'THINK' POLICY NEWSLETTER - July & August 2022

The Advice NI Policy & Information team is delighted to publish this July and August 2022 edition of our policy eNewsletter ‘THINK’.

Issue in Focus: Cost of Living

Cost of Living Resource Guide

Advice NI’s compilation of key on-line resources, to assist with client queries:

Advice NI Cost of Living Resource Guide

 

Cost of Living Briefing Paper

Advice NI briefing provides an introduction to the support provided in the package announced by the Chancellor, sharing as much information as is currently available.

Advice NI Cost of Living Briefing Paper

 

Cost of Living support: nidirect

A cost of living support package has been put in place for 2022 that includes one-off payments to those on income related benefits, disabled claimants and pensioners. These payments are intended to provide support:

Nidirect Cost of Living Support

 

Cost of Living Payments for Tax Credits Claimants

HMRC have confirmed that the first instalment of the low-income Cost of Living Payment to those in receipt of Tax Credits will be issued between 2 and 7 September 2022, and the relevant guidance has been updated to reflect this:

Cost of Living Payment – gov.uk

Cost of Living support – nidirect

Letters have been issued to Tax Credits claimants to inform them about eligibility criteria, but it is important to note that these letters are solely for information purposes and should not be taken to mean that the recipient is guaranteed to receive the Cost of Living Payment. One reason for this is that a number of Tax Credits claimants will already have received a Cost of Living Payment due to their entitlement to another means-tested benefit.

 

Advice NI Response to Work and Pensions Committee Call for Evidence on Cost of Living June 2022

In case you missed it…. We need more upstream interventions that tackle the problems closer to the root causes rather than simply addressing symptoms; interventions that leave a longer term legacy. Advice NI suggest a range of upstream solutions:

Advice NI Call for Evidence Response: Cost of Living

 

Cost of Living News Reports

BBC report

Belfast Live Report

Belfast Telegraph Report

 

Advice NI Cost of Living Crisis Comment in View Digital

Head of Policy, Kevin Higgins, writes: “Advice NI is calling for the Governments both nationally and regionally to do more to help low income families whose budgets are already at breaking point. Benefit uprating in line with predicted inflation must be implemented without delay. Locally we have seen the vital impact that our ‘Eileen Evason’ welfare mitigations package can have in averting destitution; similar local Cost of Living measures and income maximisation schemes can help people survive the coming months. Increased poverty, hardship and destitution will be the consequences of a failure to act.”

Advice NI Comment Cost of Living

 

Advice NI speaks to BBC on Cost of Living

Kevin Higgins, Head of Policy, stated: "The support that's being provided is inadequate. We need to get into big solution mode.”

Advice NI warns of Winter Destitution

 

Advice NI Money & Debt Service

Contact Advice NI on Freephone 0800 915 4604 to speak directly to an adviser between 9am and 5pm Monday – Friday, or email advice@adviceni.net or visit www.adviceni.net to find your local advice centre or use our web chat. Downloadable information guides available on the Money Talks hub - Money Talks Help Guide

Advice NI Money & Debt Services

 

Cost of Living Government Briefing Papers

Link below includes Commons Library publications on the rising cost of living:

Cost of Living Government Briefing Papers

 

Confirmation of £400 Energy Support

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said: “Confirmation provided by the Chancellor today that the British Government will deliver the £400 Energy Bill Support Scheme is long overdue….It is deeply regrettable that payments.. may be delayed due to the absence of an Executive.”

£400 Energy Support

 

Finance Minister highlights 'significant gaps' in cost of living support

Finance Minister Conor Murphy has joined his counterparts in Wales and Scotland to call for further action to help households and businesses ahead of another increase in energy prices. In a joint letter to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi, Ministers say the focus should be on targeted support for those worst hit by the cost of living crisis.

Devolved Finance Ministers Cost of Living Open Letter

 

Social Policy Campaign News

Universal Credit Deductions

In response to a question in the House of Lords from Baroness Tyler of Enfield (see below), the Department for Work and Pensions have revealed that almost 2 million households had deductions in respect of either advance payments or overpayments being taken from their Universal Credit award in February of this year. This represented more than £105m worth of benefit, with deductions averaging £55 per household affected.

This reflects the huge scale of the problem of deductions, which is only likely to be exacerbated by the migration of legacy benefit claimants to Universal Credit. In fact, the Work and Pensions Committee recently called on the government to consider suspending deductions as a means of providing additional breathing space during the cost of living crisis, a move which Advice NI strongly supports.

Watch this space for our forthcoming policy and information briefing on deductions from Universal Credit, while in the meantime there is much useful information for advisers about how to negotiate with the Department in our recent paper on overpayment recovery.

