'THINK' POLICY NEWSLETTER - DECEMBER 2020


The Advice NI Policy Team is delighted to publish this end-of-year bumper Christmas edition of our policy eNewsletter ‘THINK’.
What a year it has been!!! So many social security easements and changes; not to mention all the schemes and initiatives aimed at supporting people through Covid-19.
A big thank you to the Advice NI Policy & Information Team for striving to keep advisers and stakeholders updated.

This edition has a wide range of issues including the publication of the 2nd PIP Review; a big win in terms of the extension of the suspension of the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor; good news re Covid-19 Heating Payments to issue to relevant claimants by January 2021; good news re Universal Credit with the implementation of the reallocation of calendar monthly payment of earnings to a different universal credit assessment period; and update on social security benefit appeal backlogs.

It just remains for me, on behalf of the Team, to wish everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful Christmas and very best wishes for 2021.

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 Advice NI Policy & Information Team

Latest News

Publication of 2nd PIP Review Report

Second Independent Review of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Assessment Process in Northern Ireland report.

Click here to read the report.
 

Suspension of the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor

For many self-employed, the suspension of the Minimum Income Floor (MIF) has meant that their actual income has been used to calculate their payments. This was announced by Dr Thérèse Coffey, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions:

‘After careful consideration of the ongoing public health situation and the national working environment, the current easement of the suspension of the Minimum Income Floor in Universal Credit that was due to expire on 12th November 2020 will be extended to the end of April 2021. Regulations will be laid and made prior to 12th November 2020.’
The further suspension means self-employed people will continue to receive… Universal Credit based on their current actual earnings.

AQW 9577/17-22: Kellie Armstrong MLA asked the Minister for Communities whether she has had discussions with her counterparts in Westminster to extend the Minimum Income Floor suspension for 6 months, in line with the new Winter Economic Plan.

Answer: After careful consideration… I have decided that the current easement of the suspension of the Minimum Income Floor in Universal Credit that was due to expire on 12 November 2020 will be extended to 30 April 2021. Regulations to give effect to this extension will be made prior to 12 November 2020.

Advice NI welcomes the decision to extend suspension of the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor for self-employed claimants.

https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2020-11-03/hcws552
 

Furlough Scheme extended to March 21

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has confirmed that he will extend the furlough scheme across the UK until the end of March. Mr Sunak said the scheme will pay up to 80% of a person's wage up to £2,500 a month…. the government will review the policy in January.

“I also want to reassure the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The furlough scheme was designed and delivered by the Government of the United Kingdom on behalf of all the people of the United Kingdom, wherever they live. That has been the case since March, it is the case now and will remain the case until next March.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-54824120
 

Discretionary Support Self-isolation Grant; Minister Ni Chuilin Statement

…My Department introduced a number of emergency changes to the Discretionary Support scheme. These measures included increasing the maximum income a person can receive before becoming ineligible... This means that anybody with an income of up to £20,405, whether they are in work or receiving benefits, may be eligible for a payment.
We introduced a new Discretionary Support Self-Isolation Grant for people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or are advised to self-isolate…. The latest available information shows that between 25 March and 31 October 2020 my Department awarded 14,800 Self-isolation grants with a total value of £2.1 million. I have decided that it is appropriate to introduce some enhancements to the scheme. These changes do not require new legislation and I have therefore instructed my officials to implement the revised policy immediately…..

In practical terms my Department will now use higher daily rates of benefit when calculating the amount of an award. Decision makers are also now expected to take into account the impact of the financial shock of self-isolation when calculating the number of days to make an award for….In England, Scotland and Wales the Test and Trace payment offer fixed amounts of £500 for 14 days regardless of family circumstances. This payment is only available to people who have been told to self-isolate by the NHS Test & Trace service. They must prove they are unable to work and have lost income as a result. The payment is also taxable.

The self-isolation payments available here are targeted… rather than a fixed payment regardless of the size of a family, we will always take into account all dependent children and include them in an award. For example, under the new rules, a couple with three children can receive £683 from Discretionary Support to cover a period of 14 days. This payment is not taxable and further awards can be made if the family continues to find themselves in a crisis situation. These payments will also not affect any future applications to Discretionary Support.

