Advice NI Policy Newsletter October 2019

 

'Think'

October 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.

The #CliffEdgeNI crisis looms ever-larger; the issue was discussed at the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee on 23rd October.
 
October saw legislation passed for Northern Ireland, in the absence of an Assembly.  While no further ground was gained regarding mitigations post March 2020, The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 has placed an obligation on the UK Government to change the law in Northern Ireland relating to a range of important issues.
 
The Advice NI Policy Forum (Belfast & Western) met at the beginning of October flagging a range of issues and providing the platform for an evaluation of the additional WRSP advice services funding.
 
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


Sleepwalking Towards Looming March 2020 #CliffEdgeNI

 

NIO Response to Evason / Higgins mitigations cliffedge communication

“Thank you for your email of 25th September regarding the Joint Committee report into welfare reform. The Secretary of State has asked us to respond on his behalf.

As you are aware, the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland is responsible for the delivery of the various mitigation schemes relating to welfare reform in Northern Ireland. A decision to extend mitigations beyond March 2020 would be a matter for an incoming Minister for Communities in a restored Northern Ireland Executive.

The government is considering the recommendations of the Committee report, and will respond in due course.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.”

 

DfC Response to Evason / Higgins mitigations cliffedge communication

“Thank you for your email of 20th October 2019 regarding the Department’s preparations in response to the recommendations made in the first Joint Report of the Work and Pensions and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committees on welfare policy in Northern Ireland.

As you know the Department considered options for the possible continuation of welfare mitigation beyond 31st March 2020 in the review, which was published in March 2019. The Department also held a number of public engagement events to gain feedback on the issues raised in the review.

The Department subsequently provided both written and oral evidence to the Westminster Joint Inquiry and is fully aware of the recommendations from its report. A response to these recommendations will be issued by the Department in due course.

With regards to the possible extension of welfare mitigations beyond 31st March 2020; the Department continues to make thorough preparations for a variety of outcomes, and is confident that it wil be in a position to deliver a solution when a final decision has been reached on this matter.”

 

NI Affairs Committee discusses mitigations cliffedge

Ian Paisley JR, MP: ‘I sat on the Joint Committee, along with other members here of the Welfare Committee, to look at the Mitigations issue. We came to a conclusion that we would like to see Mitigations continue to be enabled in Northern Ireland with some improvements, and that this should continue (and one of the recommendations was) despite the absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland.

Now this is going to come up on us very, very quickly, many many thousands of people are going to be affected, if these Mitigations disappear in Northern Ireland, as they are planned to do so.  The disappearance of them will cause significant financial hardship, and will certainly cause arrears in terms of rent, and indeed could lead to evictions, because of the way in which our housing system is very, very different to what pertains here on the mainland.

Can I ask you specifically, what steps have you taken, as a result of that Joint Report, which we brought into place, which has the full support of Professor Evason, from the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group, has the full support of Kevin Higgins from Advice NI. 
So what steps are you going to take to progress that report; do you agree with the recommendations that we have made, and how quickly can you move to ensure that, no matter what happens with regards to the Assembly, these Mitigations will continue in Northern Ireland?

Rt Hon Julian Smith MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

First of all, the Joint Report I think was well received, and it had important details of the benefits of the extension policy.  As you know, the bespoke arrangement and the particular arrangements for Northern Ireland, were agreed by the previous N.I. Executive and the legislative basis for the current payments is, as you have suggested, sunsetted in March 2020.

I don’t, as Secretary of State, have the power to instruct the N.I. civil service and again, on this issue of welfare, it’s another example of why the lack of decision making, the lack of an Executive, is having such a profound and corrosive effect in Northern Ireland. 

I think the Department for Communities has got a power to look at derogation, and changes in housing (Discretionary Housing Payments).  It has done a review of welfare mitigation schemes and looked at this mechanism.  I’m happy to talk to David Sterling and others to work through their plans, but it really is a devolved decision.  And again, hopefully by the time that comes to needing any change, and if the decision is to do that; the Executive will be up and running. 

Ian Paisley, JR: Secretary of State, there’s an avalanche of pain about to fall on the most financially vulnerable people in N.I.  They can’t wait and hope that the Executive will soon get their act together and get moving.  This really does need your intervention, your direction, and every effort is taken. If we can sort out other issues, then this can be sorted out.  And I just appeal to you, for vulnerable constituents across every constituency in N.I., that that would be addressed, and not let politics get in the way of this, and get this one resolved quickly.
 
