Advice NI Policy Newsletter November 2019

 

'Think'

November 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.

We are “on the brink of a welfare mitigations disaster” with little prospect of the legislation required to extend the mitigation measures being passed via the Assembly and the NI Secretary of State showing no signs of passing the legislation via Westminster, more inside.
 
The Benefit Freeze will end next year, with benefits rising in line with inflation (1.7%).
 
In 2017, Sir Anthony Hart published his report for the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, which contained recommendations for, among other things, redress for the survivors.  With the collapse of Stormont, these recommendations could not be implemented.  Finally, however, the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act 2019 has been passed, and with Royal Assent has now become law. 
 
Please email us at policy@adviceni.net to discuss any policy matters, content, feedback or comments.
 
We'd be happy to share ideas on areas to focus on, content suggestions and other ways of getting involved.

Best regards,
The Policy Team.

Latest News


NI on brink of ‘welfare mitigations’ disaster

 

Expert warns of a looming crisis of child poverty, hunger and mass evictions caused by end of mitigations for bedroom tax and benefit cap.

Professor Eileen Evason was the chair of the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group established in November 2015 through the 'Fresh Start' agreement, which put in place measures to protect people from the harshest impacts of welfare reform in NI. These measures will end in March 2020. Professor Evason said:

“I think we need to be honest with the people of Northern Ireland; as things stand everything stops in March 2020. The payments that protect people from the bedroom tax will end, the payments that protect children from the benefit cap will end. I am extremely concerned about the impact of all of this. Amongst other things, the loss of protection against bedroom tax will cause considerable hardship. Those who think they may be affected should contact their MLA’s and MP’s ASAP.

Kevin Higgins, Advice NI and member of the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group added:

“We have a mitigation package which has sheltered people from harshest impacts of welfare reform, impacts that are disproportionately greater in Northern Ireland than anywhere else as evidenced by the recent Commons Joint Committee report. We have inadequate, segregated social housing; we have higher rates of disability; we have larger family sizes; all of which places our most vulnerable low income families at grave risk of destitution and homelessness when the payments they rely upon end in March 2020.”

Speaking about what needs to happen to avoid this looming disaster, Professor Evason said:

“Our Department for Communities has been clear that that the funding for the current mitigations schemes will end on 31 March 2020. Similarly, the legislation providing for each of the mitigations schemes will cease to have effect from 31 March 2020. Any proposal to extend the existing welfare mitigations beyond this termination date will therefore require the Department to bring forward new legislation.”

“Therefore in the absence of an Assembly we need the NI Secretary of State to pass the necessary legislation at Westminster to extend the mitigations. There is no other way to avoid this looming crisis. All organisations and advice agencies concerned about this looming crisis will need to advise the communities they serve on what is happening and the importance of raising any concerns they have with their political representatives.”


If you are worried about the mitigations cliff edge or want help with you social security benefits, please call the independent welfare changes Helpline 0808 802 0020.

https://www.adviceni.net/blog/ni-brink-welfare-mitigations-disaster
 

Welfare Policy in NI Inquiry Update 

Government response to the Work and Pensions and Northern Ireland Affairs Committee's report on Welfare Policy in Northern Ireland
https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/work-and-pensions/Government%20response%20-%20NIAC%20and%20WPSC%20joint%20inquiry%20into%20Welfare%20Policy%20in%20Northern%20Ireland.pdf
 
Chair of Work and Pensions and Northern Ireland Affairs Committee joint inquiry Nigel Mills MP has written to the SoS for NI saying Government must continue essential mitigation payments for benefit claimants in Northern Ireland, who may face a "cliff edge" loss of hundreds of pounds a month
https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/work-and-pensions/Correspondence/2019-20/Letter-from-Work-and-Pensions-Committee-to-Secretary-of-State-for-Northern-Ireland-04-11-2019.pdf
 
DfC Perm Sect response to the Govt response; which confirms legislation required to extend mitigations, and deals with the alternative option which is to use Discretionary Housing Payments.
https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/work-and-pensions/Correspondence/2019-20/191017-Letter%20from%20Perm.%20Sec.%20Dept.%20for%20Communities%20NI%20re%20WPSC%20and%20NIAC%20joint%20Report%20on%20Welfare%20Policy%20in%20NI-with%20enclosures.pdf
 

PQ regarding Government reporting on on the future welfare mitigation support measures

Baroness Lister PQ re the requirement of section 3(21) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, namely that the Secretary of State must, and before 1 December, publish a report on the future welfare mitigation support measures that will be in place after March 2020, unless an Executive is formed on or before 1 December.

