Advice NI Policy Newsletter September 2019



September 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 Joint Report of the Work and Pensions Committee & Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, has made a number of recommendations including that the Welfare Mitigations continue beyond the March 2020 cliffedge.
“There are clear precedents for the UK Government legislating to continue payments, and political consensus that the main parts of the mitigation package should continue. There is therefore no good reason why the UK Government cannot bring forward legislation to extend the mitigation package.”
Responding to the Spending Review on Wednesday 4th September Advice NI CEO Bob Stronge said:
“People out of work and in low paid work are struggling to survive as a result of the four year benefit freeze, the 2 child cap, Universal Credit including the minimum 5 week wait for the first payment and the raft of cuts to the social security system in recent years … In this context of hardship and crisis we are deeply disappointed by the inadequate announcements in the Spending Review which actually amount to a continuing attack on our poorest households.”
Please email us at to discuss any policy matters, content, feedback or comments.

Best regards,
The Policy Team.

Latest News

Looming March 2020 mitigations cliffedge

The Joint Report of the Work & Pensions and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on ‘Welfare Policy in NI’ calls on the UK Government to address the looming March 2020 #CliffEdgeNI including providing additional funding for independent advice services.
Advice NI Head of Policy Kevin Higgins discussed the looming mitigations cliffedge on Sunday Politics 15th September, from 20.00
Advice NI Head of Policy Kevin Higgins discussed the looming mitigations cliffedge on Stephen Nolan Show 23rd September. Thousands of NI households could face hardship if measures to ease the impact of welfare reforms end in March 2020
Message to NI SoS Julian Smith MP regarding the mitigations cliffedge

“Dear Secretary of State (Mr Julian Smith, MP),

You will be aware that, taking account of our special circumstances, the Northern Ireland Executive introduced a programme of measures to mitigate the provisions of our welfare reform legislation. This programme will come to an end in March next year and we expect that the result will be a significant growth in financial hardship, arrears and evictions.

You will also have been briefed on the timely report produced by the Joint Committee in relation to 'Welfare Policy in NI'. The report is an authoritative and comprehensive review of the position with clear recommendations. Most helpfully, the report sets out a way forward that will enable mitigation, with some improvement, to continue despite the absence of an Executive.

We would be grateful if you could advise us on the steps being taken to progress the report.

Best regards,
Professor Eileen Evason CBE, Chair, Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group
Kevin Higgins, Member, Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group & Head of Policy, Advice NI


Spending Round 2019

The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s statement made on Wednesday 4th September.

Advice NI’s response to the Spending Round 2019.


Supreme Court Judgement on whether the Prorogation of Parliament was lawful

JUDGMENT: R (on the application of Miller) (Appellant) v The Prime Minister (Respondent) Cherry and others (Respondents) v Advocate General for Scotland (Appellant) (Scotland).

JUDGMENT GIVEN ON 24 September 2019


Convention on Social Security Between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland

The UK is due to leave the European Union (EU) on 31 October 2019.  This report was published in February, and relates to the special status that UK and Irish nationals have in each other's countries.  The explanatory memorandum states:

“Reciprocity in social security is currently provided under EU law and this Convention will protect this reciprocity post-EU Exit so that UK and Irish citizens taking advantage of their Common Travel Area movement and working rights are not affected. The Convention will ensure lrish and UK nationals residing and/or working in the UK or Ireland do not lose their accrued contributions or rights to social security benefits when moving between the two countries, whilst at the same time preventing any double or over-provision of benefits, or double liability for social security contributions, in both countries at the same time.

The Convention covers social security contributions and pensions as well as family benefits and benefits in respect of sickness and invalidity, maternity and paternity, unemployment, accidents at work and occupational disease and bereavement. It also provides for the necessary administrative arrangements for data sharing, social security debt recovery and mutual cooperation necessary for implementing reciprocity.”


Universal Credit: Northern Ireland Payment Flexibilities

In response to queries from Frank Field MP, Secretary of State Tracy Meharg clarifies position of DfC, which focusses on twice monthly and split payments, as well as direct payments to landlords.