Nigel Mills, MP: The Department were clear that unless they had some certainty that the mitigations would be extended they would have to start taking action this autumn to advise claimants that the mitigations would stop or they would have to start applying for Discretionary Housing Payments. Is there any form of wording you can offer which says that if the Executive and the Assembly aren’t up and running in time to sort this out for the end of March that the Government will take whatever step is needed here so that these mitigations can continue or are you not even decided that mitigations should continue.

Rt Hon Julian Smith MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

I absolutely understand and have been meeting community groups in the last few days, have heard from them the benefits of this mitigation. I have outlined the legal position which is that this is a devolved matter. The NI Civil Service will have to decide, but really politicians locally will have to decide. I have heard the Committee’s concerns, Mr Paisley’s concerns, your concerns and others; and I will have a conversation and a meeting with David Sterling and discuss with him NICS’s intentions but I don’t want to misrepresent the actual process which is that this is a devolved matter and I do not have powers to influence it.

Nigel Mills, MP: But you have legislated for quite a few devolved matters, or the Government have over the last thousand days. It wouldn’t be unprecedented to do it for this as well.

Rt Hon Julian Smith MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

I have heard this Committee’s passion on this issue and I will reflect and speak to David Sterling.

https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/db50ce98-55f0-4fad-a51b-d03bc468ccec ... From 11.17.23


 

Baroness Ruth Lister references mitigations cliffedge in her Queen’s Speech response

Urgent too is the devolution issue I wish to raise concerning social security mitigations in Northern Ireland. Because of Northern Ireland’s special circumstances, a mitigations package to soften the impact of certain elements of so-called welfare reforms was agreed up to March 2020 by the Northern Ireland Executive. There is considerable anxiety in Northern Ireland about what is going to happen to this package in the absence of a functioning Executive. A recent joint report by the Work and Pensions Committee and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee recommended that it be extended beyond next March, stating:

“The UK Government must act quickly to end the uncertainty”.

It argued that the circumstances—

“a potentially drastic impact on vulnerable people and no Assembly to extend the legislation”—

are sufficiently exceptional to override questions of devolved competence.

The response I received to a recent Written Question on this was that:

“The Department for Communities in Northern Ireland is responsible for the delivery”,

of the mitigation scheme, and that:

“A decision to extend … beyond March 2020 would be a matter for an incoming Minister for Communities in a restored Northern Ireland Executive”.

I am sorry, but this is simply irresponsible given that there is no certainty that the Executive will be restored in time.

The Department for Communities itself has made clear that:

“In the absence of a functioning Assembly it is considered that the only viable option for providing the legal authority for the Department to make mitigation payments beyond 2020 would be for the Westminster Parliament to bring forward appropriate legislation”.

But there is no mention of this in the gracious Speech. There is a clear civic and political consensus in Northern Ireland that the mitigations must continue beyond March 2020. In the absence of a local devolved Assembly, the UK Government must act. Will the Minister therefore give me an assurance that this will now be looked at as a matter of urgency? I am speaking at a civil society conference in Belfast this week and would like to be able to offer a ray of hope.

Of course, the mitigations package does not mean that Northern Ireland’s claimants have been immune from all social security cuts. The Cliff Edge Coalition NI told the joint committee that the largest financial losses were due to the cut in the real value of benefits and credits since 2011. Until the change in Prime Minister, Ministers deflected criticisms of the four-year benefits freeze with the assurance that it is coming to an end next year. Although that did nothing to address the significant loss in the value of benefits it has caused, it was at least reassuring. However, now Ministers are refusing to give a straight answer to questions about the future of the freeze. This is very worrying indeed, especially given concerns about the likely impact of Brexit on those on the lowest incomes.

In his introduction to the briefing on the speech, the Prime Minister assured us that,

“we will move forwards, towards a future in which our children, and their children, can grow up to live longer, happier, healthier and wealthier lives”.

If his Ministers cannot give an assurance that the benefits on which their families rely will again be index-linked, that promise rings hollow for the growing numbers of children living in poverty.

http://bit.ly/31Bm6g8

Response to Baroness Lister

“I will begin with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. She raised very important points. We must speak very clearly on this. I have been told by my officials that the absence of Northern Ireland Ministers does not prevent a senior officer of a Northern Ireland department exercising a function of the department during the period of forming an Executive if the officer is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so. If it is in the public interest to exercise that during the period, we must make sure that there is no diminution of that during that period. I will confirm that in writing to the noble Baroness.”
 


