'THINK' policy newsletter - August 2020

The Advice NI Policy Team is delighted to publish our latest edition of our policy eNewsletter ‘THINK’.
This edition has a wide range of issues including the new single Advice NI Helpline number, Universal Basic Income update, Work search and work availability requirements for JSA and Universal Credit claimants in N.I., Advice NI in new partnership project with the Trussell Trust, Legislation extended to protect renters, COVID-19: testing and contact tracing, Calculation of termination payments under employment rights legislation for employees who have been furloughed … and much, much more.
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.

If you want to get 'THINK' delivered straight to your inbox, sign up with this link. 

Best regards,
The Policy Team

Latest News

Advice NI New Single Helpline

Advice NI’s new single helpline number for all our advice services is
0800 915 4604
Email: advice@adviceni.net

Universal Basic Income Briefing Paper

Universal Basic Income is an automatic income for every U.K. citizen. It would provide a minimum amount for every citizen, regardless of means. It aims to provide stability and security for all; reduce the need for means-tested benefits, and mitigate income shocks when a change of circumstance result in a crisis situation.
This concept may sound radical, but these are unprecedented times, and international interest in a Basic Income has been rapidly growing.
Advice NI believes a Basic Income could provide tangible assistance as an active ‘Social Security’ measure, considering the current austere system that does not enable claimants.
A UBI could have a positive impact on equality, financial stability, and the nation’s mental health. The UBI message went global this month when the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said that the "immediate introduction of a Temporary Basic Income for the world’s poorest people could slow the current surge in COVID-19 cases by enabling nearly three billion people to stay at home". 

The Policy Team @ Advice NI have produced a briefing paper on the concept of a UBI:

Work search and work availability requirements for JSA and Universal Credit claimants in N.I.

Work search and work availability requirements have been reintroduced with effect from 3 August 2020 for new and existing claimants of jobseeker's allowance in Northern Ireland.
Department for Communities advises that the requirements have also been introduced for new Universal Credit claims made from 15th July. The next phase will be to introduce requirements for Universal Credit claims made between 16th March – 14th July. Finally there will be reactivation for all other existing claims in due course.


Economic Affairs Committee report:

'Universal Credit isn't working: proposals for reform'
The report calls on the Government to make substantial changes to universal credit in order to protect the most vulnerable. The temporary increase in the standard allowance in response to the Covid-19 pandemic shows that the previous level of awards was too low. The increase should be made permanent. The report recommends a more flexible, and less punitive, approach. It states:

“In our inquiry, we identified three main aspects of Universal Credit that require substantial reform: its design and implementation, the adequacy of its awards, and how it supports claimants to navigate the system and find work. We believe the original aims and objectives of Universal Credit remain broadly correct but without reform it will fail to deliver upon its promise. Moreover, without reform, we are concerned that it will fail to meet the basic requirement of a social security system: the provision of a dependable safety net.”

Regarding the need for advice services to assist claimants:

“It should not be necessary for claimants to require specialist help to navigate the system. As this is necessary under Universal Credit, claimants have a right to informed, independent and free advice. The benefit has had a dramatic impact on the provision of support services by local authorities, housing providers and community-based advice bodies, as helping claimants to navigate the system has become one of the main functions of such services. Claimants have a right to such support; but this has had a significant impact on the budgets of such organisations. The Government should devise a fund for supporting this work, work alongside local authorities to identify best practice for providing ongoing and accessible advice, and publish the results.”

Universal Credit Report
Universal Credit Isn't Working Proposal

Advice NI in new partnership project with the Trussell Trust 

The projects aim is to make sure that vulnerable clients have access to food and the opportunity to avail of free, independent advice.
If you come across people who could benefit please direct them to the new Advice NI single Helpline (0800 915 4604)
For further information, contact Arfawn at Advice NI.

Assisted digital UC claims

DfC: As you will be aware Universal Credit is a digital service and there is no paper based claim.  As a result claimants will be required to make and maintain their claim online. The Department recognises that some customers may need assistance in accessing the digital service and have put in place the necessary arrangements to enable, support and educate claimants to self-serve.

