Secretary of State rejects calls to act to avert mitigations disaster as welfare crisis deepens


Secretary of State refuses cross party call to act to extend welfare mitigation package.
In a letter in response to the cross party request to introduce appropriate legislation in Westminster, Julian Smith MP has refused to act citing that welfare is a devolved matter and that any extension is a matter for the Northern Ireland Civil Service and restored Executive Ministers.

Prof Eileen Evason, Chair of the Mitigations Working Group responded:

'We understand that the NI Secretary of State is standing by the position that welfare is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland and the extension of these mitigations is a matter for the NI Civil Service and restored Executive Ministers.

Let there be no doubt there is no excuse for inaction. This stalemate will have disastrous consequences for the thousands of households across Northern Ireland that rely on mitigation payments for the bedroom tax, benefit cap and those affected by DLA to PIP reassessment. If the mitigations fall on 31 March 2020, we will face an unprecedented crisis in terms of child poverty, hunger, debt, rent arrears and mass evictions.

As a matter of urgency, 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.'

Kevin Higgins, Advice NI and member of the 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 a matter of weeks in March 2020.”

Julian Smith’s letter also states that the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities is considering what measures can be put in place, should an Executive not be restored before 31 March 2020, including the use of Discretionary Housing Payment Scheme.

Commenting about this development Kevin Higgins said:

“There are a range of significant problems with the Discretionary Housing Payment option; not least the fact that they are discretionary; there is no legal entitlement; people will have to make an application; repeat applications may be required after a certain period of time; it will be significantly more complex and costly to administer in comparison to the current mitigation package. Ultimately there is no guarantee that people currently protected via the mitigations package will receive protection via Discretionary Housing Payments and the people most likely to lose out will be the most vulnerable who cannot cope with the process. The solution is to pass legislation to extend the current mitigations package; Discretionary Housing Payments are a poor substitute.”

In a further development, the Department for Communities has recently published estimates of the number of claimants likely to be affected by the cessation of the mitigation schemes in 2020/21. The figure is in excess of 40,000 claimants.




NOTES
  • For further information contact Kevin Higgins, Head of Policy, Advice NI on 028 9064 5919 / 07743496957
  • For Welfare Benefits help and advice, please contact the independent welfare changes Helpline 0808 802 0020
  • Department for Communities information on number of claimants likely to be affected by the cessation of the mitigation schemes in 2020/21 https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/system/files/publications/communities/dfc-welfare-supplementary-payments-scheme.pdf
  • Advice NI is the umbrella body for the Independent Advice Network in Northern Ireland and its members dealt with 404,594 enquiries in 2018/2019, the majority being social security benefits related.
  • To find out more about the work of the Independent Advice Network or to obtain copies of the various publications produced by Advice NI, please contact us on 028 90 645919, email –comms@adviceni.net or visit our www.adviceni.net