NI Oral Questions in the House of Commons

Welfare Mitigation Payments

30 October 2019

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)

7. If he will bring forward legislative proposals to maintain welfare mitigation payments in Northern Ireland after March 2020. [900149]

Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Ind)

8. If he will bring forward legislative proposals to maintain welfare mitigation payments in Northern Ireland after March 2020. [900151]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Nick Hurd)

The mitigations in place were agreed by the previous Northern Ireland Executive and are sunsetted in March 2020. Ministers here in Westminster do not have the power to instruct the Northern Ireland civil service to take action or to direct spending in relation to devolved matters. Any extension of those mitigations will be a matter for the Northern Ireland civil service and restored Executive Ministers.

Steve McCabe

I am—[Interruption.] I am sure that the people of Selly Oak would like the welcome that the Prime Minister just received.
In view of the importance of this issue, will the Minister consider amending the Bill, because it is clear that if the people of Northern Ireland face this welfare cliff edge, there will be major problems from March next year?

Mr Hurd

This is an incredibly serious issue. Thousands of people in Northern Ireland benefit from these mitigations, and there is a sunset provision for the end of March 2020. The hon. Gentleman will know that alternative mechanisms are available to the devolved Administration to extend the mitigations, but that is not ideal. The best way would be to change the legal framework, which is best done in Northern Ireland by a Northern Ireland Executive, and the day when it is restored cannot come too soon.

https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2019-10-30/debates/D0BCD6C8-BD4D-48B4-BB62-2A8377AC17AC/WelfareMitigationPayments
 


Advice NI Brexit Information

When the UK ceases to be a member of the EU in October [Brexit], all rights and reciprocal arrangements with the EU end.  The UK will revert fully to ‘third country’ status; i.e. not in the EU, and therefore outside the single market. There are two main options for leaving:

a) With a ‘withdrawal agreement’ and a period of time to put necessary arrangements in place;
b) Without an agreed deal. A ‘no-deal’ Brexit may involve changes to benefits and pensions.

Advice NI has produced a paper which examines the possible impacts that Brexit may have on trade, medicine, the economy and Social Security.  Access it through the link below.
https://www.adviceni.net/sites/default/files/advice-ni-briefing-paper-brexit-sept-19.pdf

NI Direct also has extensive information regarding Brexit:
https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/brexit
 


Queen's Speech

The Queen’s Speech was delivered on 14 October 2019.
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/queens-speech-2019

The Prime Minister’s background briefing is available here:
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/839035/Queen_s_Speech_background_briefing.pdf
 


Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019

The UK Parliament passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. It was introduced in order to give more time for the Northern Ireland parties to agree to return to the Northern Ireland Executive.
As the Northern Ireland Executive has not been restored by 21 October 2019, the UK Parliament has placed an obligation on the UK Government to change the law in Northern Ireland relating to three important issues.
The Act requires that regulations are made in the following areas:
  1. To extend same sex marriage and opposite sex civil partnerships to Northern Ireland by 13 January 2020;
The UK Government will make regulations that will mean civil marriage between couples of the same-sex, and civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples, will be lawful in Northern Ireland from 13 January 2020. From that date…. couples will be able to give notice of their intent to form a civil same-sex marriage or opposite-sex civil partnership to the General Register Office for Northern Ireland. The minimum period of notice is usually 28 days.
 
  1. To give effect to recommendations set out in the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) report in respect of lawful access to abortion services by 31 March 2020;
This legislation repeals Section 58 and Section 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 [which made abortion a criminal offence]. Abortion services will now be available in Northern Ireland early next year, and until then, those obliged to travel to Great Britain for an abortion, will have all expenses paid.

The UK Government’s Department of Health and Social Care has established a central booking service (CBS), run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). Women from Northern Ireland can call a single telephone number to make an appointment with the most appropriate provider, based on:
  • the woman’s requirements;
  • her medical condition; and
  • provider availability
The Central Booking Service number is 0333 234 2184. All treatment is funded free of charge. The package of care available includes:
  • a consultation including impartial information/advice, and where needed, counselling with an abortion provider in England, including an assessment of whether the legal grounds for an abortion in England are met an abortion procedure;
  • HIV and sexually transmitted infection tests; and
  • choice of contraception from the abortion provider.
From 22 October 2019, if the NI (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 changes have come into effect all travel and, if needed, accommodation, will be funded through the scheme.

Access to the free scheme from 22 October 2019 will not be means tested.

The Central Booking Service can only refer to services in England. Further information can be accessed here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/central-booking-system-for-ni-women-seeking-an-abortion-in-england

https://www.equalityni.org/CEDAW
 
  1. To introduce a system of victims payments (a “victims pension”) in Northern Ireland made by the end of January 2020 to be in force by the end of May 2020
A public consultation has been launched, on a proposal for a scheme of payments to individuals living with permanent, serious disablement caused by injury in a Troubles-related incident through no fault of their own.