Clarification of IT work, undertaken by DWP re: payment flexibilities. Testing will be carried out September 2019.  The delivery of a revised UC statement remains on course to be issued by the end of September.


Appeals Guide issued by DfC

This helpful guide includes Frequently Asked Questions, and information regarding GP records at appeal.


Business Rates Public Consultation

The Business Rates Public Consultation was launched on the 16 September and aims to gather views on the future direction of the business rating system within Northern Ireland.


Concessionary Fare Scheme Survey

The Department for Infrastructure (DFI) is seeking the views of older people and disabled people about the Concessionary Fares Scheme in Northern Ireland. The findings of the survey will be used to measure the impact of the Scheme. Please complete the survey online by clicking the following link:

If you require the a copy of survey by e-mail or post  or in an alternative format such as a large print version of the survey, please contact Sean Coulter on 028 90540109 or by emailing We appreciate, however, that filling in the survey may be difficult for some people. To assist you, Imtac can help you complete the survey over the telephone.  If you would like to complete the survey this way please contact Michael Lorimer on 028 9072 6020 (please leave a message on the answerphone if no-one is in the office and Imtac will get back to you as soon as possible).  Alternatively email

If you are part of a larger group or organisation Imtac would be happy to arrange a meeting to help your members complete the survey.  Please contact Michael Lorimer if you would like to arrange this. As an organisation of disabled people and older people Imtac is very much aware of the importance of the Scheme to many people as well as frustrations other people have with the Scheme. It is vital that all views about the scheme are captured and we would encourage everyone to take part. The closing date for the survey is Thursday 10th October 2019.


SDP information from DfC

The Department for Communities has begun the work of making additional payments to people on Universal Credit who were formerly in receipt of Severe Disability Premium.


Trussell Trust #5weekstoolong

Trussell Trust has launched its 5weekstoolong campaign, which refers to the mandatory (minimum) 5 week wait that each Universal Credit claimant is obliged to endure, before receiving their first UC payment.

The Trust states:

“New statistics show food banks in the Trussell Trust network gave a record 1.6 million food parcels to people in the past year. That's a 73% rise in just five years. Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty. But the main reasons for people needing emergency food are benefits not covering the cost of living and delays or changes to benefits being paid.

We know this situation can be fixed - that’s why we’re campaigning to create a future where no one needs a food bank. One big problem is that everyone who applies for Universal Credit has to wait at least five weeks for a full payment – some are left waiting longer. This is leaving many people without enough money to cover the basics, forcing them to food banks. Ending the five week wait should be the Government’s first priority to help create a future without food banks.”

The Trussell Trust said the minimum 35-day wait for payment endured by claimants after signing on to universal credit could have a rapid, devastating and long-lasting impact on their finances, housing security and mental health.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed the Trussell Trust report as unsubstantiated and based on unrepresentative data, and insisted its advance loans were working as intended. “It categorically does not prove that universal credit is the reason behind increased food bank usage,” a DWP spokesperson said.

You can sign up to support this campaign through the link below:


NI Social Security Statistics, May 2019

Analytical Services Unit provides statistics on social security benefits in Northern Ireland.  Statistics on all main benefits can be found in the following link:

78 per cent of disability living allowance (DLA) reassessment claims have been awarded personal independence payment (PIP) in Northern Ireland, according to new Department for Communities statistics.

The statistical report - which covers the three year period from June 2016 when PIP was introduced in Northern Ireland to May 2019 - also highlights that -
  • 201,840 PIP claims were registered and 185,940 claims cleared
  • the award rate for new claims was 46 per cent

37,000 households were claiming universal credit in Northern Ireland as at 31 May 2019:


Steps to Success

The Steps 2 Success (S2S) Statistical Bulletin provides key statistical information for the Steps 2 Success programme. Data has been provided on the number of clients referred to and participating in S2S, key personal characteristics of participants (such as gender and background), as well as the number of participants moving into and sustaining employment.