Response:

“The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has always been clear that he will continue to uphold the letter and the spirit of his obligations under the Northern Ireland (Executive Function etc) Act 2019 in full. That includes the obligation to report on welfare support measures in Northern Ireland. A report will therefore be published by 1 December 2019 if no Executive has been formed.”

https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2019-10-29/HL511/

 

Commons Parliamentary debate on the mitigations cliff edge (30th October 2019)

Steve McCabe MP:

The Department for Communities cannot extend these payments because, in the absence of the Assembly, that requires ministerial action. This is urgent because the Department is saying that it will need to start advising claimants by this autumn of significant cuts to their welfare payments next year, unless the Government act.

Julian Smith MP:

We are aware of this welfare challenge. It is indeed a responsibility of the Northern Ireland civil service; civil servants do have a power that they can use with regard to the discretionary housing payments. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will spend time on this issue over the coming days and weeks, because it is an important one.

Frank Field MP:

This is an immensely important issue for some of the very poorest people in Northern Ireland. Might the Secretary of State go back to the Department and ask his permanent secretary what powers he can draw the Secretary of State’s attention to that will allow him, before the week is out, to take action to prevent people from falling off the cliff into greater poverty?

Julian Smith MP:

I am in the process of working through how we can move forward with this. It is a devolved matter, but I will be speaking to the Northern Ireland civil service over the coming days and weeks. As has been alluded to, these are funds and mitigations that help the most vulnerable citizens in Northern Ireland. I take these matters seriously, and I will come back to the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman in due course.

Sammy Wilson MP:

Does the Secretary of State accept, however, that even with the powers that civil servants have, the cost of these mitigation measures is such that budgets will have to be rejigged—quite substantially rejigged—and that that can be done only if a Minister makes a decision? Is this not yet another example of the Secretary of State burying his head in the sand and pretending that the Executive will come back when he knows that they are not going to come back? This can be dealt with only if civil servants bring forward a report saying, “This is the money that is required and this is how we see it being reallocated.” Someone has to make a decision, and it will probably be a Minister here.

Julian Smith MP:

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. However, I go back to the fact that it is, I think we all agree, in Northern Ireland’s best interests that the Executive are reformed and the Assembly gets back up and running. Any idea that it is a better solution to take powers here at Westminster is false, and we have to focus on that.

https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2019-10-30/debates/3FE8A939-7105-463F-8382-343A226C001D/NorthernIrelandBudgetBill

 

Welfare Mitigations cliff edge in the media

Advice NI warns Northern Ireland could be on brink of a welfare mitigations disaster on Nolan Show
https://audioboom.com/posts/7418657-advice-ni-warns-northern-ireland-could-be-on-brink-of-a-welfare-mitigations-disaster
 
NI Secretary of State ‘must act now to avoid crisis of destitution and homelessness’ via VIEWDigital
http://viewdigital.org/2019/11/08/secretary-of-state-must-act-now-to-avoid-crisis-of-destitution-and-homelessness/
 
Pressure on secretary of state Julian Smith to save 'tens of thousands' of poorest citizens from benefits' `cliff edge' before it is too late via Irish News
http://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2019/11/08/news/pressure-on-secretary-of-state-julian-smith-to-save-tens-of-thousands-of-poorest-citizens-from-benefits-cliff-edge-befo-1759572/?param=ds441rif44T
 
Advice NI Head of Policy, Kevin Higgins, spoke with Mark Carruthers on Sunday Politics Northern Ireland about the looming March 2020 mitigations cliff edge (full interview).
https://www.adviceni.net/content/kevin-higgins-talks-welfare-reform-mitigations-sunday-politics

 

DfC Update re mitigations cliff edge 

Mitigations Statement (5th November 2019):

The Department’s approach to the Welfare Mitigation Schemes ending on 31 March 2020 remains unchanged.

All options remain open. In particular officials continue to make plans for an extension of the existing mitigations schemes (‘Bedroom Tax’ and Benefit Cap) should the legislation be passed by either the Assembly or at Westminster.