Feedback is welcomed from anyone with an interest or view on the proposed shape of this reform, addressing the specific questions listed throughout the consultation document. Legislation will then be put before Parliament by the end of January and the scheme should open for applications once practical arrangements have been made (not later than the end of May 2020).

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/legal-framework-troubles-related-incident-victims-payment-scheme

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/changes-to-the-law-in-northern-ireland-updated
 
Meanwhile, the legislation also obliges MPs to debate the following issues:
  • Law on gambling and support for those experiencing problem gambling
  • Assistance and support for victims of human trafficking
  • Pension for victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents
  • Historical institutional abuse
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2019/22/contents/enacted
 


Adult Dependency Increase – Update from DfC


Dear Stakeholder,

I wrote to you in May to advise about changes introduced by the Pensions Act (NI) 2008 and the Welfare Reform Act (NI) 2010 that will affect a number of customers in Northern Ireland who currently receive an Adult Dependency Increase (ADI) with their State Pension (approximately 80 customers) or their Carer’s Allowance (approximately 750 customers).

An ADI is an additional amount of money that can be paid with State Pension or Carer’s Allowance where the pensioner or carer is responsible for a dependent adult.

The Acts abolished new ADI claims from 6 April 2010, though transitional arrangements meant that existing recipients could continue to receive their ADI until 5 April 2020 as long as they meet the entitlement conditions. Though this change impacts both State Pension recipients and Carer’s Allowance customers, I can confirm that no customers in NI will be affected twice by the cessation of ADI.

I can also confirm that, as the majority of the customers impacted by the cessation of ADI currently receive an income related benefit (such as Pension Credit or Income Support) paid either to themselves or their dependant in the case of Carer’s Allowance, this change should not have an adverse financial impact.

All State Pension customers have been regularly informed about the withdrawal of ADI through a leaflet included with their annual up-rating notice, and we wrote directly to all those State Pension and Carer’s Allowance customers affected by this change to increase and reinforce awareness in May 2019. A reminder letter will be issued in October 2019, and a final letter issued in April 2020 once ADI has ended.

Additionally, the Department’s Make the Call Wraparound Service Team will begin contacting affected Carer’s Allowance customers where appropriate to carry out a full benefit entitlement check. The team carried out a similar exercise for affected State Pension customers in March 2019. The aim is to ensure that every customer potentially impacted by the withdrawal of ADI is getting the full range of benefits to which they are entitled.

You can find out more about ADI on nidirect at www.nidirect.gov.uk/understanding-state-pension.

I hope you find this information useful and if you have any queries or would like any further information please do not hesitate to contact our Communications & Engagement team by e-mailing at CommsEngagement@communities-ni.gov.uk.
 


Universal Credit deductions: DWP guidance updated 

 
Maximum amount of deductions that can be taken from universal credit reduced to 30 per cent of standard allowance. The maximum amount of deductions that can be taken from a universal credit award has been reduced to 30 per cent of standard allowance. Updating its guidance, the DWP has confirmed that -

'There is an overall maximum percentage rate for all debts and deductions that can be taken from a universal credit payment. The maximum amount that can be deducted is an amount equivalent to 30 per cent of the claimant’s universal credit standard allowance.' However, it adds - 'There are 2 exceptions to this rule, Last Resort Deductions (arrears of housing and fuel) and ongoing monthly costs for utilities (gas, electricity and water) where there are also arrears being taken for them.' NB - the reduction to 30 per cent from 40 per cent was announced in the Budget 2018 (paragraph 5.36).

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/universal-credit-debt-and-deductions-that-can-be-taken-from-payments?#how-much-can-be-taken-from-universal-credit-payments

DfC Update:

“Thank you for your email below dated 21 October 2019. I can confirm that deductions made for assessment periods prior to 16 October 2019 which were calculated at a maximum of 40% will be reduced to 30% after 16 October 2019; and those after 16 October 2019 will be calculated at a maximum of 30%.

Please note, if a customer’s deduction is to repay an advance only and the repayment amount is currently over 30% of their personal allowance, then the amount repaid each assessment period following 16 October 2019 will reduce. If this occurs, an automated message will be placed in the customer’s journal to inform them that it may now take longer for their advance to be repaid and this will be reflected in their online statement.

Universal Credit is aware that the policy with regards to the period for which an advance payment can be repaid will be extended from 12 months to 16 months (currently from October 2021). This will not require a legislation change but once more solid policy information is received the necessary steps will be taken to implement this in Northern Ireland also.”