Universal Credit Managed Migration

Baroness Ruth Lister PQ re what plans HM Government has to ensure that Parliament will debate the report of the evaluation of the pilot to move existing welfare claimants to Universal Credit before regulations are laid concerning the full roll-out of managed migration; and how long that pilot is scheduled to last.

Response: We have already said that following the pilot we will report back to Parliament on progress and findings, and at that point will determine the process for bringing forward further legislation to move claimants beyond the pilot phase.
The Universal Credit (Managed Migration Pilot and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2019 introduced in July 2019 allow the Department to pilot moving no more than 10,000 claimants across to Universal Credit from legacy benefits and is expected to last until November 2020.
Draft regulations were sent for scrutiny to the independent Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) in 2018. The Committee submitted them for a formal public consultation, receiving 455 responses - the Government accepted, in whole or in part, all but one of the Committee’s recommendations.

The revised regulations mean claimants, who are potentially eligible for Severe Disability Premium (SDP) transitional payments, can now start receiving payment. As the recently published statistics show we have paid over 6,300 claims worth over £16 millionEligible claimants may receive up to an additional £405 per month on top of their existing Universal Credit award, depending on their specific circumstances. The Department estimates that by 2024-25, approximately 45,000 of the most vulnerable claimants will benefit from this package of support for those former SDP recipients, worth an estimated £600 million over the next six years.


Universal Credit Telephony Response Times (DWP)

Jessica Morden PQ asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what the (a) average and (b) longest response time was to answer universal credit freephone numbers; and how many complaints about telephone response times for those numbers have been made in the last six months for which figures are available.

Response: Universal Credit is a 24 hour, seven days a week, digital service that allows claimants to manage their own data and account online at a time which is convenient for them. Via their account, claimants can check their Universal Credit benefit payments, notify us of changes and record notes via an online journal facility. In addition, established claimants who call the Freephone Universal Credit helpline are connected directly to the person or team who are dealing with the case.

For June 2019 the average speed of answer for a call to the Universal Credit helpline was 2 minutes 39 seconds. The longest response time was 55 minutes 33 seconds. In June we answered 1.2 million calls. The longest response time refers to a single caller and is not reflective of the experience of the majority of our customers.

The average speed of answer measure is the average customer wait time from the point of entering a queue to connection to an agent. This excludes any time spent in pre-queue messaging and any wait time for calls ultimately abandoned by callers prior to answer.

The information requested about telephony complaints is not available in the format requested and doing so could only be provided at disproportionate cost. We do not capture data specifically on complaints about response times for answering the Universal Credit helpline.


Amendments to Universal Credit rules on reporting childcare costs and clarification of rules relating to minimum income floor

New statutory instrument extends period for reporting childcare costs by a month and makes it clear that all gainfully self-employed claimants are subject to the minimum income floor.

SR.No.173.2019: Universal Credit (Childcare Costs and Minimum Income Floor) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019

The new regulations:
  • increase the time permitted for a universal credit claimant to report that they have paid childcare costs so that a childcare element of universal credit can be paid. Currently claimants are required to report the payment in the same monthly universal credit assessment period as it was paid. The amendment, which comes into force on 16 October 2019, extends the time allowed for reporting the payment to include the following assessment period; and
  • clarify that all universal credit claimants who are determined by the DWP as being gainfully self-employed and expected to work - including those who are exempt from the requirement to look for work only because their earnings exceed the conditionality earnings threshold - will be subject to the minimum income floor when calculating their universal credit entitlement (unless they are still in a permitted period during which the minimum income floor is not to be applied). This amendment comes into force on 3 October 2019.


Ministerial Response to the Work & Pensions Committee, regarding Amended Special Rules for Terminal Illness

The Committee queried both the 6-month rule, and the department’s approach. See the response below:


Policy Updates

Advice NI asked: Re: Sure Start Maternity Grant forms, can you confirm the best place to request these forms and designated address for these forms to be returned?