In parallel, officials are also working with the NIHE to broaden eligibility for the Discretionary Housing Payment Scheme, should that become necessary.

At this time, no final decision has been taken.
https://twitter.com/CommunitiesNI/status/1191728889820786690
 
Annual reports on the operation of the Welfare Supplementary Payments, Discretionary Support, Standards of Advice & Assistance and Sanctions.
https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/publications/welfare-supplementary-payments-discretionary-support-standards-advice-assistance-and-sanctions



Appeal Tribunals

 

NIO Half of disability benefits appeals won in tribunal court: BBC

This is a compilation of data by the BBC, which shows the number of benefits appeals lodged with a tribunal from April 2013 to date, with outcomes.
Findings for Northern Ireland:
  • The success rate for disability, sickness and incapacity benefits appeals has risen from 31% in 2013-14 to 54% in 2018-19
  • Overall, some 58,560 people who had lost disability, sickness and incapacity benefits appealed against their decision at tribunal, with 20,856 succeeding
  • When all types of benefits are considered, the success rate rose from 30% in 2016-17 to 52% in 2018-19 with some 9,520 people successful over that period
  • Between 2013-14 and 2014-15, there was a 31% drop in the number of appeals against all types of benefits
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-49891159
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sUHIzCjYdkY2kmBst-a182ktgWA1d0kh1ev3yrfj8pk/edit


 

President of Appeal Tribunal Report on Standards of Decision Making by the Department 2016/17 (Date published: 04 November 2019)

The Northern Ireland President of Appeal Tribunal has urged the Department for Communities (DfC) to consider seeking GP reports at the early stages of all disability benefit appeals.

President of Appeal Tribunal John Duffy reports that overall levels of incorrectness in initial decision making by the DfC ranged from nothing for appeals relating to income support, disability living allowance, and incapacity benefit to 33 per cent in bereavement benefit appeals. He states:

‘The provision of GP notes and records remains fundamentally important for the proper determination of DLA appeals and will be a cornerstone going forward. I repeat my previous request that departmental presenting officers should recommence the practice of viewing those documents prior to hearing. I remain unconvinced by the Department’s arguments for failing to authorise presenting officers to view the documents.’

The total number of appeals registered during the year to which this report relates was 9197, of which 1021 were monitored.

The report reveals that overall levels of incorrectness in the initial decision ranges from 0% in appeals relating to Retirement Pension, Compensation Recovery, Income Support, Disability Living Allowance, Incapacity Benefit and Maternity Allowance to 33% in Bereavement Benefit appeals. The most common reason for incorrectness was that the decision appealed against was based on insufficient facts/evidence due to inadequate investigation of the claim or revision.

https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/publications/president-appeal-tribunal-report-standards-decision-making-by-department-201617



Benefits Freeze Ends

Proposed social security benefit and pension rates for 2020/21.
https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2019-11-04/HCWS74/
 
Advice NI Benefit Freeze Briefing Paper
https://www.adviceni.net/blog/advice-ni-briefing-paper-september-2019-benefit-freeze

 


Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act 2019 given Royal Assent

 

A Bill has been passed, to establish the Historical Institutional Abuse Redress Board and to confer an entitlement to compensation in connection with children who were resident in certain institutions in Northern Ireland; and to establish the Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse.

The HIA Inquiry investigated historical allegations of child abuse. It examined 22 residential institutions run by religious, charitable and state organisations and its remit covered a 73-year period ranging from 1995 back to the foundation of Northern Ireland.

The inquiry chair Sir Anthony Hart recommended in his report that all victims of institutional abuse should receive tax-free, lump sum payments ranging from £7,500 to £100,000 from a government-funded redress scheme.

However, after Stormont collapsed in 2017, the recommendations could not be implemented. Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said that the government is now working with civil servants to progress the scheme as quickly as possible.  One of the aims is also to create a statutory commissioner, who will advocate for victims of institutional abuse.
 
David Sterling said: “Responsibility for delivering against that legislation returns to The Executive Office and the wider Civil Service and I am determined we will do everything possible to bring closure to HIA victims and survivors as quickly as possible.
 
“We had already started to intensify our preparations and that work is being stepped up. We will be working closely with the HIA Interim Advocate, Brendan McAllister, and other NICS Departments. I have written to the Department of Health to identify non-judicial panel members for the Redress Board and to the Department of Justice on the administration of the compensation scheme.
 
