Advice NI Calls for Return of Assembly

Advice NI calls for return of Assembly – ‘to make critical Welfare Reform decisions’
Leading advice charity Advice NI has called for the Assembly to be restored so that the Executive can make key decisions on the impact of welfare reform in Northern Ireland.  Given that Universal Credit is due to be rolled out here from September, Advice NI’s Kevin Higgins, has said that there may well be serious issues which could adversely affect many vulnerable people if there is no local Executive to implement and oversee the roll out of further elements of welfare reform.

“The Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group, of which I was a part was established in November 2015 on foot of the ‘Fresh Start’ agreement, aimed to bring forward recommendations in order to mitigate the impact of welfare reform in Northern Ireland within the funds available. Every effort was made by the Group, by the Executive and by the Assembly to ensure that we avoided the harsh welfare reform seen in GB. The consequences of this legislation for those in poverty in GB has been vividly demonstrated recently in research, film and TV documentaries. Now, with the roll out of Universal Credit due to take place here from September, it is crucial that the Executive is in place to make critical decisions on welfare reform implementation. For example there is currently no facility to mitigate the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ within Universal Credit. In fact regulations will first need to be introduced and debated in the Assembly.”

Universal Credit is a new payment for working age people, aged 18 to 64, who are on a low income or out of work. It will replace benefits such as income based Jobseeker’s Allowance / Employment & Support Allowance, Housing Benefit and tax credits and is planned to be introduced in Northern Ireland on a phased geographical basis from September 2017.

Kevin Higgins added,
“If the Assembly and an Executive is not in place it is worth considering a pause in the roll out of Universal Credit in light of the impact we have seen in the rest of the UK, and also as there is a precedent for doing so. The UK Government has halted the planned rollout of Universal Credit into North Kensington following the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the Scottish Executive has requested a pause in the roll out of Universal Credit until problems with its implementation are fully resolved.

Advice NI members have raised a number of concerns about the roll out of Universal Credit including the fact that all claimants must have access to the internet, the minimum 6 week delay before the first payment can be made, the prospect of a harsher sanctions regime and ongoing issues about NI-specific identity verification.

Advice NI hopes to see the Assembly returned as soon as possible, so that we can bring these and other issues to locally elected Ministers, in the hope that we can protect vulnerable, local people from the harsh impact of welfare reform seen elsewhere in the UK.”

Anyone concerned about any welfare changes can contact the independent welfare changes Helpline on 0808 802 0020.

For further information contact Barry Turley on 02890 737256 or 07734 256318.