DfC: Sure Start Maternity Grant Forms can be sought in various ways, however perhaps the easiest source is through nidirect. Below is a link where the SF100 (application form) can be printed off so the customer can complete this. The customer can either bring it to their local office where staff can take it from them or give them an envelope to return to the Mail Opening Unit in Coleraine directly themselves; this is where all Social Fund post is opened and scanned. Their address is on the SF100 itself, held on nidirect and is on the prepaid envelope given out at the local office -  Sure Start Maternity Grants, Mail Opening Unit 2, PO Box 161, Coleraine, BT52 9BL

Customers can also request an application by phone by ringing the Benefit free phone 08000224250 and selecting the Social Fund option. The SF100 will be posted out with the prepaid envelope for return to the Mail Opening Unit. Similarly they can also be obtained by contacting  for a form to be issued. Customers can still obtain an SF100 from any Jobs and Benefits office too. They will also be given a prepaid return envelope to the Mail Opening Unit.

Social Fund continues to be administered from Lisburn Jobs and Benefits office however all post goes to the Mail Opening Unit in Coleraine in the first instance where it is scanned on to a system which then becomes visible to the Social Fund staff in Lisburn for processing.


Advice NI has queried appeals being heard in courthouses

TAS President: “The responsibility for providing suitable tribunal hearing accommodation lies with the Department for Communities and Mr Duffy has asked the department to reply directly to you on this issue.  Mr Duffy has discussed this issue with departmental representatives in the past and has been assured that should an appellant be uncomfortable with attending a Court House venue that an alternative hearing venue will be considered.”

Advice NI continues to engage with the Department on this issue.


Advice NI sought clarification on New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and New Style Jobseekers Allowance (JSA)

DfC Response: Both New Style ESA and New Style JSA consist of a contribution based element only, which means that a customer can be paid this where the customer satisfies the condition of entitlement for benefit regardless of whether they are also entitled to Universal Credit or not.

Customers cannot have entitlement to both Universal Credit and 'current scheme' versions of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) because these benefits both include contribution based and income based elements.

Universal Credit and New Style ESA or New Style JSA can be claimed and paid alongside each other and are also payable where customers do not qualify for Universal Credit, but satsify the conditions of entitlement for these contribution based benefits. Customers who wish to apply for New Style ESA or New Style JSA will have to do so seperately from their claim to Universal Credit and do not need to have made a claim to Universal Credit in order to make a claim to New Style ESA or New Style JSA.


“New style” ESA and “new style” JSA commenced when Universal Credit rolled out across NI;

In order to enable Universal Credit and contribution-based JSA or ESA to be paid together, “new style” ESA and “new style” JSA have been introduced.  The new style benefits consist of a contribution-based element only, which means that they can be paid regardless of whether a claimant is also entitled to Universal Credit or not. 

Claimants can’t have entitlement to both Universal Credit and current scheme versions of ESA and JSA, because these benefits both include contribution-based and income-based elements.

Advice NI previously received confirmation that claimants in receipt of 'current scheme' versions of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) - which can include either or both contribution based and / or income based elements - can apply for an element that is not in payment without claiming Universal Credit. For example someone in receipt of 'current scheme' Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), contribution-based element, can claim income based ESA should this become appropriate.


Advice NI Policy Team: Work in Progress

Benefit Freeze

The Benefit Freeze, in place since 2016, is due to end March 2020.  Advice NI is calling for Government to urgently end the freeze and apply an inflationary increase to benefits and Local Housing Allowance which is proportionate and addresses the hardship imposed on working age benefit claimants since 2011.

The Advice NI Policy Team has written a briefing paper on this subject. Below is an excerpt:

‘In 2015, George Osborne announced in the summer budget that working-age benefits would be frozen in cash terms until 2020. The Government said this was necessary because benefit growth had outstripped wage growth following the 2008 financial crisis: the freeze was framed as necessary to ensure “that it always pays to work”. The outcome is that already low rates of benefit have become divorced from the real costs of living. By 2019, the Department had deprived claimants (or ‘saved’) £4.4 billion via the freeze: £0.9 billion more than it intended.

Between 2016 and 2020, the benefit freeze will have affected more than 27 million people and swept 400,000 into poverty….In real terms, the support that people receive in 2019 will be worth 6.5% less than it would have been if it had risen with inflation.

