Advice NI Policy Newsletter December 2019



December 2019

The Advice NI Policy Newsletter

Welcome to the latest in our series of Advice NI policy eNewsletters ‘Think'.

IMPORTANT: In order to register to receive '...Think...' direct to your inbox, please click this link.

As March 2020 looms ever closer, we highlight the latest report produced as a consequence of the Empey amendment accepted to the NI Executive formation Act 2019 (report published 29 November 2019).
Advice NI also issues a stark warning for some workers claiming Universal Credit at Christmas.
We highlight ‘Early Conciliation’ coming into effect from 27 January 2020.
Please email us at to discuss any policy matters, content, feedback or comments.
Best wishes for the New Year.

Best regards,
The Policy Team.

Latest News

CPAG publishes article on Welfare reform mitigation in Northern Ireland


Professor Eileen Evason and Kevin Higgins report on the welfare reform mitigation programme, designed to lessen the impact of some of the harshest aspects of the system in Northern Ireland.

The conclusion states:

“In recent evidence to the Joint Committee Inquiry into welfare policy in Northern Ireland, we argued that there was a clear case for continuing our mitigations programme. Supplementary payments relating to the bedroom tax and benefit cap must continue, together with other essential elements of the strategy.

We also argued for mitigation of the two-child policy and bringing personal independence payment assessments in-house. We also pressed for advances to be converted to first payments. The report of the Joint Committee has been very positive – endorsing the strategy adopted and recommending Westminster funding for its continuance.

The current political situation is not helpful, but we will be seeking an early response to this report from our Secretary of State.”

More than 35,000 vulnerable benefit claiming households are set to see their income drop off ‘a cliff edge’ by March


NI is “on the brink of a welfare mitigations disaster”.

Up Close - The Poverty Spiral


22:45 - 17 DEC 2019

“In this edition of Up Close, Judith Hill meets those caught in the poverty spiral and the people fighting to save them.

If you or someone you know has been affected by the issues covered in this programme, you can find help and advice from The Welcome Organisationor Advice NI.

Universal Credit and mitigations cliffedge ‘On Your Behalf’

With 100 days to go until the mitigations cliffedge, Kevin Higgins talks to Linda McAuley on BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘On Your Behalf’.
From 19.40

Report pursuant to section 3(21) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act  2019  
Published 29 November 2019


A report on the future welfare mitigation support measures that will be in place after March 2020, pursuant to section 3(21) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 
This report is based on information provided by the Northern Ireland Department for Communities

In the continued absence of the Assembly, the Department for Communities is now taking the necessary steps to prepare for a possible extension of the existing welfare mitigation schemes should appropriate legislation be made. Simultaneously, the Department is working with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive on preparatory work to broaden the eligibility criteria for the Discretionary Housing Payment scheme.

Avoiding the #CliffEdgeNI - Council Support


Good news from councils in Fermangh/Omagh, Newry/Mourne/Down, and Ards/ North Down who have officially supported the call from Advice NI to support the welfare mitigations package continuing after March 2020.

In October this year, Advice NI wrote to all 11 councils in NI warning them about the looming welfare mitigations cliff-edge and asking them to support the call for an extension to the mitigations package.  Securing this commitment from all 11 councils would send out a strong, unified message to our politicians and the Government that people in NI need legislation passed to extend the mitigation measures.

To date, 4 councils have responded positively.  Newry, Mourne and Down District Council – passed a motion calling on “all parties to support the need to continue Welfare Mitigations beyond March 2020 and further; Calls on the DfC to take all steps necessary to ensure the Mitigations scheme will continue to help the most vulnerable in our community".

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council passed a motion supporting “the need to continue Welfare Mitigations beyond March 2020; acknowledge that vulnerable claimants are currently being forced to pay the Bedroom Tax; call on all parties to work together to establish an inclusive power sharing Executive that can continue the welfare mitigation package beyond March 2020 and; call on the Department for Communities to take all steps necessary to ensure the mitigations scheme will continue to support the most vulnerable in our community”.

Ards and North Down Borough Council passed a motion recognising “the importance of the Welfare Mitigation Package in protecting benefit claimants in this borough and across Northern Ireland from some of the potentially damaging aspects of welfare reform”, noting “with concern that these mitigations are due to come to an end in March 2020”, and committing to write to the Secretary of State affirming council’s “support for the recommendations in the ‘Welfare Policy in Northern Ireland’ report, and request that he take forward these recommendations without further delay”.

Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council invited Advice NI to speak to council members and are now considering our proposal.  And two further councils, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council and Ards and North Down Borough Council, contacted us to let us know they were giving our proposal attention.


Letter to Secretary of State, displaying cross-party support for the continuation of Mitigations


Julian Smith MP
Secretary of State
Stormont House
We are writing to express our deep concerns about the potential ending of the current Welfare Mitigations schemes in March 2020. As you are aware the Welfare Mitigations schemes were put in place in 2015/16. The schemes were initially agreed for four years and the current legislation is due to expire in March 2020. You will already be aware that all parties and the Independent Advice Sector have called for the Mitigations to continue beyond March 2020. Indeed the recent report from the Westminster Joint Committee Inquiry has made this call as a key recommendation. Please refer to;

Welfare Policy in NI - First Joint Report of the Works and Pensions and the NI Affairs Committee, 9th September 2019.

We believe that this matter would be best dealt with by a fully functioning Executive and Assembly and of course remain committed to the early restoration of the Institutions as soon as is practically possible. However in the absence of such an Executive and Assembly we are calling on you as Secretary of State to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that, at the minimum, the current Mitigations schemes are continued beyond March 2020, including the introduction of appropriate legislation in Westminster.

We specifically wish to advise you that we endorse the recommendations of the Westminster Joint Committee Report referred to above and call on your office to action the recommendations contained within the report.

We would also be keen to meet you as soon as possible and convenient to discuss our serious concerns about the prospect of the current Mitigations schemes coming to an end, the hardship that will undoubtedly impose on many within our community and the need for urgent action.

We look forward to hearing your response.

Alex Maskey SF
Nichola Mallon SDLP
Robbie Butler UUP
Trevor Lunn All
Rachel Woods Green Party.

Communities NI Customer Notice


From 15 November 2019, some of the Benefit Textphone numbers are changing: 

Disability & Carers Service:
0800 012 1574

Debt Management:
0800 587 2986

Finance Support:
0800 587 2751

Employment & Support Allowance:
0800 328 3419

Income Support/Jobseekers Allowance/Social Fund:
0800 587 1297

Pensions Service:
0808 100 2198

Personal Independence Payment:
0800 587 0937

Universal Credit:
0800 012 1441

Welfare Supplementary Payments:
0800 587 0973

Advice NI warning for workers claiming Universal Credit at Christmas


Employees who are paid early at Christmas may be affected by a flaw in the Universal Credit (UC) system whereby claimants may be treated as receiving two monthly wages in one assessment period, resulting in a dramatically reduced or even nil Universal Credit award.


DfC Decision Making Services view on “Qualifying Periods”, (“QP”) and “Linking”.


A Qualifying Period is defined in regulation 2(1) of the Loans for Mortgage Interest Regulations (NI) 2017 as:

(a) 9 consecutive assessment periods in which a claimant has been entitled to universal credit;

(b) 39 consecutive weeks in which a claimant—
(i) has been entitled to a legacy benefit, or
(ii) is treated as having been entitled to such a benefit under—

(aa) paragraph 14 of Schedule 3 to the IS Regulations (linking rule)(a);

(bb) paragraph 13 of Schedule 2 to the JSA Regulations (linking rule)(b); or

(cc) paragraph 15 of Schedule 6 to the ESA Regulations (linking rules)(c);

Regulation 8 prevents LMI from being paid before the QP has ended:

Period covered by loan payments: The period in respect of which the loan payments shall be made shall begin on the later of—

(b) in the case of a UC claimant or legacy benefit claimant, the day after the day on which the qualifying period ends;

For claimants transitioning from a legacy benefit to UC the QP does not need to be re-served if the claimant was in receipt of the legacy benefit within 1 month of the claim to UC and the previous award included an amount in respect of housing costs or the claimant was entitled in LMI – regulation 21 of the LMI Regulations.

In addition to serving a QP, a claimant must satisfy the conditions of entitlement to a loan. Regulation 3(4) of the LMI Regulations prescribes that a claimant will not be eligible for the offer of loan payments:
  • where the claimant is a single person, the claimant has any earned income; or
  • where the claimant is a member of a couple, either member of the couple has any earned income.
Any case specific queries should be directed to the Office administering the loans which, in these 2 cases, is Universal Credit.