Assisted Digital is supporting claimants who are not able to access the service through the standard process. If claimants are having difficulty using the online service Universal Credit staff will establish the reasons for this. Based on their circumstances, claimants will be assisted in accessing the Universal Credit service through a channel that is appropriate for their needs. The following options are available to assist claimants to access the online service:
  • Support from family or friends - We will always ask whether the claimant has friends or family that could support them to make and maintain their claim.
  • Telephone support when using the online channel - If a claimant needs assistance with an element of the online service they can contact the Universal Credit Service Centre (0800 0121 331) (textphone 0800 0122 1441 for deaf/hard of hearing/those with speech difficulties) for assistance allowing them to continue with their claim.
  • Home visit – In exceptional circumstances, where a claimant has no phone, no access to information technology, they are housebound/hospitalised due to a health condition and has other complex needs, a home visit can be arranged. 
  • Agent as proxy - Agent by proxy is a last resort for Assisted Digital support, where all reasonable attempts have been made to enable, support and educate claimants to ‘self-serve’. This process is completed by Universal Credit staff and is used for claimants unable to complete the online service when classed as vulnerable or presenting with very complex needs, due to being unable to complete the registration independently, not having anyone to support them online and being unable to attend for in-house support.
  • Universal Credit staff cannot enter information on a claimant’s behalf unless it is in extreme circumstances where the agent is acting as proxy. The information entered and the accuracy of this information is the responsibility of the claimant.

For those claimants who are unable to access or use our digital services, assistance to make and maintain their claim is available via the Freephone Universal Credit helpline. In exceptional circumstances, a home visit can be arranged to support a claimant in making and maintaining their claim. Here is what the law says re: claiming UC by phone:
The Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (Claims and Payments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016:

7. (2) A claim for universal credit may be made by telephone call to the telephone number specified by the Department if the claim falls within a class of case for which the Department accepts telephone claims or where, in any other case, the Department is willing to do so.

DfC Disability Action Plan Consultation

The Department for Communities in Northern Ireland has launched a consultation on its draft Disability Action Plan 2020-2024. The purpose of this Disability Action Plan is to set out what the Department for Communities will do to fulfil its obligations in respect of the disability duties under Section 49A of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

Legislation extended to protect renters

Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has announced that legislation protecting renters in Northern Ireland from eviction during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is to be extended to 31 March 2021. The Private Tenancies (Coronavirus Modifications) Act requires landlords to give tenants a 12-week notice to quit period before seeking a court order to begin proceedings to evict and therefore reduce the possibility of tenants in the private rented sector becoming homeless. The legislation was due to expire at the end of September, but the Minister has ensured that the protection is available until next year.

COVID-19 Guidance for Private Rented Sector Landlords and Tenants

The Department has produced a guidance document setting out general advice and information predominantly for tenants and landlords in the private rented sector.  The guidance covers issues which may arise during the Covid-19 outbreak including what to do if you/your tenant is struggling with paying rent, advice around carrying out emergency repairs, and information on minimising moves within rented accommodation and eviction proceedings.


Family members of a “Persons of Northern Ireland” the right to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) for an immigration status.

The 2020 ‘New Decade, New Approach’ agreement included a commitment to ‘change the rules governing how the people of Northern Ireland bring their family members to the UK’, ensuring that persons of Northern Ireland can access broadly the same family migration rights as Irish citizens from the Republic of Ireland in the UK. The rule changes will apply to eligible family members of all persons of Northern Ireland, regardless of how they identify, whether they hold British, Irish or dual British-Irish citizenship and whether they live in Northern Ireland or elsewhere within the UK. 

The change will be implemented via an amendment to Appendix EU to the Immigration Rules, which will come into effect on 24 August. The person of Northern Ireland must be resident in the UK by 31 December, in line with the equivalent policy for citizens of the Republic of Ireland set out in the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Following the transition period, family migration rules will become largely consistent for EU and UK citizens under the UK’s family Immigration Rules. From 24th August, the Social Security (Income-Related Benefits) (Persons of Northern Ireland – Family Members) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 and the Universal Credit (Persons of Northern Ireland – Family Members) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 will provide that subject to certain conditions, a family member of a person of Northern Ireland who has been granted limited leave to remain under the EU Settlement Scheme, will not be considered to be a person from abroad or will be treated as meeting the basic condition of being in Northern Ireland if their person of NI family member is exercising a qualifying right to reside. 

This ensures that those granted limited leave to remain under the EU Settlement Scheme as the family member of a person of Northern Ireland will have the same access to income-related benefits as the family members of Irish citizens granted limited leave to remain on that basis. No changes are being made to the status of a person of Northern Ireland and they will continue to access benefits as they do currently, in their own right. Further information can be found on the NI Direct website pages as follows: 

Carers Credit
Disability Living Allowance
Attendance Allowance
Benefits non-UK Nationals
Universal Credit  

Covid Updates

Pause of Shielding Advice

From 31 July, subject to the rate of community transmission continuing to be low, individuals will no longer need to shield and should instead follow the same guidance and precautions as those considered to be generally vulnerable. That involves taking particular care when out and about - and strictly maintaining social distancing. Further information on pausing of the shielding guidance can be found on this page.

Changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will close on 31 October 2020. This paper explains the details of this change. Information includes:
  • The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will close on 31 October 2020.
  • From 1 July, employers can bring furloughed employees back to work for any amount of time and any shift pattern, while still being able to claim CJRS grant for the hours not worked.
  • You can now submit claims that include days in July.
  • 31 July is the last that you can submit claims for periods ending on or before 30 June.
  • From 1 August 2020, the level of grant will be reduced each month. By October, for example, the government will pay 60% of wages up to a cap of £1,875 for the hours the employee is on furlough. To be eligible for the grant employers must pay furloughed employees 80% of their wages, up to a cap of £2,500 per month for the time they are being furloughed.

Related guidance:

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme opens

Registered restaurants, cafes, bars and other eligible establishments can offer millions of customers across the UK a 50% discount on food and non-alcoholic drinks consumed on the premises, up to £10 per diner, all day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday throughout August.

COVID-19: testing and contact tracing

Everyone with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) is now eligible for testing.
There are a number of ways a person with symptoms of the virus can get tested in Northern Ireland. These are: For information on how to get a test and the contact tracing programme in Northern Ireland:

Download the 'StopCOVID NI' app

A Northern Ireland-specific contact tracing app ‘StopCOVID NI’ has been developed by the Department of Health. The app is now available to download from your app store.
This free app from the health service will support contact tracing, help prevent another lockdown and save lives. It tells you automatically if you've been near another app user who tests positive. It can also let them know if you test positive. It never knows or shares your identity or location. There is an 'easy explainer' guide, which outlines information about how the app works, how to download it and how it protects your data, that is available as PDF to download:

Stop Covid NI Application Easy Explainer Guide
Coronavirus Stop Covid NI Proximity App

Charities urged to apply for emergency funding

THE COVID-19 Charities Fund is reopening on 3 August, Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has today announced. The funding programme, which is being administered on behalf of the Department for Communities by The National Lottery Community Fund, will provide financial support to charities which have lost income due to the impact of COVID-19 and are unable to cover unavoidable costs until 30 September 2020.

Organisations wishing to avail of the funding programme must meet a number of eligibility points. Help is available to make an application. Further information can be found on the Department’s website.

Covid-19 Travel advice


New rules for entering or returning to the UK are now in place:

Since 10 July 2020 you may not have to self-isolate when you arrive in Northern Ireland, if you're returning from certain countries. A list of exempted countries and territories is available on this page.

Face coverings now mandatory on public transport

Since 10 July 2020, all passengers and staff on public transport must wear a face covering:
  • On bus, coach and train services
  • In public transport stations
  • In indoor areas of a ferry and outdoor areas where you can’t keep two metres social distance
This does not apply to tour coaches and taxis or private hire vehicles but some operators may have their own rules you should follow. Some circumstances make it difficult for some people to wear face coverings. In these circumstances people may have a 'reasonable excuse' not to wear a face covering on public transport.

Face coverings now mandatory in shops

Face coverings are to become mandatory in shops and enclosed spaces from Monday 10 August, the Executive has confirmed.
In a statement, the Executive said: "We have a collective duty and a personal responsibility to protect each other, and everyone who can wear a face covering should do so. It should not be viewed as an optional extra; it is a vital defence in our ongoing battle against Covid-19. Face coverings should be worn in shops and other enclosed spaces and no one should delay adopting this crucial measure. It will help to protect you and others."

For more information, see:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine research registry

The NHS COVID-19 vaccine registry allows members of the public to register their interest and be contacted to participate in clinical studies.

Coronavirus: Returning to Work

This Commons Library Briefing Paper discusses issues relating to returning to work as the Government re-opens the economy. It provides an overview of relevant health and safety law and a discussion of Government guidance on working safely in the context of Covid-19. It also includes a discussion of the position in Northern Ireland.

Coronavirus Returning to Work Report

Helplines NI

Helplines NI is a membership-led network created and supported by the Public Health Agency. There are now over 30 helpline members listed on the Helplines NI website at www.helplinesni.com

Helpline services operating across Northern Ireland are still available and providing immediate information, advice and support on a wide range of health and wellbeing issues. Anyone can access these services and people do not require a referral. Many of the services take place over the phone, but some can help via email, text and in some cases with live web-chat. A number of new helplines have been set up in response to COVID-19. They are providing information and advice in relation to the impact of the virus, for example, befriending helplines, the COVID-19 Community Support Helpline, COVID-19 Roma Community Helpline, and the HMRC COVID-19 Helpline for businesses.