 

Living Wage Campaign Launched

The Living Wage Campaign for east Belfast aims to raise awareness of the real living wage among local employers and increase the number of people receiving the real living wage. The latest data from the Living Wage Foundation states Northern Ireland has consistently had the highest proportion of employee jobs paid below the real Living Wage in the UK.

Living Wage Campaign

 

Carers NI: New Policy Paper

Paper on #UnpaidCarers, poverty and the cost of living crisis in N. Ireland. It examines the impact of rising living costs on carers and policy solutions to support them. See last item in the Parliamentary Questions section of this issue of Think.

Carers NI Cost of Living Report

 

Debt Advice Charities Call for Increased Protection for Those in Energy Arrears

The Money Advice Trust, StepChange Debt Charity and Citizens Advice, called on Ofgem to increase protections for people in or at risk of energy arrears. Recommendations include:

  • Supporting energy customers in debt
  • Preventing harmful debt collection
  • Ensuring pre-pay customers are protected

The charities full set of recommendations are outlined in:

Debt Advisers Energy Debt Briefing

Money Advice Trust: Energy Prices

 

The Developing Women in the Community Pilot Programme Advisory Panel Report

Minister of Communities Hargey announced the appointment of an advisory panel on 10 March 2022 to review ‘The Developing Women in the Community’ pilot programme and provide recommendations on the way forward within six weeks of the completion of the programme on 31 March 2022. DfC allocated £375,000 funding to deliver the Developing Women in the Community Programme in 2021/22. Minister Hargey stated:

‘the panel will be critical in ensuring that women take on active roles in promoting thriving communities, demonstrating the ability of future women as leaders and contributing to community wealth building.’

Developing Women in Community Pilot Report

 

Frontline Lessons for the Future – Collaborative Immigration Research

CAJ’s Immigration Project has partnered with frontline organisations (including STEP and the Migrant Centre, who work directly with migrants) to produce Frontline Lessons for the Future: Collaborative research on the impact of immigration law and policy in post-Brexit Northern Ireland. This report maps key challenges for migrant rights in Northern Ireland, combining frontline data with CAJ’s expert legal and policy analysis. Through a series of recommendations, the report proposes policy and legislative reforms aimed at overcoming current challenges and creating a welcoming, human rights compliant immigration regime for Northern Ireland.

Collaborative Immigration Research

The report is also a valuable information resource relating to the impact of changes to immigration law and policy on the day-to-day lives of migrants in Northern Ireland, particularly as this relates to access to services.

 

Consultation Opportunities

Government Consultations: How to respond and get involved

Government consultations allow N.I. citizens to contribute and comment on policy. NI Direct states:

Although it is important, running a consultation is not simply about more open government. It is about making policies more effective by listening and taking on board the views of the public and interested groups. Listening to the public has a number of specific benefits:

  • it allows government to tap the widest source of information possible which improves the quality of the decision reached
  • it alerts policy makers to any concerns and issues not picked up through existing evidence or research
  • it helps to monitor existing policy and decide if changes are needed

For more information, and tips on how to respond: NI Direct Public Consultations

Search public consultations: Public Consultations

Advice NI consultation responses: Advice NI Consultation Responses

Information Resources

Overpayment Recovery System

We have published a new Policy & Information Briefing on the overpayment recovery system for benefits under the Universal Credit regime, with particular reference to discretionary waivers:

Advice NI Overpayment Recovery System Briefing

The briefing places the problem with discretionary waivers in the broader context of Welfare Reform and the introduction of Universal Credit, and lays out the procedures followed by Debt Management on both sides of the Irish Sea when dealing with approaches from debtors. It provides the relevant references and guidance to assist advisers and clients in making a case for a discretionary waiver, and also covers the negotiation of a reduced rate of recovery, which represents Debt Management’s preferred option when receiving an approach from debtors and their representatives.

 

Adviser Discretion Fund

Thanks to Chris Briggs at Employers for Childcare for raising the issue of dispute procedures for claims under the Adviser Discretion Fund (ADF). We raised the matter with the Department for Communities and they confirmed that there are no formal dispute procedures as decisions to offer support through the ADF are entirely discretionary. The general guidance from the Department’s Labour Market Services team was as follows:

‘ADF is intended to be used flexibly…. It is at the Work Coach’s discretion whether to make an award and they must be satisfied that the applicant has a reasonable chance of moving into or progressing within employment in a reasonable time period following the award. ADF may not be appropriate for every request for assistance to be met, as each application will be considered individually. In most cases the Work Coach will have a clear understanding of each customer’s circumstances... Depending on what the award is for there may be additional criteria to satisfy (e.g. childcare costs can only be paid to a registered childcare provider).  There are some examples of when ADF must not be used (this list is not exhaustive):