“We are also bringing additional resources into The Executive Office so that we can quickly provide redress to the HIA victims and survivors who have already waited too long for justice.”
 
https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2019-20/historicalinstitutionalabusenorthernireland.html
https://www.northernireland.gov.uk/node/40874
 


Impacts of Social Sector Size Criteria (Bedroom Tax) Final Report

 

RF Associates was commissioned in December 2018 to conduct research assessing the impact on tenants who had been affected by Social Sector Size Criteria and who had lost Welfare Supplementary Payment (WSP).

This qualitative research focused on the experiences of these households and how they had dealt with the impact of losing Welfare Supplementary Payment for under-occupation.

The research objectives were:
  • To assess the impact on tenants of losing Welfare Supplementary Payments;
  • To assess if tenants are able to pay the shortfall in rent;
  • To gain an understanding of how tenants are meeting/not meeting any shortfall in eligible rent;
  • To gain a better understanding of what longer term plans tenants have to meet the shortfall in their rent;
  • To assess the quality of information provided by the Housing Executive prior to loss of Welfare Supplementary Payment and reasons for moving; and
  • Any support needs identified after losing Welfare Supplementary Payment.

RF Associates suggest that it is of paramount importance that:
  • The Housing Executive significantly enhances its communications activities, with some specific and targeted activities and information that highlights these issues to tenants. This may need to take the form of a national advertising campaign to provide the level of cut-through required to reach tenants and dispel the misinformation that has been in place for some time. Tenants need to know that they will have to pay more for their housing.
  • A communications campaign should seek to find simpler ways to talk about the bedroom tax, helping to evolve a better, clearer, common language which can be shared by tenants and the Housing Executive frontline staff, e.g. “You now need to pay your bedroom tax; you’ve lost the payments that were making up the shortfall”. Fundamentally it needs to move away from ambivalent language such as “you may be affected”.
  • Given the pressure that Housing Executive staff are under, it would seem that further additional staffing should be put in place to provide advice and support to tenants to help them to plan for and manage their future, perhaps through a dedicated support telephone line that can take and answer specific queries.
  • The Housing Executive finds ways to support tenants to manage financially and to support the development of basic financial literacy skills.
  • All frontline Housing Executive staff are fully trained and aware of how to deal with tenants about this issue in the best way – and that they, too, must move away from “adult to child”-based approaches.
https://www.nihe.gov.uk/Documents/Research/Welfare-Reform-Research-Group-Terms-of-Reference/Impacts-bedroom-tax-social-sector-size-criteria.aspx

 


NIHRC New Report on Cumulative Impact Assessment of Tax & Social Security Reforms in Northern Ireland

 

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) commissioned Landman Economics and Aubergine Analysis to undertake a Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) of the impact of reforms to the tax and social security system introduced since 2010 in Northern Ireland, including measures introduced by the Northern Ireland Executive to mitigate some of the negative impacts of the reforms.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said -

'The research demonstrates that those with the broadest backs are not bearing the heaviest load. We need a tax and social security system which provides help where it is most needed - for those on low incomes. The freezing of many social security benefits for four years, and continuing universal credit to two children only, has had a devastating impact on claimants and their children. Adult and child poverty is set to rise.

The research shows that the mitigations package, including not applying the bedroom tax and benefit cap for families, has made a significant impact. If the mitigations are not replaced, we will plunge those households into a crisis from next April. The right to an adequate standard of living is an important human right and that is not being met. The research provides a recommended package for renewed mitigations which is costed and evidence-based, and builds on what we have now.'


Recommendations for the Northern Ireland Executive include:
  • If and when the Northern Ireland Assembly reconvenes, new legislation should be passed as soon as possible for an expanded package of mitigation measures to take effect once the current mitigation package expires in March 2020 (or as soon as possible after that date). The package of mitigations presented in Chapter 8 of this report is a viable starting template for an expanded mitigation package (subject to further discussions with affected groups).
  • The new mitigation package should include additional funding for advisory services for social security benefit claimants (and especially for Universal Credit claimants, where the process of roll-out of UC and migration to UC has caused substantial confusion in many cases). These services are a vital component of an effective mitigation package.
  • The mitigation package should be funded on an ongoing basis – until such time as the UK Government takes steps to reverse the retrogressive aspects of its post-2010 social security reforms.
http://www.nihrc.org/uploads/publications/Final_CIA_report_Oct_2019.pdf
 


Universal Credit and ‘Survival Sex’: Work & Pensions Report

 

Survival sex and Universal Credit: Remarkable reversal in Government’s “defensive, dismissive and trite” position welcome - but insufficient

Many claimants experienced a drop in income when they were moved from legacy benefits to Universal Credit.  Some claimants felt obliged to turn to sex work to survive, and feed their families.