Universal Credit: Implied Consent for Advice Services


Stephen Timms PQ: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what plans she has to permit implied consent for benefit advisers, as well as Members of Parliament, as recommended by the Social Security Advisory Committee.

Will Quince: Universal Credit operates in a fundamentally different way to any other benefit, The Universal Credit system is structured around an online personal account which contains all the information relevant to the claim. This includes their bank account details, savings, capital, medical history, family relationships and the address and other information about their landlord and employer. We need to ensure a high level of security and protection to combat those unscrupulous individuals and organisations who try to access the information we hold and seek to impersonate genuine advisers. We need to take all reasonable steps to protect the position of claimants and their data.

The Department is continuing to work with SSAC and third party organisations to understand how Universal Credit can support organisations who help our claimants. This activity will include working with claimants and their representatives to ensure the process works effectively for vulnerable claimants to access the service.

https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2019-10-01/292794/


Universal Credit & Fraud


Ruth George PQ: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what the legal basis is for her Department to ask claimants who are victims of third-party universal credit fraud to attend an interview under caution at a Jobcentre rather than provide a witness statement.

Guy Opperman response: The new process for advances and identification introduced on the 18 September 2019 mean that the level of UC advances fraud will be mitigated. Where an individual is a victim of fraud and received no money personally, no claim will be made against them. However, it is often not possible to ascertain the facts without an Interview Under Caution. The powers for an Interview Under Caution are under the Social Security Administration Act 1992, Part VI, governs this process and has been followed by successive governments of different political persuasions.

DWP will ask, and allow the individual to have the opportunity to respond to any evidence in a voluntary Interview Under Caution.

DWP follows the guidance laid down in the Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act 1996 and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Code C 2014) to afford the claimant all appropriate protection in law.

https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2019-09-24/290461/
 

EU Nationals & Settled Status & Social Security


Patrick Grady PQ: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what documentation officials in Job Centres have been instructed to accept as proof of (a) settled status and (b) pre-settled status for EU nationals applying for social security benefits after 31 October 2019.

Justin Tomlinson response: We have been clear that the rights of EU nationals with settled and pre-settled status who apply for social security benefits after 31 October 2019 will be protected.

DWP recognises leave granted under the EU settlement scheme. EU nationals who claim social security benefits can present their notification of settled or pre-settled status in support of their claim. DWP procedures require staff to verify evidence of immigration status through the Habitual Residence Test Process. Mechanisms are in place between DWP and the Home Office to verify settled status notifications.

EU nationals who are granted settled status and are habitually resident in the UK are eligible to access income-related benefits.

EU nationals who are granted pre-settled status and are exercising an EU qualifying right to reside e.g. worker or self-employed status are eligible to access income-related benefits.

https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2019-09-24/290390/

 

Universal Credit & Payment of Housing Costs


Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what discussions her Department has had with social landlords on rent arrears caused by the time between a claimant’s universal credit being paid and the housing costs being sent to the landlord via APA on the next bulk payment run.

Will Quince response: Initial analytical work we have carried out with a single housing provider suggests that many tenants are arriving on Universal Credit with pre-existing rent arrears, supporting research carried out by the National Federation of ALMOs which shows over three quarters of their tenants come onto Universal Credit with pre-existing rent arrears. It also shows that arrears tend to increase prior to making a claim for Universal Credit, and that Universal Credit actually appears to be helping to clear arrears over time. We are currently extending this analysis to include a number of housing providers. It will be published when completed.

The Department encourages all Universal Credit claimants to actively consider how best to manage their personal budget which includes making their own rent payments to landlords, with additional advice and support available from work coaches and case managers where needed. We regularly engage with a range of stakeholders, including landlords, to ensure we understand concerns which helps us to design improvements to Universal Credit.

Alternative Payment Arrangements (APAs), such as a managed payment to landlord (MPTL), are available to enable the housing costs element to be paid directly to the landlord if the tenant is likely to have difficulty in managing their rent payments or is in rent arrears. APAs will only be considered where a lack of financial capability poses a risk to the claimant, or their family, and the decision to implement one is assessed on a case by case basis.

The Department issues a schedule of payments to Social Rented Sector (SRS) landlords, and our Third Party Creditor system - currently used to pay SRS landlords - uses a 28-day payment cycle. We are currently working with a range of landlords to design, develop and test a better services with the intention of having a solution in place by the end of this year.

https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2019-10-02/293707/


Post Office Card Accounts


Lord Naseby asked: To ask Her Majesty's Government how pensioners who do not have a bank account will receive their pension when the contract with the Post Office expires in 2021.