  • to pay for training courses provided by other contracted provision (i.e. already paid for by outside Providers/already funded by the Department)
  • if the customer has sufficient capital available to cover the full costs of the goods or services required
  • if the customer has received other funding / support for the goods or services
  • to pay off a debt, fine, or to cover legal costs
  • if the customer has reached the maximum amount within a 12 month period of £1500 (including VAT)
  • if the customer has already procured the goods or services and haven’t made contact with the Department regarding assistance with ADF’

However, the Department did also advise that if a client has an issue with the outcome of a request for support through the ADF they can raise a complaint with the Department and this will be investigated in the normal manner.

 

New Regulations in Relation to Natural and Managed Migration to UC

In force from 1 August 2022, the Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Amendment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2022 alter the principles and procedures that apply in respect of claims for Universal Credit in cases where the claimant might otherwise be entitled to Income Support, Housing Benefit or Tax Credits. As a consequence, the regulations define the remaining exceptions permitting a claim for one or other of those legacy benefits.

More information about the impact of these regulations is provided in the updated decision-making guidance published by the Department:

ADM Memo 11/22

 

Limited Capability for Work and ‘Substantial Risk’ in ESA & UC

The Department for Communities has recently published decision-making guidance on the application of a 2021 decision by the Great Britain Upper Tribunal to claims for ESA and UC on the grounds of limited capability for work:

ADM Memo 10/22

The decision of the Upper Tribunal focuses particularly on the consideration that must be given to a broader range of travel-related risks, including attending appointments at the Jobs & Benefits office, and of the importance of the decision maker basing their judgement about substantial risk on ‘evidence not assumptions’.

More general guidance on ‘substantial risk’ was provided by CPAG in an article in the December 2021 issue of the Welfare Rights Bulletin:

‘Substantial risk’ and the WCA

 

Labour Market Overview

The Monthly Labour Market Report contains the most up to date labour market statistics from a range of household and business surveys, and administrative sources.

Labour Market August 22

Service Update

Belfast Ukraine Assistance Centre

The Ukrainian Assistance Centre continues to operate at Queen's Court, 56-66 Upper Queen St in Belfast city centre. It is open Mondays & Fridays, 9.30am-4pm.

The facility provides advice on health, housing, education & more for those arriving in Belfast, with no appointment needed.

Funding Opportunities

Capacity Building Grant 

Capacity Building Grants are designed to support community development organisations that:

  • support other lower capacity or smaller organisations to ensure good practice in governance, application of appropriate policies and financial management
  • advocate the interests of the communities they serve.
  • ensure communities can be engaged to influence or take decisions/action about issues that matter to them and affect their lives

Closing Date: 12 noon on Friday 9 September 2022. For more information and to apply, visit: Belfast City Grants

NI Assembly Questions

Managed Migration

AQW 2743/22-27 Mr Matthew O'Toole (SDLP - South Belfast)

To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on her Department's plan to enforce managed migration for legacy benefit claimants to Universal Credit.

The final stage of Universal Credit (UC) implementation, known as Move to UC, involves the managed migration of those who remain in receipt of the legacy benefits being replaced by Universal Credit. A start date for Move to UC here has not yet been decided and planning is underway.

People claiming one of the benefits/credits being replaced by Universal Credit do not need to do anything unless their circumstances change as they will be contacted when it is time for them to move to Universal Credit. Anyone thinking about making a claim to Universal Credit can seek independent advice from the Advice NI Helpline on 0800 915 4604 and use benefit calculators on nidirect to check their entitlement.

My Department’s Make the Call service can also support people with a free and confidential needs assessment, by calling 0800 232 1271; texting ADVICE to 079 8440 5248; visiting nidirect.gov.uk/makethecall or emailing makethecall@dfcni.gov.uk

 

AQW 2744/22-27 Mr Matthew O'Toole (SDLP - South Belfast)

To ask the Minister for Communities how many legacy benefit claimants have experienced managed migration to Universal Credit; and how many will undergo managed migration by 31 March 2023.

The final stage of Universal Credit (UC) implementation, known as Move to UC, involves the managed migration of those who remain in receipt of the legacy benefits being replaced by Universal Credit. A start date for Move to UC has not yet been decided therefore no one has undergone managed migration here.

 

Child Payment

AQW 2312/22-27 Mr Mark Durkan   (SDLP – Foyle)    

To ask the Minister for Communities whether she has considered the introduction of a Child Payment, similar to the provision made in Scotland, to assist low-income families with a child under the age of six years.