The self-isolation payments can be made if a person is self-isolating as they or someone else in their household is displaying symptoms.  Entitlement is not restricted to only those people who have been contacted and told to self-isolate… There is no limit to the number of grants that can be awarded.

https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/node/47896
 
A non-repayable Discretionary Support Self Isolation Grant may be available to you if you are on a low income and are experiencing financial difficulties as a result of being told to self-isolate. This grant will include a specific amount for any children in your household and may be made for periods of more than 14 days….Apply as soon as possible once you have started to self-isolate.
 
How much do people get per person and per child per day?

The daily rates that will be used for the self-isolation grant are for a single person is dependent on their age, there are separate rates for couple and families. For example, the daily rate for a single person over 25 is £13.51 and for a couple is £16.11 (both under 18) and £19.58 (both over 18). The daily rate for a child is £9.76. 

Can anyone apply?

Anybody with an income of up to £20,405, whether they are in work or receiving benefits, may be eligible for a payment. Short-term financial help is available from the Finance Support Service as a:
  • Universal Credit Contingency Fund short-term living expenses grant
  • Discretionary Support self-isolation grant
  • Discretionary Support
  • Short-term benefit advance
  • Social Fund budgeting loan
  • Social Fund Sure Start Maternity grant
https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/extra-financial-support
 

£44 million in Covid-19 Heating Payments to issue by January 2021

Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has welcomed £44.3million of Executive funding for a Covid-19 Heating Payment. The one-off payment of £200 is the latest support being provided by the Department for Communities in its coordinated response to the Covid-19 crisis. The payment will be made automatically to each recipient without the need for an application. Individuals will be eligible for this payment if, during the qualifying week (Monday 30 November 2020 - Sunday 6 December 2020), they are in receipt of one of the following benefits:
  • Pension Credit.
  • the higher rate of Attendance Allowance
  • the highest rate care and/ or higher rate mobility element of Disability Living Allowance;
  • the enhanced rate daily living and/ or enhanced rate mobility element of Personal Independence Payment
Minister Ní Chuilín said: “To have the greatest impact, my Department plans to make the Covid-19 Heating Payment at the end of January 2021.”

This one-off payment will be made automatically to eligible individuals via existing payment channels. Those eligible will only receive one payment, even if they fall into different groups. Following a query from Advice NI Policy Team:

A household could get more than one payment if more than 1 individual in the household in receipt of a qualifying benefit. Those eligible will only receive one payment, even if they fall into different groups. The Winter fuel payment will be paid also to those eligible alongside this payment.
 

A review of the COVID-19 temporary measures [Independent Report]

Chair, Dr Stephen Brian:

“Social security support will remain an important mainstay for many people, as the economic and social effects of the pandemic continue, and the role of the SSAC is to provide well-evidenced, independent and impartial expert advice that will help inform Ministerial decisions. …While recognising the achievements delivered since March, we consider that there is potential for more to be achieved in the short-term to deliver ongoing security for claimants during an uncertain period. Accordingly, we have put forward a number of recommendations for Ministers to consider.”

The Executive Summary states:

This review recognises that the rapid response on a huge scale by the DWP, DfC and HMRC to support social security and tax credit claimants during the pandemic has been very successful. In addition to acknowledging these considerable achievements, this review will also shed light on a few key areas for consideration, refinement or improvement as DWP, DfC and HMRC transition these emergency measures from temporary to potentially permanent.

The review covers:
  1. Conditionality and the unwinding of the easements
  2. Communication with claimants and stakeholders
  3. Determinations in an environment of social distancing
  4. Clarifications to rules and easements
  5. Housing exemptions
  6. Other issues, including eligibility and award values
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-review-of-the-covid-19-temporary-measures/a-review-of-the-covid-19-temporary-measures-occasional-paper-24

Click here to read DWP’s response to the Coronavirus Outbreak.
 