Baroness Stedman-Scott response: The Department’s contract with Post Office Limited for the Post Office Card Account is due to end November 2021. Plans are underway for a replacement service.

The replacement service will ensure that customers who remain unable to open or manage a standard bank account, are provided with a payment mechanism to receive their payment of pension or benefit from Department, over the counter, in their local area. Commercial arrangements are underway, to invite potential suppliers to tender for the contract, via competitive tender later this year.

https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2019-10-15/HL121/


Universal Credit Backdating


Dan Jarvis asked: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether she plans to permit Universal Credit claimants to backdate a claim due to ill health in circumstances where medical evidence is provided by a GP.

Justin Tomlinson response: Universal Credit claims may be backdated, by up to one calendar month, in some circumstances for vulnerable claimants who may be delayed in claiming Universal Credit through no fault of their own. More specifically, in cases where medical evidence satisfies the Department that a claimant had an illness that prevented them from making a claim sooner, Universal Credit can be awarded from an earlier date.

In order to provide the best possible support to our claimants it is important that the Department are able to engage with claimants at the earliest possible opportunity, whether to support them back into work or to provide other support and guidance. It is therefore important that backdating provisions are used in specific circumstances, and that all claimants are encouraged to contact us at the earliest opportunity.

https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2019-10-14/168/


Further Evidence at MR stage of PIP & ESA


Justin Tomlinson [Minister for Disabled People] has told parliament that the DWP is now proactively seeking further evidence at the mandatory reconsideration stage in all personal independence payment (PIP) and work capability assessment (WCA) cases.

Marsha De Cordova: (Lab)

‘Figures recently published by the Department reveal that disabled people are being forced to wait up to 69 days for their mandatory reconsideration for PIP. This process is a barrier to ​accessing vital social security and, for many, is a deliberate delay to the appeal process. As 85% of MR decisions are upheld, almost three quarters of PIP assessments are overturned on appeal. Will the Minister lay out his plans to improve this failing process, or will he follow Labour’s lead and scrap this unfit-for-purpose assessment?’

Justin Tomlinson:

‘The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the need to improve mandatory reconsiderations, which is why we brought forward the pilots in the spring. The pilots are proactively gathering the additional written and oral evidence that was often presented at the end of the independent appeal process, which would sometimes take a year or even longer—that was not acceptable. We have been doing this over the summer, and we are now doing it for all PIP and work capability assessments. I attended a PIP mandatory reconsideration in Cardiff over the summer, and we are seeing some fantastic results because, rightly, we are speaking directly to claimants to ask them why they are challenging a decision.’

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2019-10-07/debates/CD754416-4E0D-4CDA-8984-2CB7D0F86193/OralAnswersToQuestions#contribution-CB45E36A-63EC-4AA3-BF8F-9EF20AE481B7

DfC Update:

Kevin, in relation to your query I can advise that there hasn’t been a change to the overall PIP Reconsideration process as such but more an adjustment made to it to try and ensure we obtain all the evidence and consider as part of that process to avoid unnecessary appeals which I am sure you will agree with.

At present the vast majority of Reconsideration requests are made by phone and when registering this request the member of staff will try and establish if the customer is requesting a Reconsideration of the whole entitlement decision or just a particular component and also whether or not they intend sending in any additional evidence in support of their request, in which case they are given one month (set down in law)  to provide this evidence before the decision is made Often during those telephone conversations the customer and/or their representative will often go on query the reasons for the decision and explain why they feel the decision is wrong. As the member of staff is not a trained case manager they do not have the relevant skills to explain or justify the decision reached or assess the relevance of any new oral evidence being given during the call .This has often resulted in the Reconsideration Case Manager phoning the customer back to get clarity on these issues before making the decision and frustration for the customer as they feel they are having to go over again the same information.

The change is that in every Reconsideration request made, the operator will continue as normal to lodge the request and advise the caller that a Reconsideration Case Manager will phone them back within 5 working days to take account of any information they want considered as part of the Recon request. The Reconsideration Case Manager when making the call back to the customer, or their approved Rep if there is one registered, will discuss the decision made and establish from them exactly what components/activities of the decision they are disputing and reasons for this, in addition to establishing whether or not they are intending to send in further evidence in support of the Reconsideration request. The Case Manager when making their Reconsideration decision can therefore have due regard to any oral evidence provided by the customer and/or their Rep during this call.