I appointed an independent panel to complete a comprehensive review of existing welfare mitigation measures and to consider a future mitigation package. As part of this work the independent panel were specifically asked to consider the impact of welfare reforms on household income, including on children.

The panel engaged with a wide range of people who access the social security system and with key stakeholders so that their voices are heard on these important issues. The panel has provided its final report to my Department and this will be published at the earliest opportunity.

The implementation of any new payment schemes will require Executive agreement on the allocation of necessary funding.

 

ESA Access to HMRC information

AQW 2749/22-27       Ms Joanne Bunting (DUP - East Belfast)      

To ask the Minister for Communities whether the Employment and Support Allowance has access to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs' summaries to confirm applicants’ income details.

The Department has access to Revenue and Customs information to help confirm income details of customers applying for Employment Support Allowance.

 

ESA Reviews

AQW 2748/22-27       Ms Joanne Bunting (DUP - East Belfast)      

To ask the Minister for Communities how often Employment and Support Allowance carries out reviews of cases to prevent (i) fraud applications; and (ii) overpayments.

The Employment and Support Allowance Centre has a range of review mechanisms in place to prevent fraud.

At the outset of a claim, evidence is sought in all cases to support information provided as to an individual’s circumstances, to ensure awards subsequently made reflect entitlement. During the lifetime of a claim, Occupational Pension and Capital reviews are conducted on an annual basis with customers to prevent irregularity of payment arising from a change in circumstances.

In addition, the Department’s Benefit Security Division carries out counter fraud activities on Employment and Support Allowance cases which ranges from case reviews to criminal investigations for the most serious frauds.

 

PIP F2F Assessments

AQW 2755/22-27       Mr Paul Frew (DUP - North Antrim)

To ask the Minister for Communities when will she direct that Personal Independence Payment assessments are conducted in person.

My Department resumed face-to-face assessments for Personal Independence Payment on 1 July 2021, to address the needs of a small number of customers unable to take part in a telephone assessment during the pandemic. Since the easement of Covid-19 restrictions earlier this year, my Department has been working with the Personal Independence Payment assessment provider, to increase the volume of face-to-face assessments.

Parliamentary Questions

UC Deductions

Baroness Tyler of Enfield, Liberal Democrat UIN HL1063

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many households had deductions to their Universal Credit award to repay debt due to previous overpayment, including advances, for the most recent month available; and what was the average amount that was deducted.

Baroness Stedman-Scott, 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 DWP Debt Management 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 30 % 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 information requested is provided in the spreadsheet at this link.

 

UC Overpayments

Justin Madders, Labour UIN 22449

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what recent assessment her Department has made of the (a) effectiveness and (b) impact on claimants of the requirement for all overpayments to be collected from Universal Credit claimants in the context of the proportion of claimants who are having a collection for an overpayment applied.

David Rutley, Conservative

DWP has a responsibility to the taxpayer to recover any monies overpaid to benefit claimants and to do so in the most efficient way possible. Last year, working with Local Authorities, we recovered £1.0 billion of overpaid benefit.

Recovery from benefit remains the most efficient source of recovery, with 90% of debt recovered this way in 2021-22. However, we recognise the importance of safeguarding the welfare of claimants who have incurred debt and legislation protects claimants from excessive deductions. This means there are limits set for individual deductions. In Universal Credit the overall deduction cap is set at 25% of the standard allowance, having been reduced from 40%.

Additionally, any deductions from benefit are prioritised which means that 3rd party deductions to help pay utility or rent arrears (for example) take precedence over overpayment recovery deductions. Anyone experiencing hardship with repayments is encouraged to contact DWP Debt.

Management to negotiate a reduction in their rate of repayment, or a temporary suspension of repayment, depending on financial circumstances. We remain an active participant in Breathing Space, launched in May 2021 as part of The Debt Respite Scheme to support debtors struggling to cope with problem debt. We also signpost customers to trusted partners, who can provide impartial money and debt advice.

 

Social Security Standards

Justin Madders, Labour UIN 22448

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what recent steps her Department has taken to help ensure accuracy in the payment of benefits.

David Rutley, Conservative

DWP takes significant steps to ensure the accuracy of benefit payments. Our Enhanced Checking Service, a team of trained fraud specialists, look at suspicious cases referred to them by benefit processing staff, which helps prevent fraud from occurring at the outset of a claim. Our Integrated Risk & Intelligence Service (IRIS) detects and prevents emerging frauds, which allows our various Disrupt Teams to respond to threats.