The issue is that as the benefits amounts do not increase in line with inflation, the claimants are forced to budget with an out-of-date payment, which does not reflect the current cost of living. Meanwhile the cost of daily living [food, fuel etc.] continues to rise. This inequity is more alarming considering that the only demographic that it affects is the one least able to shoulder the cost: vulnerable claimants including the disabled, unemployed, and low-income families, both with and without children.’


Advice NI Policy Team response to The Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment Committee: Call for evidence

Excerpt: ‘The question begs to be asked: why, now, in the early twenty-first century are we seeing a level of food poverty that has resulted in the proliferation of foodbanks, the demand for which can barely be met?  The evidence for this is widely available, for example, from the Trussell Trust, Fareshare and the Child Poverty Action Group.  The need for foodbanks is a deeply disturbing and retrograde step for our society.

The answer is obvious: austerity, especially the welfare cuts.  Austerity is a policy choice, it’s not an inevitability.  Current government policies are choosing to take more money and more public services away from ordinary people.  Welfare ‘reform’, cuts to benefits, the benefits freeze, cuts to education and health services, the low-wage gig economy, all of these policies are driving people into destitution: foodbanks, rent arrears, debt, evictions and homelessness, not to mention the impact this hardship has on physical and mental health, on family relationships, on the most vulnerable including children.  Austerity is taking money out of people’s pockets, leaving them with less and less to live on.  It’s no coincidence that in areas where Universal Credit had fully rolled out, use of food banks has increased by 52%. Meanwhile, little or nothing is done to recoup the £billions lost each year to tax debt and regressive taxation policies.  Austerity is discriminate, it’s targeted at those of us who can least withstand it.

The central question of this inquiry, how to make a healthy, sustainable diet accessible and affordable for everyone, is a problem too deep-rooted and too pervasive to be addressed by tweaking the system so that it’s a little less painful.  Because the problem is complex with multiple component parts (food, poverty, health, environment and policy), it cannot be tackled using simple solutions.  Rather it needs solutions that recognise the complexity.’


Advice NI Response to the Spending Review

Reacting to the Spending Review announcement by the Chancellor, Advice NI today warned that the spending plans for the coming year have done little to assist those who have suffered from the harshest effects of austerity over the last decade.

Bob Stronge, Advice NI Chief Executive said:

“People out of work and in low paid work are struggling to survive as a result of the four year benefit freeze, the 2 child cap, the problems associated with the rollout of Universal Credit including the minimum 5 week wait for the first payment and the raft of cuts to the social security system in recent years. In Northern Ireland we face the additional crisis of Brexit uncertainty, no Assembly, no Ministers, no Scrutiny Committees and the looming mitigations cliffedge in March 2020. In this context of hardship and crisis we are deeply disappointed by the inadequate announcements in the Spending Review which actually amount to a continuing attack on our poorest households.”


Advice NI role in helping to assess the impact of the additional Welfare Reform Advice Services

DfC: ‘The Department has begun to plan for the scope, shape, commissioning approach and funding requirement for welfare reform and other advice services from April 2020.  These plans run alongside work ongoing within the Department on planning for the ‘Move to Universal Credit.’

To inform these decisions, The Strategic Investment Board has been commissioned to undertake a formal independent review.

As key partners in the delivery of advice, your involvement and the evidence in relation to impact and value for money that you can provide will be of great value to the review team. 

We are already engaged with you on scheduling engagement opportunities and meetings that suit you and your team.  Thank you for agreeing, as a first engagement, the involvement of the Review Team from the Strategic Investment Board at your policy seminars on 1st and 3rd of October.’

The Advice NI Policy seminars will be taking place in Belfast & Derry:

  • Tuesday October 1st
  • Time: 11am-1pm
  • Venue: Springfield Charitable Association (27 Clonard Cres, Belfast BT13 2QN)
  • Date: Thursday 3rd October,
  •  Time: 11am-1pm,
  • Venue: Advice Northwest (Embassy Building, 3 Strand Road, Derry).
Advice NI encourages all members to attend.


Useful Information

Independent welfare changes Helpline 0808 802 0020