I can assure you that the enhancement to this process is in no way aimed at trying to get a customer to withdraw their Reconsideration request or reduce the number of appeals. At no stage during the process is the customer asked do they wish to continue with or withdraw their Reconsideration request.


PIP: Motability


Maria Eagle asked: 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.

Justin Tomlinson 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/

Motability Letter link below:
https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/work-and-pensions/Correspondence/6.%20Letter%20from%20Paul%20Atkinson%20CBE,%20Director,%20Motability%20Charity,%20re%20follow-up%20of%20Motability%20evidence%20session%209%20Jan%2020190211.pdf
 

Policy Updates



Advice NI asked re: clients who were in receipt of PIP before and since the announcement from DWP - Specifically, PIP and light touch for people who reach state pension age.

For example, if a client received a PIP award for 3 years and reached state pension age after this, but before review date: Will the review date be ignored and client contacted closer to a date for 10 year light touch approach?

Equally does this new approach apply to decisions made before the new approach adopted.

DfC: the PIP Centre have acted on the announcement by the DWP Minister, which included a system change being deployed both here and in DWP which automatically moved on the review date, to reflect 10 years on from their original effective date, if the customer was due to reach state pension during their current award e.g.  if the award commenced from 9.9.19 (effective date) with a review period of 8.9.22 and the customer reached state pension age during this period, the review period would automatically be moved on to 9.9.29 (10 years on from the effective date). The system would also automatically issue a notification to the customer to advise of the new extended award/review date.

The system fix I referred to above re it automatically changing fixed awards to an on-going, with a  10 year review, was to address ‘stock cases’ that had already been determined before the DWP Minister made her announcement to bring them into line with the new policy change. All cases who were either over or approaching State Pension Age thereafter were determined by case managers in line with this new policy i.e. regardless of the rate of PIP being paid, in that they were awarded for an ongoing period, with a 10 year review date.
 
Advice NI asked whether the older person in a mixed age couple (where they reach state retirement age) can trigger the WCA process within the Universal Credit claim:

DfC: In response to your question please be advised that mixed aged couples have to claim Universal Credit until both members of the couple have reached State Pension Credit qualifying age.

Both adults are eligible for Universal Credit provided they meet conditions of entitlement which includes the Work Capability Assessment process where a health condition has been reported.

Therefore in response to your specific query the older partner element of the claim can start the Work Capability Assessment process.

If it is the case that if the older person is not entitled to attendance allowance, the care component of disability living allowance at the highest rate or the daily living component of personal independence payment at the enhanced rate, It is then correct that they go through the Work Capability Process.

This will also mean that you could have in some cases those over Qualifying State Pension Credit age going through the Work Capability Process regardless of age.

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2016/216/schedule/9/made
 
 
 
Advice NI asked: Can Universal Credit 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:  Regarding the payment of Limited Capability for Work and Work Related Activity (LCWRA) and the repayment of Universal Credit advances: 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.

Universal Credit Customer Service Team

 
Advice NI asked for confirmation that Universal Credit claimants could access bedroom tax mitigation.

DfC: Normally all UC claimants who are affected by the SSSC policy will be entitled to a mitigation payment equivalent to the amount of the deduction. The only circumstances when a UC claimant affected by SSSC will not be entitled to a payment is if they have moved property, they continue to under-occupy by the same number of bedrooms and the transfer was not allocated Management Transfer Status, as appropriate, by either the NIHE or a Housing Association. If a Welfare Supplementary Payment has previously ceased as a claimant moved property without Management Transfer Status while they were in receipt of Housing Benefit and the claimant subsequently claims UC there will likewise be no entitlement to a mitigation payment.

Otherwise a mitigation payment will always be payable when there is a SSSC deduction.

Here is the legislation which refers to HB, same policy applies to UC:

http://legislation.gov.uk/nidsr/2017/9780338006967/contents
 
Advice NI sought the latest info re people living in the South, working in the North, who need to make a tax credit claim as they cannot claim Universal Credit:

The process is to contact the nearest JBO, JBO staff should make a referral to HMRC.

Contact number for HMRC ‘International Team’ who deal with these cases 03000 547813

‘As you know, the gateway for new tax credits claims currently remains open for incoming frontier workers. Although DWP and DfC can process UC claims from British forces posted overseas and crown servants, they do not yet have the functionality to take claims without a UK postcode or make payments to foreign bank accounts, and there is currently no manual UC assessment process in place.  HMRC have therefore agreed to continue to accept these claims in the short term.