The Committee expected the Department to respond in full to the Terms of Reference for its inquiry, by submitting written evidence. But the Department’s first attempt at a written response was “defensive, dismissive and trite”. People with personal, first-hand experience told the Committee—and similar evidence was widely available in media sources – that Universal Credit was a factor in their decisions to turn to, or return to, sex work. DWP’s written evidence largely ignored these personal, frontline testimonies, and instead presented what appeared to be its own internet research on whether there is a “direct causal link” between Universal Credit and survival sex.

‘This inquiry was concerned, primarily, with the experience of a relatively small cohort of claimants: one whose needs DWP has not, seemingly, been focused on to date. The key to getting support right for this, and other groups of claimants with complex, specialist needs, will be listening to and seeking out evidence from lived experience and the front line. This applies not just in Universal Credit, but across DWP’s working age services.’

A key recommendation is:

‘The five week wait is a fundamental design flaw at the heart of Universal Credit. It plunges too many claimants into debt from day one of their claim—at best, to the Department, and at worst to high cost and unscrupulous lenders. The women we spoke to, and the organisations who support people driven to engage in survival sex, all named the five week wait as a key reason why people were turning or returning to sex work when they moved onto Universal Credit. We have repeatedly recommended that the Department find a way to eliminate the long wait for a first payment. It has so far refused to do so. We reiterate our recommendation that the five week wait must be eliminated.’

The Committee also recommends that DWP:
  • Put in place a proper evaluation framework for UC which takes account of claimants’ “lived experience” of the benefit, and evidence from frontline organisations.
  • Change its guidance to Decision Makers to emphasise that payment of Universal Credit into a non-claimant bank account should be considered an absolute last resort. The Committee heard that people who cannot open bank accounts are allowed to nominate a non-claimant’s account (often belonging to a “friend” or “boyfriend”) to have their UC paid into. All too often, those payments never reach the claimant because they are stolen by the “friend”.
  • Prioritise allowing telephone applications for Universal Credit from people due for release from prison to help ensure that "day 1" of coincides with "day 1" of a Universal Credit claim.
  • Improve, publicise and monitor the non-digital means of applying for UC
  • commission and publish a review on improving services for this group of claimants: as for many other groups, the specialist support provided by Jobcentres is patchy and varies from JCP to JCP.
Conclusions & Recommendations:
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201920/cmselect/cmworpen/83/8308.htm
https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2017/universal-credit-survival-sex-report-published-19-20/

 


Challenge to 2-Child Limit

 

In its final report of this Parliament the Commons Work and Pensions Committee is led, by evidence and facts from sources as diverse as the Institute for Fiscal Studies and senior representatives of major faith communities, to conclude that the Government must lift the two-child limit and return to providing support for all children through the benefits system.

The Committee stated that the Government’s arguments did not stack up:
  • It assumes that all pregnancies are planned, and in full knowledge of the Government's social security policy. These assumptions simply do not hold true: in fact only a minority of third child pregnancies are planned.
  • The distinction between families on benefits and those who are working is crude and unrealistic: anyone working today could lose their job, fall ill, be disabled, or be bereaved tomorrow: by the Government’s logic only the wealthy few with the financial resilience to withstand all of life's misfortunes without recourse to the benefits system could ever responsibly decide to have more than two children.
  • The suggestion that the policy might encourage parents to increase their incomes from work is not supported by the evidence the Committee has seen. In contrast, the absence of affordable childcare, as well as the costs of transport, make it all but impossible for some families to increase their working hours to compensate for their losses, or to get back into work after having a child.
  • The Government’s own statistics show that there is no sharp distinction between households in receipt of benefits and those in work:
  • Tax Credits As of April 2019: 72% of families receiving tax credits were working families (2,255,600 working families in total).
  • Housing Benefit As of May 2019: 28% of working age Housing Benefit claimants are ‘in employment and not on passported benefit’
  • Universal Credit As of September 2019: 33% of UC claimants were recorded as in employment (809,218 people defined as having some employment earnings in the latest assessment period)
https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2017/two-child-limit-report-published-17-19/