School holiday food grants extended until Easter 2022

Families of young people who are entitled to Free School Meals will receive food grants during school holidays from Christmas 2020. The scheme which will run until Easter 2022 and over 100,000 children will benefit.

https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/news/school-holiday-food-grants-be-extended-until-easter-2022
 

£300 million support package

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said:

“£44.3 million is being provided to fund a one-off £200 heating payment for those with disabilities who are on higher disability benefits and older people in receipt of pension credit. £26.4 million is being allocated to support schools. This includes vital funding to ensure families of young people who are entitled to Free School Meals will receive food grants during school holidays. I am allocating a further £5 million to support charities through the rest of the financial year. As the Social Enterprise Support Fund was oversubscribed, a further £2.25m is now being provided to ensure grants can be paid to all eligible applicants.”

https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/news/murphy-announces-ps300-million-support-package
 

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) Grant Extension

The Chancellor announced that the UK Government is increasing the overall level of the next SEISS grant from 55% to 80% of trading profits. This grant will cover a three-month period from the start of November until the end of January. The UK Government will pay a taxable grant which is based on 80% of three months’ average trading profits, paid out in a single instalment and capped at £7,500. The SEISS Grant Extension will last for six months in total, from 1 November 2020 to 30 April 2021. A further grant will cover February to April, as grants will be paid in two lump sum instalments each covering a three-month period. The Government will set out further details, including the level of that grant, in due course.

Full details on checking if your clients are eligible for the current grant and how to claim will be published on GOV.UK w/c 23 November.
 

Extending deadline for applications to EU Settlement Scheme to 30 June 2021

New regulations have been issued that extend the deadline for applications to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) to 30 June 2021 and ensure that specified individuals retain their current entitlement to benefits and public services in the period from the end of the Brexit transition period to that date.

Made on 3 November 2020, the Citizens’ Rights (Application Deadline and Temporary Protection) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (SI.No.1209/2020), which come into force at the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, specify the deadline of 30 June 2021 for an application to the EUSS by EEA citizens and their family members who are resident in the UK by the end of the transition period.

Advice NI has helped EU citizens in Northern Ireland get granted status by providing qualified advice both over the phone and by email and text. EU, EEA and Swiss citizens living in Northern Ireland can gain free, confidential and multi-ligual advice on how to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme. Advice NI provides free assistance with proof of identity, eligibility and suitability as well as assistance in completing the online application.

Advice NI’s EUSS Service can be contacted for free and in confidence by calling FREEPHONE 0800 138 6545, by emailing euss@adviceni.net or by texting EUSS to 66644. A webchat facility is also available through the Advice NI website on www.adviceni.net/EUSS

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/1209/made

Click here to read about the extending deadline for applications to EU Settlement.
 

DfC publishes a new five year strategy for 2020-2025.

In relation to poverty, the Department for Communities says that in the period between 2020 and 2025 it will reduce the number of citizens who are living in absolute and relative poverty through a range of cross-cutting interventions, and that its priorities will be to -
  • lead the co-design, development and delivery of a cross-Department anti-poverty strategy supported by evidence-based policy proposals to deliver targeted interventions based on need;
  • collaborate with other Departments and deliver with partners on cross-cutting issues - including homelessness, place and deprivation-based approaches, and employability - to deliver a sustainable and effective set of anti-poverty interventions;
  • develop and implement services and policies that provide modern and progressive social security for citizens; and
  • discharge its responsibilities under the terms of the future relationship with the European Union, to ensure that vulnerable people and communities can access important services and support.
DfC in NI publishes new five year strategy for period from 2020-2025.

https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/communities/dfc-five-year-strategy.pdf
 

Reallocation of calendar monthly payment of earnings to a different universal credit assessment period

In force from 16 November 2020, the Universal Credit (Earned Income) Amendment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 (SR.No.226/2020) amend the Universal Credit (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2013 in order to reallocate a calendar monthly payment of earnings reported via the Real Time Information service to a different universal credit assessment period where it is necessary to maintain a regular payment cycle. The explanatory memorandum states -

'This means that only one set of earnings will be taken into account in each assessment period for people who are paid calendar monthly rather than two which can sometimes happen currently. This reallocation will smooth entitlement to universal credit and help maintain a regular payment cycle.’

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2020/226/made
 

New Statutory Rule

The Department for Communities has made the following Statutory Rule:

The Personal Independence Payment (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020

Made: 9 November 2020, coming into operation on 30 November 2020.

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2020/245/introduction/made

New regulations have been issued that make miscellaneous amendments to social security regulations in Northern Ireland, including the extension of the period over which the universal credit minimum income floor rules are relaxed.