Early Conciliation Introduced to Northern Ireland


Letter to stakeholders from Director of Business & Employment Regulation Division, Dept. for the Economy

Early Conciliation comes into effect from 27 January 2020.

As a result, anyone who wishes to lodge a claim with the Industrial or Fair Employment Tribunal must first notify the Labour Relations Agency and discuss the option of Early Conciliation. Potential claimants will not be able to proceed to tribunal without at least considering this option.

This marks a significant change from the current situation, whereby claims can be lodged with the tribunal and the Agency then has a duty to make contact with the parties to offer conciliation.


The Northern Ireland Benefits Statistics Summary – August 2019


Professional Services Unit provides statistics on social security benefits in Northern Ireland. Statistics on all main benefits are provided.

Up Close - The Poverty Spiral


22:45 - 17 DEC 2019

“In this edition of Up Close, Judith Hill meets those caught in the poverty spiral and the people fighting to save them.

Policy News

Universal Credit: work allowances


Advice NI sought clarification on the 16 hour rule as it applies to UC work allowances.

Neil Couling:

First, a summary of the policy:
  • Unlike in ESA, there are no permitted work rules in UC
  • Where a claimant is found to have LCW/LCWRA they can still undertake work and there is no limit on the number of hours that they can work
  • Most claimants will need to undertake a work capability assessment (WCA) before a decision can be made about whether or not they have LCW/LCWRA
  • Once a claimant has been found to have LCW/LCWRA that provides them with access to a work allowance (some will already have access if they have responsibility for a child in the household)
There is an earnings threshold in UC for in-work claimants who are working and are claiming UC on the grounds of having a health condition. This threshold means that a claimant cannot be referred for a WCA where their earnings are equal to, or above, the relevant weekly earnings threshold and they do not receive either DLA, PIP, AA or AFIP.

The relevant weekly earnings threshold is the gross earnings which would be earned by working 16 hours at the applicable National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage.
To the query “Whether seeking a work allowance might undermine someone’s LCW/LCWRA status”:
“Universal Credit claimants who have responsibility for a child or qualifying young person, or have been determined to have LCW or LCWRA, are awarded a work allowance.  Claimants who meet those criteria have the work allowance automatically applied to any earnings they may have.  The award of a work allowance to a claimant who has either LCW or LCWRA in no way undermines that status.  These allowances, coupled with the UC taper, present a real opportunity for claimants with health conditions and disabilities to try work, even for a small number of hours, with financial gain and without the fear of losing their benefit.”

Changes to Benefit Sanctions


Advice NI queried changes to benefit sanctions in NI, relating to the announcement made by Work & Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd MP in May 2019.

DfC response: The Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit (Higher-Level Sanctions) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019 came into operation on 27th November 2019.

These regulations reduce the duration of the third escalation of a high-level sanction from eighteen months to six months.  The durations of high-level sanctions would then be three months for the first failure and six months for each subsequent failure. This puts maximum length high-level sanctions back in line with pre-September 2017 levels.

Bedroom Tax & Mixed Age Couples


Advice NI queried whether the bedroom tax applies to mixed age couples (in other words couples where one partner has reached state retirement age but the other has not).

DfC response:

Until 14 May 2019, mixed age couples (couples where one partner is a pensioner and the other under pension age) have been able to choose to claim either Pension Credit or working age benefits. From 15 May 2019, both partners in a couple will need to have reached State Pension age in order to claim Pension Credit or pension-age Housing Benefit. In cases where a mixed age couple were entitled to the following on 14 May 2019, they will continue to be entitled on or after 15 May 2019:
  • Pension age Housing Benefit;
  • Pension Credit; or
  • Both.

Therefore, in cases where a mixed-aged couple continue to be entitled to any of the above benefits, they would not be subject to the social sector size criteria rules in the calculation of their housing benefit.
However, this provision ceases to have effect in relation to the party of the mixed age couple, on any day on or after 15 May 2019, when that person is not entitled to either pension age Housing Benefit or Pension Credit as a part of the same mixed age couple, due to a change of circumstances. They will not requalify for those benefits, and are required to make a claim for Universal Credit instead. Under Universal Credit the mixed-aged couple would be subject to the social sector size criteria rules in the calculation of their housing costs.
The relevant legislation is The Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 (Commencement No. 13 and Savings and Transitional Provisions (Amendment)) Order 2019 (