We revisited over 900,000 Universal Credit (UC) claims paid under ‘Trust and Protect’ procedures during the early days of the pandemic. Additionally, building on what we have learnt during the pandemic, we are currently creating a dedicated team to deliver targeted case reviews of existing Universal Credit claims. We are expecting to review over 2 million cases over the next 5 years, stopping around £2 billion of losses due to fraud and error over that period.

We increasingly draw on data to help inform benefit payments and the use of HMRC’s Real Time Information has almost eradicated PAYE earnings fraud in UC. We have extended this principle across a range of legacy benefits by way of our Verify Earnings and Pensions (VEP) service. The Department maintains rigorous control of Official Error via its Quality Assurance Framework, which provides assurance that the necessary quality controls are in place.

An Independent Quality and Assurance Team checks transactions conducted within DWP benefits and this insight informs training requirements, infrastructure improvements and risk management. A senior stakeholder group, comprising of Directors, oversees the quality agenda. UC Official Error overpayments have fallen in each of the last 3 years, from 2.1% of UC expenditure in 2018/19 to 0.7% in 2021/22.

 

PIP Medical Examinations

Mr Toby Perkins, Labour UIN 23277

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether her Department monitors the performance of providers completing medical assessments for Personal Independence Claims; and whether she has taken steps in response to poor performance or customer service in the last five years.

Chloe Smith, Conservative

It might be helpful to explain that the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment is not a medical assessment as it does not require the Health Professional (HP) to diagnose a condition and to recommend treatment options. Instead, it requires the HP to look at the impact the condition or impairment has on an individuals’ daily life.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) manages the PIP contracts robustly and have a full set of service level agreements setting out our expectations for service delivery. We ensure a high standard is maintained, having an Independent Audit function that continually monitors performance, and provides feedback to its providers. The contracts allow us to recover any financial loss caused by poor performance, and we have the right to terminate the contract if there is sustained underperformance.

The department has worked continuously to drive improvements in the assessment service and providers have introduced a number of steps to increase performance across their services. This includes new or enhanced systems of assessment report quality checks, to improve the quality of advice the department receives. In addition, PIP assessment reports have been redesigned to have clearer justifications, which support improved benefit decision making.

PIP assessment providers have consistently exceeded their customer satisfaction target scores of 90% since the measure began in 2016.

 

Cost of Living Payment for Carers

Karin Smyth, Labour UIN 24616

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether she has plans to extend the £650 cost of living payment to carers who are in receipt of Carer’s Allowance but are under state pension age and do not receive a means tested benefit.

*Editor note: The short answer is ‘No’*

Chloe Smith, Conservative

This Government recognises and values the vital contribution made by carers every day in providing significant care and continuity of support to family and friends, including pensioners and those with disabilities.

The weekly rate of Carer’s Allowance increased to £69.70 in April 2022. This means that since 2010 it has increased from £53.90 to £69.70 a week, providing an additional £800 a year for carers through Carer’s Allowance. Real terms expenditure on Carer’s Allowance in 2022/23 is forecast to be £3.4bn and between 2022/23 and 2026/27 is forecast to increase by just over a third (around £1.2 billion). By 2026/27, the Government is forecast to spend just over £4.5 billion a year on Carer’s Allowance.

Carers on low incomes can claim income-related benefits, such as Universal Credit and Pension Credit. These benefits can be paid to carers at a higher rate than those without caring responsibilities through the carer element and the additional amount for carers respectively. Currently, the Universal Credit carer element is £168.81 per monthly assessment period, and the additional amount for carers in Pension Credit is £38.85 per week.   Around 405,000 (Feb 2022 data) carer households on Universal Credit can already receive around an additional £2,000 a year through the Carer Element.

Nearly 60% of carers on low incomes who are of working age and on Carer’s Allowance claim an income-related benefit through which they will be entitled to receive a £650 Cost of Living Payment (split over two instalments - the first one of £326 payable from 14 July). The £650 Cost of Living payment is being targeted at low income households who are in receipt of a means-tested income replacement benefit. There are no plans to amend the qualifying benefits for the Cost of Living Payment or to introduce payments for higher income households over and above what has already been announced.

Six million people in receipt of an eligible disability benefit will also receive the £150 Disability Cost of Living Payment. This includes carers who are themselves in receipt of a qualifying benefit. All Carer’s Allowance recipients who are domestic energy customers will receive a £400 rebate through the Energy Bills Support Scheme…..In addition to support people who need additional help, the Government is providing an extra £500 million of local support….The government will issue additional guidance to Local Authorities to ensure support is targeted towards those most in need of support, including those not eligible for the Cost of Living Payments.