In force for the majority of purposes from 12 November 2020, the Social Security (Coronavirus) (Further Measures) (Amendment) and Miscellaneous Amendment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 (SR.No.242/2020) amend the Social Security (Coronavirus) (Further Measures) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 (SR.No.53/2020), making changes equivalent to those made to corresponding provisions in Great Britain by SI.No.1201/2020.

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2020/242/regulation/1/made
 

Time to secure the long term future of the Housing Executive - Ní Chuilín

Over the last 18 years successive Executives have invested £2.3bn to build 30,000 new social houses. But, at the same time, the number of our households in housing stress has increased by 17,000. The Minister said:

“I plan to change the classification of the Housing Executive landlord to a ‘mutual’ or co-operative designation so that it may borrow and secure a sustainable future for all of its 85, 000 homes and provides security for current tenants and future generations. We need to build more social homes, and we need to build them where they are needed.”
The Minister outlined her intention to:- 
  • Introduce reform of the social housing allocations system; and
  • Ensure the Housing Executive prioritise adaptations.
  • Develop new ways to help people into home ownership, continuing to support shared ownership schemes such as Co-Ownership;
  • Expand the rental options available by introducing intermediate rent here which will provide an additional supply of good quality, well managed and maintained homes, which are affordable for lower income families.
  • Develop a fundamental Housing Supply Strategy to provide a framework for delivery of the right volume and types of homes to meet changing housing needs and demand and put mixed tenure at the heart of our housing policy: and
  • Prioritise action to improve our response to homelessness.
https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/news/time-secure-long-term-future-housing-executive-ni-chuilin

Click here to read Minister’s statement.

Covid Update

Assembly’s COVID-19 related Statutory Rules Tracking page

You can follow the progress of Statutory Rules considered by the Assembly which relate to the COVID-19 pandemic here:

http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/assembly-business/covid-19-statutory-rules/
 

Coronavirus: Localised Restrictions Support Scheme

The Localised Restrictions Support Scheme provides financial support to businesses which have been required to close or severely limit operations at their premises under the Health Protection Regulations that have been put in place by the NI Executive. Online applications for this scheme can now be submitted in relation to all Northern Ireland council areas. If you consider that your business is eligible for support from the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme in line with the legislation, you must apply online only.

https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-localised-restrictions-support-scheme

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2020/150/contents/made
 

Extra financial support

Financial support may be available if you are in a financial crisis or need support including:
  • Discretionary Support
  • Universal Credit Contingency Fund payment
  • Short-term Benefit Advances
  • Sure Start Maternity Grants
  • Budgeting Loans
The Department for Communities has put in place a non-repayable grant payment to help with short-term living expenses where a person, or a member of their immediate family, has been infected by COVID-19 or told to self-isolate. If you're in financial need, help with short term living expenses may be available through Discretionary Support
or the Universal Credit Contingency Fund grant
or the COVID 19 grant

If you require assistance with short term living expenses from any one of these three provisions you should complete the Discretionary Support form. If you use this form you do not need to ring the Discretionary Support Freephone line, someone will contact you.

Recovery of Overpayments & Loans

Due to Coronavirus the Department for Communities (DfC) paused recovery of overpayments and loans for three months. From July 2020 DfC restarted the recovery of overpayments and over a period of months will reinstate repayment arrangements that were previously agreed. You do not need to take any action. We will contact you to let you know when your repayments are due to start again.
https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/covid-19-recovery-benefit-overpayments-and-loans-suspended
 

Housing support

Measures have been put in place to support social and private renters as well as those experiencing homelessness. This DfC 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, information on minimising moves within rented accommodation, and eviction proceedings. Guidance available here.

The research report contains details on page 61 regarding the initial impact of COVID on homeless presentations.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

If you cannot work while you’re self-isolating because of coronavirus (COVID-19), you could get SSP for every day you’re in isolation, from day one. You must self-isolate for at least four days to be eligible.
  • If you were self-isolating before 13 March because you had symptoms, your SSP will begin from the fourth day.
  • If you were self-isolating before 13 March because someone in your household had symptoms, you cannot get SSP.
 

UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing in Northern Ireland

The independent chairs released their report on ‘Building Financial Wellbeing in the light of Covid-19’ on the 15th October 2020 : http://rebrand.ly/CovidRecommendations
 

Social security provisions for prisoners on temporary release due to Covid-19

In force from 12 November 2020, the Social Security (Coronavirus) (Prisoners) Amendment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 (SR.No.227/2020) amend the Social Security (Coronavirus) (Prisoners) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 (SR.No.63/2020) to provide that their expiry date is extended from eight months to fourteen months. Provisions in the principal regulations that enable individuals on temporary release from prison due to the outbreak of coronavirus in Northern Ireland to access means-tested benefits during the period of that release will remain in force until 12 May 2021.

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2020/227/made
 

NICVA Covid Support Hub

Supporting the Voluntary and Community Sector through the COVID-19 pandemic:

https://www.nicva.org/covid19
 

First six months of pandemic saw a 47%  increase in need for help from Trussell Trust

New statistics show:
  • more than 1.2 million emergency food parcels were given out - a 47 per cent increase on the same period the previous year; and
  • on average, 2,600 emergency food parcels were provided for children every day.
The figures also show that the top three reasons for someone being referred to a food bank during the period were low income (47 per cent); benefit delays (9 per cent); and sickness/ill health (6 per cent).

https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/welfare-rights/news/item/first-six-months-of-coronavirus-pandemic-saw-a-47-per-cent-increase-in-need-for-help-from-trussell-trusts-food-banks
 

Community recovery support grants

As communities continue to address challenges related to the impact of COVID-19, Belfast City Council are offering two funding programmes to help constituted groups deliver programmes and project activity focused on COVID response in their local areas.

COVID-19 Community Recovery Support Fund Microgrant – up to £1,500

COVID-19 Community Recovery Support Fund Medium Grant – up to £5,000

Funding applications must be for work associated with the following priority areas:
  • Children and young people
  • Civic pride
  • Preventing isolation
  • Emotional wellbeing
  • Antisocial behaviour
  • Health and wellbeing of staff or volunteers
  • Unexpected premises and PPE costs.
Funding cannot be used for work associated with food parcels and meals, or to assist with the payment of individual or family utilities. Information on assistance with these areas can be found on our COVID community support section. For information on both grants click here.
 

Universal Basic Income

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 paper explores what a UBI is, what it could achieve, and how the concept could be explored for a pilot in N.I.

Basic Income NI and UBI Lab NI have produced work on UBI proposals and pilots. For more information, please see links:
BINI Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BasicIncomeNI/
BINI Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/basicincomeni
UBI Lab NI Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/ubilabni
https://www.ubilabnetwork.org/blog/proposing-a-recovery-universal-basic-income-for-northern-ireland
 

Hate crime legislation independent review

Judge Desmond Marrinan was appointed by the Department of Justice to carry out an independent review, into Hate Crime legislation. Justice Minister Naomi Long stated:
“The recommendations in his Final Report are complex and wide–ranging and people may hold contrasting views on some of them.  That is why I want to take some time to give them careful consideration. It is important that we build on the opportunity this provides for us to move towards strengthening and updating hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland. Hate crime in any form is unacceptable and addressing it is one of my priorities.  Whether offline or online, targeting a person because of who they are or what they believe – be it their race, religion, political belief, sexuality, gender identity or disability – is wrong.”

The report contains 34 recommendations focussed on ensuring that existing hate crime legislation represents the most effective approach for the justice system to deal with criminal conduct motivated by hatred by considering issues such as: the range of protected characteristics; aggravated offence model for prosecutions; the use of stirring up offences; opportunities for restorative justice; support for victims; and online hate speech.

https://www.justice-ni.gov.uk/news/long-welcomes-completion-review-hate-crime-legislation

https://www.justice-ni.gov.uk/publications/hate-crime-legislation-independent-review
 

Northern Ireland Benefits Statistics Summary – August 2020

This report is also available on the Department for Communities website.

 

Personal Independence Payment Statistics - August 2020

https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/publications/personal-independence-payment-statistics-august-2020
 

Assessment of NI Personal Independence Payment Experimental Statistics

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) will be carrying out a planned assessment of the Northern Ireland Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Experimental Statistics for National Statistics Status, which will work towards publishing a set of recommendations in early 2021. As part of this assessment, the OSR would like to contact users of these statistics to: gather feedback on your use of the statistics; listen to your examples of what is working well; and listen to your suggestions on ways that PSU can build on and improve engagement with users of our PIP statistics.