 

Advertising Standards Authority [ASA] Ruling on DWP & Associated Newspapers, re: Universal Credit ‘Mythbusters’ Advertisements

 

Six regional press ads were published in the Metro, and a web page hosted on the Mail Online and Metro Online websites, for the Department for Work and Pensions regarding UC.

The ASA received 44 complaints, including from the charities Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K), the Motor Neurone Disease Association, and the Disability Benefits Consortium. This was in reference to misleading statements printed, such as:

‘MYTH You have to wait 5 weeks to get any money on Universal Credit FACT If you need money, your jobcentre will urgently pay you an advance’

In relation to this, ASA stated:

We understood that an increasing number of claimants received an advance payment while waiting for their first payment of UC, and noted the DWP’s stated intention was to make such payments as quickly as possible. However, in the absence of data relating to the speed with which such payments were made, it was not possible to determine the proportion of claimants who received such payments on the same day they were requested. We therefore considered the claim “If you need money, your Jobcentre will urgently pay you an advance”, as it would be understood by readers, had not been substantiated.

Four issues were investigated, three of which were Upheld and one of which was Upheld in part. ASA told the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that they held adequate evidence to substantiate the claims in their advertising, to include significant conditions, and to present significant conditions clearly.

The Department for Work and Pensions said: "We are disappointed with this decision and have responded to the Advertising Standards Authority.  We consulted at length with the ASA as we created the adverts, which have explained to hundreds of thousands of people how universal credit is helping more than 2.5 million people across the country."

https://www.asa.org.uk/rulings/department-for-work-and-pensions-G19-1021769.html

 

Motability Update

 

Personal Independence Payment: Motability

Maria Eagle MP PQ: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if she will take steps to extend the six months grace period that claimants of personal independence payments have while awaiting an appeal on a decision to remove their entitlement to the motability component.

Response:

“The Department worked closely with Motability to design an extensive £175 million Transitional Support Package for those who are no longer eligible for the Motability scheme following reassessment from DLA to PIP.

Motability allow eligible claimants who joined the Scheme before 2014 to opt to extend their lease for 26 weeks after the DLA payments end (or until a decision on their appeal is heard) and receive a smaller lump sum payment.

For those who are appealing their decision following reassessment, Motability have confirmed in a letter to the Work and Pensions Select Committee that “if a customer has opted for the 26-week retention period and Motability is satisfied that they are actively progressing an appeal, a discretionary extension to the handback period can be granted.”

Those joining the scheme after 2014 and who subsequently lose eligibility for their Motability vehicle will receive a £1000 stopped allowance support payment from Motability.”


https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2019-09-25/290679/

 

‘Bedroom Tax’ ruling clarifies tribunal powers

 

The Supreme Court has ruled that courts can set aside government regulations that are incompatible with human rights legislation [RR v SSWP [2019] UKSC 52].

The court upheld an order by the Upper Tribunal that a claimant’s housing benefit should be recalculated without the 14% deduction from the bedroom tax because applying the deduction would breach his rights under the Human Rights Act.

Law firm Leigh Day represented the claimant, RR. Solicitor Lucy Cadd, said: 'This ruling is of great significance because it not only allows for the case of our client and that of the 130 couples whose cases were stayed behind it to be resolved with the social security tribunals disapplying the bedroom tax to ensure none of those individuals suffer a human rights breach, but also because it paves the way for decision-makers to avoid human rights breaches in other areas.'

Decision in full:

https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2018-0224.html
https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/law/bedroom-tax-ruling-clarifies-tribunal-powers/5102155.article#.XcwitLNRUZk.twitter
https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/welfare-rights/caselaw/item/supreme-court-rules-that-local-authority-decision-makers-first-tier-tribunal-and-upper-tribunal-have-power-to-disapply-secondary-legislation-where-in-breach-of-convention-rights

 

Universal Credit Contingency Fund (UCCF)

 

Department for Communities provide UCCF update.

