimants to inform them of the requirement to migrate to UC within 3 months. However, we also provide a reminder after 7 weeks and at week 10. If claimants haven’t made a claim for UC and after the 3 month period, on a case by case basis, there is a grace period of 1 month within which a tax credit claimant can make a claim for UC without losing eligibility for transitional protection.
Terminating benefits is our last resort. If a claimant does not claim by their extended deadline, they will be notified that their current benefit(s) will be terminated, unless they have significant support needs requiring a further extension. For those claimants who require significant support, we hold case conferences with Advanced Customer Support Senior Leaders who provide local expertise, working with different organisations to take a multi-agency approach. Where a claimant’s legacy benefit(s) has been terminated and they make a claim to UC within one month, their claim can be backdated to their deadline date and still be awarded Transitional Protection where applicable.

UIN 197532,
Deidre Brock, Scottish National Party

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how existing overpayments will be handled in the managed migration from Working Tax Credits to Universal Credit.
Guy Opperman, Conservative
When a claimant’s tax credit claim is closed, for whatever reason, including a move to Universal Credit, the debt is transferred to the Department’s Debt Management team. Once Universal Credit is in payment, the overpayment will be recovered in line with the Universal Credit regulations.

UIN 197625,
Navendu Mishra, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether he has made an assessment of the potential merits of providing increased support to people asked to migrate from (a) tax credits and (b) other legacy benefits to Universal Credit.
Guy Opperman, Conservative
People who are asked to migrate to Universal Credit from Tax Credits, or other legacy benefits, can access a range of support including a dedicated DWP telephone line and Help to Claim, which provides tailored practical support. Those individuals who are unable to access support via these channels, can go to their local jobcentre where staff will identify the right support to meet their needs to make and/or manage their Universal Credit claim.
Our research shows that the majority of the Tax Credit population so far have been able to successfully make the transition to Universal Credit with minimal support. In August 2023, we published our research and analysis.
Completing the Move to UC

UIN 200978,
Deidre Brock, Scottish National Party

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps his Department is taking to ensure that people receiving the Disability Element of Working Tax Credits are not disadvantaged in the transition to Universal Credit.
Guy Opperman, Conservative
All individuals issued with a migration notice informing them that they must make a claim to Universal Credit will be assessed for transitional protection at the point of making a claim to Universal Credit.
Transitional protection, by way of a transitional element, will be then awarded to eligible claimants to ensure their entitlement to Universal Credit is not lower than the entitlement they received as part of their legacy benefits.


Universal Credit Appeals

UIN 196074,
Ruth Cadbury, Labour

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the average amount of time it takes for the outcome of a tribunal case to be placed on a person's journal for Universal Credit.
Guy Opperman, Conservative
Information on the average time to record tribunal outcomes on the UC journal is not collated centrally and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost.
Our aim is to implement UC tribunal decisions as quickly as possible, with some exceptions.
The main reason that a tribunal’s decision might not be implemented timeously, is if the Secretary of State considers that the decision may contain an error of law and suspends payment of the tribunal’s award whilst that is considered. In such a case the claimant must be notified that this is being done. If the claimant is not notified of a reason for the decision not being implemented, then they can contact the department: this can be done by using the telephone numbers on Gov.UK, on the decision letter they received, or by attending a Jobcentre; if it is a UC appeal they can use their journal.
If a decision is not implemented timeously, there is guidance published by HMCTS and available on Gov.UK, entitled ‘How to appeal against a decision made by the Department for Work and Pensions’.


Attendance Allowance

UIN 198418,
Neale Hanvey, Alba Party

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if he will make an assessment of the adequacy of the requirement for people to wait six months following the onset of invalidity before they can claim Attendance Allowance.
Laura Trott, Conservative
Entitlement to Attendance Allowance is based on the on-going need for frequent personal care and attention, or supervision to ensure personal safety, rather than on the individual’s medical condition. The six-month qualifying period helps establish that the disability and the resulting care or supervision needs are of a long-term nature, and ensures the benefit goes to those for whom it is intended. Claims made under the Special Rules for those with less than 12 months to live do not have to satisfy the six-month qualifying period.


Universal Credit: Cost of Living

UIN 199751,
Angela Crawley, Scottish National Party

TTo ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if he will take steps to ensure that Universal Credit is sufficient to cover average (a) food, (b) housing and (c) energy costs.
Guy Opperman, Conservative
Benefit rates and the Local Housing Allowance are reviewed annually by the Secretary of State.
In April 2023, State pensions and benefits, including Universal Credit, were up rated by 10.1%, in line with the increase in the Consumer Prices Index in the year to September 2022.
Claimants in receipt of housing support living in the social rented sector have their eligible rent paid in full, unless the level of housing support is reduced because of their income or savings, contributions from non-dependants, or limited by the benefit cap or the removal of the spare room subsidy.
For private renters, the Local Housing Allowance determines the maximum housing support for tenants. Local Housing Allowance rates are not intended to cover all rents in all areas. However, in 2020 the Government spent almost £1 billion increasing Local Housing Allowance rates to the 30th percentile of market rents. This significant investment has been maintained, ensuring that everyone who benefited continues to do so.
The Government understands the pressures people are facing with the cost of living and has announced support to households to help with higher bills worth £94 billion across 2022-23 and 2023-24, one of the largest household support packages in Europe.