Calculation of termination payments under employment rights legislation for employees who have been furloughed

New statutory rule provides for normal wage to be used in calculations in cases where an employee has received reduced wages while on furlough

If you contact Covid while claiming UC

If you're already claiming Universal Credit tell your work coach in your online journal if you have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). If you do not have an online account, you can call the Universal Credit Service Centre.

You’ll continue to receive your Universal Credit payments as normal.

Marie Curie Open Letter re: Terminal Illness Rules

‘On behalf of the organisations undersigned, we are writing to urge you to scrap the cruel six month rule which determines eligibility for fast-track welfare support for terminally ill people…We have seen firsthand the devastating impact that a terminal diagnosis can have, and how much more difficult that situation becomes when dying people face additional barriers to accessing the financial support they are entitled to.’

Click here to read the Open Letter.
In response, @CommunitiesNI Minister @CaralNiChuilin says her Department are considering next steps and will continue to engage with key stakeholders as a priority.

DWP Work and Pensions Select Committee:

Safeguarding vulnerable people: how DWP learns lessons from serious cases

The Work and Pensions Select Committee, meeting on Wednesday, 22 July, was told what measures would be in place to better protect vulnerable claimants. Frontline staff would offer support to at-risk claimants who fail to co-operate with jobcentre staff by liasing with other agencies such as the NHS and police, rather than terminating benefits after failure to make contact with Claimants.

The department’s permanent secretary, Peter Schofield told the committee:
“The change now is that if we tried all of that [contacting the claimant by phone and carrying out two safeguarding visits] we would then take that back and have a case conference about the individual and particularly, obviously if it's someone with vulnerabilities that we know about, then we would seek to involve other organisations that might have a different way of knowing about that individual. …And then we would seek to understand what do they know about that individual and how can we support them. And if that fails that could then be escalated to the safeguarding leads. And in that way basically what we’d seek to do is provide support not removal of benefits.”

Rt Hon Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions stated:
‘..we now have safeguarding officers, we have 10 in place and we are recruiting another 15. This is one of the key changes that are happening in order to make sure that we have much more of a focal point involved in issues of people’s welfare. It is fair to say, legally, we do not have a legal duty of aspects of what you would consider to be safeguarding. That is something that is usually held by adult or children’s social services in that essence, but we recognise that we are a touchpoint for many people around the country, and it may be that their GP was the last to see them and it may be that we were the last person to have an interaction with this person. As a consequence… we got the funding from Treasury so we could recruit people, so we could put more of an emphasis on that.’


See transcript:

Minutes from the most recent Serious Case Panel  [with Action Points], 19 March 2020:

Future of Renewables in Northern Ireland

As part of Department for the Economy’s consideration around future renewables energy policy, the department contracted Cornwall Insight, in partnership with Ionic Consulting, to conduct research on renewable electricity and possible future policy in Northern Ireland.

The outcome of this research is captured in this report, as well as views on policy options and recommendations on next actions. This report forms a part of the process towards developing a new NI Energy Strategy which will serve to guide the Northern Ireland Executive on energy policy in the context of UK renewable energy guidelines.


Assembly Update

AQW 3672/17-22         Mr Patsy McGlone (SDLP - Mid Ulster)          

To ask the Minister for Communities what protective measures are being put in place at medical assessment centres for Personal Independence Payments, Disability Living Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance applications for people with increased health susceptabilities. [Priority Written]

Minister Hargey’s announcement on 16 March confirmed that face-to-face assessments for all benefits would be suspended for an initial period of three months effective from 16 March, subject to review. This measure was introduced to reduce health risks to customers. Health assessments have since been carried out by paper based review, where the necessary medical evidence exists or by telephone based assessment which was introduced as an alternative to a face-to-face assessment.

I can confirm that for Personal Independence Payment, Disability Living Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance face-to-face assessments continue to be suspended, however consideration is being given to how face-to-face health assessments can be resumed in a safe manner which adheres to social distancing measures.

AQW 2785/17-22         Mr Alex Easton

(DUP - North Down)   To ask the Minister for Communities what training is in place for people conducting Personal Independence Payment medical consultations.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments are carried out by Disability Assessors (DAs) employed by Capita Business Services Ltd. (Capita).