For UC purposes, an incoming frontier worker is an EEA national or UK citizen who is an employed or self-employed person who works in the UK but lives in another EEA member state where he/she returns daily, or at least once a week. Due to the low number of claims HMRC expect to receive from this customer group and the wider sensitivities around the EU Exit, rather than making changes to our standard guidance or the information we provide on GOV.UK. it was agreed that DWP and DfC would identify any incoming frontier workers who contact them to claim UC and send an internal referral to HMRC. HMRC would then contact the customer and capture a tax credits claim over the telephone. Any subsequent entitlement would be assessed under tax credits legislation. 

We apologise if this process has caused some confusion. Customers who live in the ROI and work in Northern Ireland, should contact the nearest DfC job centre to where they work; this can be done either face to face or via telephone. DfC have advised that this route does appear to be working in the main, however they will send a message out to staff to remind them that a referral template needs to be sent to HMRC for these customers. HMRC will also issue a reminder to those working on the MP and Intermediaries telephone lines.’
 

Policy Team Update


Community Banking


“We could become more resilient here in Northern Ireland if we had an alternative to the private banking system.  Community banking is one such alternative.”

Article on Community Banking: For the People, By the People.

https://www.adviceni.net/sites/default/files/community_banking_for_the_people_by_the_people.pdf
 
 

Free School Meals and Universal Credit


The Free School Meals and Uniform Grant is one of several passported benefits that will continue to exist under the new UC benefit. The Department of Education and the Education Authority together handle this passported benefit, with DE being responsible for developing the relevant policy and entitlement criteria and the EA being responsible for administering the actual award.  DfC has an indirect role since they’re responsible for UC.

Advice NI wrote to all three bodies in early September, asking for clarification on how the Free School Meals and Uniform Grant could be accessed for those claiming UC, and a joint reply was provided. In our letter, we pointed out that UC had confirmed they would give notional benefit entitlement.  Based on this, we asked if they’d consider awarding Free School Meals and Uniform Grants straight away at ‘application’ stage rather than waiting until ‘receipt’ stage.  The joint response was unambiguous: “entitlement is awarded on ‘receipt of’ rather than ‘application for qualifying benefits” and that notional entitlement would not be considered.  Therefore, an application from a new UC claimant for the Free School Meals and Uniform Grant will remain subject to the availability of UC statements as processed and provided by DfC. When asked what an applicant who has just applied for UC should do while they wait for their first payment, their response suggested that claimants could avail of UC Advances, the UC Contingency Fund and Discretionary Support grants and loans. This is yet another example of the additional hardship being caused by the 5-week-plus wait for the first UC payment.  We will continue to seek that the relevant departments award Free School Meals and Uniform Grants on ‘application for’ and not ‘receipt of’ UC.
 

Rates Relief and Universal Credit


Advice NI: Is the rates assessment based on the ‘current’ UC assessment period calculation? Is it the case that if a claim for Rate Rebate is received within three months of the first payment of UC, the Rate Rebate date of claim will be the first day of entitlement to UC? If so, if the claimant delays for 3 months, can it be assessed effectively on the 4th Assessment Period and then backdated to the start of the UC claim?

Rating Policy Division: I have contacted Universal Credit (UC) to confirm the information originally supplied to LPS to ensure the Rate Rebate assessment included the correct UC award details and the details have been verified.

Regulation 5 (1) of The Rate Relief regulations states that if a claim for Rate Rebate is received within three months of the first payment of UC, the Rate Rebate date of claim will be the first day of entitlement to UC.

I have also contacted colleagues in Rating Policy Division who are keen to reflect that the Scheme is in line with the welfare reform aim of “fairness and making work pay” while ensuring that the claimant base under this model consists of those who merit help the most. Both policy colleagues and ourselves in Rate Rebate Central Unit, continue to monitor the impact of the policy, particularly in light of the ongoing changes to UC policy.

Advice NI:
So, breaking this down for RR claims made after 3 months after the first UC claim:
  • “their date of claim for RR will be the date 3 months before the claim for RR is received”: so if RR claim is received 6 months after the first UC payment, RR will go back to UC AP 3 months before RR received?
  • “the award will be based on the UC information applicable at that date i.e. the date of claim for RR” … so if RR claim is received 6 months after the first UC payment, RR will be based on UC AP 3 months before RR received?
  • “It will not be backdated to the date of first entitlement to UC”: so RR date of claim goes back to UC AP which is 3 months before RR received?

Rating Policy Division: You have 3 months in which to claim RR but if you are outside the 3 months we will go back 3 months and the UC information used is that in place at the date the claim is accepted from.

 

Useful Information


Independent welfare changes Helpline 0808 802 002