Local Housing Allowance

UIN 200727,
Nicholas Brown, Independent

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment he has made of the impact of the freeze on Local Housing Allowance since April 2020 on the discretionary income of claimants of the housing element of Universal Credit.
Mims Davies, Conservative
The department works closely with stakeholders, jobcentres and local authorities to understand the impact of its policies. The Local Housing Allowance (LHA) policy is kept under regular review and rates are reviewed annually by the Secretary of State.
LHA determines the maximum housing support for tenants claiming the housing element of Universal Credit in the private rented sector. It ensures that claimants in similar circumstances living in the same area are entitled to the same maximum rent allowance regardless of the contractual rent paid. LHA rates are not intended to cover all rents in all areas.
In 2020 we spent almost £1 billion increasing LHA rates to the 30th percentile of market rents. This significant investment has been maintained ensuring that everyone who benefited continues to do so. Over 2022/23 and 2023/24 the Government is providing support in excess of £94 billion to help households with the rising cost of living.
The 30th percentile levels of local market weekly rents for each year from 2020 can be found here. The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) publish 30th percentile rental data alongside weekly LHA rates. This is not available as a monthly equivalent for Universal Credit.


Social Security Benefits: Uprating

UIN 201495,
Stephen Farry, Alliance

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether he plans to uprate social security benefits for 2024-25 in line with the Consumer Price Index rate published on 16 October 2023.
Guy Opperman, Conservative
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is required by law to undertake an annual review of benefits and the State Pension.
The outcome of the review will be announced in the Autumn.


Universal Credit: Deductions

UIN 203044,
Chris Stephens, Scottish National Party

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many and what proportion of universal credit claims were subject to deductions in the most recent month for which data is available per constituency; what was the (a) average and (b) total sum of deduction per constituency; what proportion of deductions were used to repay advance payments; and if he will make a statement.
Guy Opperman, Conservative
The Government recognises the importance of supporting the welfare of claimants who have incurred debt. We seek to balance recovery of debt against not causing hardship for claimants and their families. Processes are in place to ensure deductions are manageable, and customers can contact the DWP Debt Management Team if they are experiencing financial hardship, to discuss a reduction in their rate of repayment, or a temporary suspension, depending on their financial circumstances.
Since April 2021, we have reduced the normal maximum rate of deductions in Universal Credit from 40% to 25% of a claimant’s Standard Allowance. These positive measures were put in place to support claimants to manage financial difficulties.
Advances are a claimant’s benefit entitlement paid early, allowing claimants to access 100% of their estimated Universal Credit payment upfront. They ensure nobody has to wait for a payment in Universal Credit, and those who need it are able to receive financial support as soon as possible. Claimants can receive up to 100% of their estimated Universal Credit award if required, resulting in 25 payments over a 24-month period. This is not a debt.
The requested analysis of Universal Credit claims with a deduction in May 2023 by parliamentary constituency in Great Britain (GB) is provided in the separate spreadsheet.
Data for May 2023 has been provided in line with the latest available Universal Credit Household Statistics.


State Retirement Pensions: Northern Ireland

UIN 203149,
Clare Hanna, SDLP

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether he has plans to provide additional funding for advice services in Northern Ireland to assist people who have been underpaid their state pension as a result of an incorrect attribution of home responsibilities protection credits.
Laura Trott, Conservative
There are no plans to provide additional funding for advice services in Northern Ireland in relation to the Home Responsibilities Protection correction exercise. In September, HMRC began issuing letters inviting people to apply for potentially missed periods of Home Responsibilities Protection. Information is available to people in Northern Ireland and across the United Kingdom through gov.uk, including a self-identification tool to help people see if they might be affected. Support is available from both HMRC and DWP staff where needed.


Cost of Living Payments

UIN 203342,
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 extending the upcoming Cost of Living payment eligibility cut off dates for people (a) who are on Universal Credit and in work and (b) whose incomes have fallen as a result of ill health past the eligibility dates.
Mims Davies, Conservative
The first round of Cost of Living Payments was made in 2022 to over 8 million households on Universal Credit, Pension Credit, and eligible legacy benefits. These means-tested Cost of Living Payments, totalling £650, were made in two payments of £326 from July 2022 and £324 in November 2022. Around 6 million people received £150 Disability Cost of Living Payment, and over 11 million pensioners received up to £300 on top of their Winter Fuel Payment.
The second round of means-tested Cost of Living Payments, with a total amount of £900, are to be made in three payments. The first Cost of Living Payment of £301 was made between 25 April and 17 May 2023. The second Cost of Living Payment of £300 will be made between 31 October and 19 November 2023. The final Payment of £299 will be paid by Spring 2024.
To be eligible to receive a Cost of Living Payment, the individual must be entitled to payment of a qualifying means-tested benefit during the qualifying period, or a payment for an assessment period ending within the qualifying period.
The qualifying means-tested benefits include:

  • Universal Credit (UC)
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Income Support
  • Pension Credit
  • Working Tax Credit (WTC)
  • Child Tax Credit (CTC)

We have kept the eligibility rules for the Cost of Living Payments as simple as possible to deliver them promptly and accurately.
The Cost of Living Payment for eligible means-tested benefit claimants will be delivered in three separate payments over 2023/2024.
This reduces the chance of someone missing out altogether, as those who do not qualify for one of the payments due to their changing circumstances may qualify for another one of the payments.