All DAs are registered Health Professionals who must have a minimum of two years post registration experience. All DAs complete a 12 week training programme which consists of:
A 5 week foundation training programme prior to carrying out PIP assessments. This training provides them with the knowledge and experience to conduct a PIP assessment which focuses on the individual's functional ability. This includes condition specific sessions, scenarios and role plays, addressing cognitive, intellectual, mental and physical conditions.
Mental health, trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are also comprehensively addressed throughout this programme. Following completion of the foundation programme, DA’s are assigned a peer buddy for a further period of 4 weeks.

For the final three weeks of training DAs must then complete 20 assessment reports which are fully audited. The DA must achieve 5 Grade A reports in a row before moving to the next development stage. Following the 12 week training programme, all DAs are assigned a pro-active coaching plan for week 13 to week 17 to monitor overall performance and to provide bespoke feedback.

The decision was made to suspend face to face PIP health assessments from 16th March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Telephony based assessments were introduced as an alternative. Capita designed a training package to assist DAs in their transition to telephone assessments. In addition Capita have transferred their foundation training programme to remote delivery via Microsoft Teams. This consists of 4 week’s training with a further week focusing on supportive development.

The Departments’ Health Assessment Advisory Team (HAAT) review trainee performance prior to giving full approval for the DA to undertake assessments. Once approved, DAs are required to complete ongoing mandatory Continuous Professional Development training modules, and have access to support mechanisms including specialist mental health leads, online forums and guidance, and telephony based advice services.

AQW 5792/17-22         Mr Andy Allen (UUP - East Belfast)   

To ask the Minister for Communities whether her Department intends to take action to reform the Special Rules for Terminal Illness in social security law independently of the Department for Work and Pensions UK-wide review into how the benefits system supports terminally ill people, which was launched over one year ago and for which no date has been set for the publication of its findings.

The judgment on the special rules delivered by the Court did not provide a decision around remedy. As such, legal proceedings have not concluded until the Court files a final Order dealing with the questions of remedy and costs. The Department will continue to carefully consider the implications of the judgment before taking any decisions around next steps. As the matter is sub judice I am unable to comment any further.

On the DWP review into provision for those with severe conditions and those nearing the end of life my Department has been actively involved in all aspects from the outset. My officials have been committed to ensuring that local views and experiences of claimants, charities and clinicians were captured and considered as part of that review. I understand that all of the key stages of the evaluation have now been completed and I look forward to the outcome of that review.

AQW 5747/17-22         Ms Kellie Armstrong (APNI - Strangford)      

To ask the Minister for Communities what process her Department uses to ensure that all policies and legislation proactively enables inclusion and equity, particularly for people with disabilities and black and ethnic minority persons.

Under section 75 my Department, as a public authority, is required to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between the nine equality categories including people with disabilities and black and ethnic minority persons.

In accordance with Departmental Equality Scheme commitments, equality of opportunity and good relations are central to policy development with the tools of equality screening and equality impact assessment assisting policy makers to take into account the needs and effects of a particular policy on people within the section 75 equality groups.

AQW 5743/17-22         Mr Stewart Dickson (APNI - East Antrim)     

To ask the Minister for the Economy what process her Department uses to ensure that all policies and legislation proactively enables inclusion and equity, particularly for people with disabilities and black and ethnic minority persons.

Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 requires public authorities to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations across a range of categories outlined in the Act, including people with disabilities, and black and ethnic minority persons. My Department publishes an Equality Scheme (2016-21) that sets out how we fulfil the Section 75 statutory duties, including our procedures to promote equality of opportunity. The Equality Scheme is available here.

Also, in line with Section 75 guidance issued by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, my Department undertakes an audit of inequalities to identify potential inequalities, across all of the Section 75 categories, relevant to our functions. This provides the basis for an action plan to promote equality of opportunity and good relations. Our Audit and associated Action Plan provide a strategic overview of inequalities and sets out the actions by which we intend to address inequality. The Audit of Inequalities and Action Plan are available here

With regard to disability, my Department is required to discharge important duties under Section 49A of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA 1995). This requires us, when carrying out our functions, to have due regard to the need to promote positive attitudes towards disabled people, and to encourage participation by disabled people in public life. These are collectively referred to as the ‘disability duties'. My Department publishes a Disability Action Plan that sets out how we fulfil our obligations in respect of our disability duties under the DDA 1995. The Disability Action Plan is available here.

Contact Information

Advice NI New Single Helpline

Advice NI’s new single helpline number for all our advice services is:
0800 915 4604

Email: advice@adviceni.net