The Department has reviewed its policy regarding the Universal Credit Contingency Fund.

We have decided to remove the requirement for claimants to take out a Universal Credit Advance payment before being eligible for a grant from the Universal Credit Contingency Fund.

This does not require a legislative change and will take effect from 1 January 2020.

https://twitter.com/CommunitiesNI/status/1191747677379276800

 

Advice NI clarification sought from the Department on the status of the UCCF beyond March 2020.

DfC Response:

The UC Contingency Fund is part of the mitigation package and was included in the Working Group report with £2m included for this specific scheme. As you are aware the funding package for the mitigation schemes, which includes the UC Contingency Fund, is currently scheduled to end on 31 March 2020.

As you have highlighted Discretionary Support will be continuing post March 2020. This is because it is not a welfare mitigation scheme but rather a replacement for elements of the Social Fund. At this time no decision has been taken on the continued provision of a separate UC Contingency Fund.
 

Policy News

Advice NI asked: Can you please confirm:
  • The legislation covering LCW and work allowances within UC;
  • Whether seeking a work allowance might undermine someone’s LCW / LCWRA status;
  • Does both LCWRA & LCW trigger the work allowance, or just LCW;
  • Is there a maximum number of hours someone can work;

DfC: The legislation covering LCW and work allowances within UC:

We have consulted with the Social Security Policy and Legislation Division who have confirmed the legislation covering LCW and work allowances is as follows:
  • Part 5 of the Universal credit Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 contains provisions for Capability for Work or Work-related activity
  • Schedules 6-8 of the same Regulations provide for the assessments in relation to the same
  • Regulations 28 and 29 contain provisions for dealing with LCWRA within the UC claim
  • Regulation 23 contains provisions for the Work Allowance.
Whether seeking a work allowance might undermine someone’s LCW / LCWRA status:

Those Universal Credit customers who are eligible for a work allowance, such as those who have responsibility for one or more children, are a qualifying person, or have LCW/LCWRA, the work allowance is automatically applied to their earnings. In order to be eligible for a work allowance, claimants must have been awarded LCW/LCWRA status.

Does both LCWRA & LCW trigger the work allowance, or just LCW?

The work allowance is to help customers increase their earnings and move off benefits. Those with the biggest barriers to work, such as those who have both LCW and LCWRA, are supported with greater incentives than those who can move into work more easily.

The maximum number of hours someone can work:

There is no maximum number of hours someone can work. All net earnings received by the customer will be subject to the work allowance before the single taper of 63% is applied. The two work allowance rates are £287 per month for those with housing costs included in their UC award, or £503 per month for those without housing costs included in their UC award.
 
Advice NI asked: Can you please confirm 1) that UC  LCW assessment phase runs from date of claim; 2) when does LCWRA become payable & 3) that UC advances are paid back over 12 months, not out of lump sums owed by UC?

DfC: In response to your question enquiring when the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) starts, there are 3 scenarios:
  • A customer makes a new claim to Universal Credit, has not previously claimed any other benefit and reports a health condition from the start of their Universal Credit claim. In this case the start date of their Universal Credit claim should be used as the start of the WCA process.
  • A customer previously claimed ESA and makes a claim to Universal Credit, and there is no break between claims. In this case ESA send a notification to Universal Credit advising of the WCA outcome to be applied to the Universal Credit claim.
  • A customer with an established Universal Credit claim then reports a health condition. The start date of the WCA is the date they reported their health condition.
 
Regarding when the LCWRA is paid, before this payment can be applied to a customer’s Universal Credit claim they must serve a relevant period. This is a period of three months and starts from the beginning of their Universal Credit claim. However, if a customer had been in receipt of ESA prior to Universal Credit the days spent on ESA will court towards this three month period provided there has not been a break between their ESA and Universal Credit claims.

To clarify the recovery of a Universal Credit advance, this is deducted from a customer’s monthly entitlement in equal amounts over 12 equal instalments, starting from the first month’s award. However, not all advances will be recovered over 12 months, a change of circumstances advance will be recovered over six months.

I would like to highlight that if arrears of Universal Credit are owed to a customer but they have been separately overpaid, these arrears will be offered to Debt Management to help clear the overpayment. Debt management will decide if the arrears can be used to reduce the overpayment.

 

Useful Information


Independent welfare changes Helpline 0808 802 0020