If you would like to be involved in this process, please contact psu@communities-ni.gov.uk

NI Assembly

Appeals


AQW 9956/17-22  Mr Andy Allen (UUP - East Belfast)

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the average time for (i) a personal independence payment; and (ii) an employment support allowance appeal to be heard.

The average waiting time from the date a valid appeal is lodged to first date of hearing, during the business year 2019/20, for (i) a personal independence payment appeal is 31 weeks and (ii) an employment support allowance appeal is 21 weeks.
 

AQW 9957/17-22  Mr Andy Allen

To ask the Minister for Communities what steps her Department has taken to clear the backlog of employment support allowance and personal independence payment appeals.

As at 31 October 2020 there were 626 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appeals and 5,958 Personal Independence Payment (PIP) appeals at various stages of case progression. To maximise listing capacity the Appeals Service (TAS) has introduced additional options for case listing. Appellants can now choose to have their appeal listed on the papers, by telephone, over video link and in person. Every effort is being made to increase listing capacity across all benefit appeals including securing additional venues for physical hearings that meet the requirements of my Department’s COVID-19 Secure Risk Assessment for public and staff safety which is of course paramount at this time.
 

AQW 9958/17-22  Mr Andy Allen (UUP - East Belfast)

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the projected timeframe to clear the backlog in personal independence payment and employment support allowance appeals.

The timeframe to clear the backlog of appeals is determined by a number of factors, but primarily the directions and decisions of an independent tribunal panel in every appeal. Therefore, my Department is unable to advise when the caseload will be cleared.
My Department is working closely with Courts and Tribunals Service which has administrative responsibility for the operational effectiveness of the Appeals Service under the terms of a memorandum of understanding. Appellants now have the option to have (a) their appeal listed on the papers, (b) to have their appeal heard by telephone/video link or (c) to have their appeal heard in person. Every effort is being made to increase listing capacity across all benefits appeals types, including securing additional venues that meet the requirements of my Department’s risk assessments for public and staff safety which is of course paramount at this time.

 
AQW 9955/17-22  Mr Andy Allen

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the total number of pending social security appeals, broken down by social security benefit type.

As at the 31 October 2020 there were 8,351 pending appeals and details are outlined in the table below.
 
Appeal Type   Number Pending
Attendance Allowance 113
Bereavement Benefit 5
Carers Allowance 22
Child Benefit  20
Child Support Maintenance 18
Child Tax Credit 26
Compensation Recovery 5
Disability Living Allowance 683
Employee and Support Allowance 626
Housing Benefit 57
Incapacity Benefit 5
Income Support 67
Industrial Injuries Benefit 65
Job Seekers Allowance 44
Maintenance Calculations 22
Maternity Benefit Allowance 4
Pension Credit 5
Personal Independence Payment 5,958
Rates Collection 2
Social Fund 12
Universal Credit 552
Working Tax Credit 40
TOTAL 8,351


 

Personal Independence Payments: Appeals


Mr McCrossan asked the Minister for Communities to outline the average success rate for a personal independence payment (PIP) appeal in the last 12 months. (AQO 1141/17-22)

Ms Ní Chuilín (The Minister for Communities): I thank the Member for his question. For the period of 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020, there were 3,779 successful PIP appeals and 2,201 unsuccessful appeals. Therefore, 63% of PIP appeals were successful in 2019-20. For the period of 1 April 2020 to 31 October 2020, there were 104 successful PIP appeals and 133 unsuccessful appeals. Therefore, for the seven months up to 31 October, 44% of PIP appeals have been successful. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, no appeals were listed for hearing between 18 March 2020 and 6 July 2020. Since then, a limited number of appeals have been listed for hearing.

Mr McCrossan:… there is a backlog of over 4,000 people waiting for their appeals to be heard — a problem that has predated the pandemic, Minister. How many appeals does the Minister expect will be heard by the end of the year?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I agree with the Member that there was a backlog prior to COVID and that COVID has not helped at all. I have asked officials to try to expedite ways in which people can have their appeals heard. Many people are not comfortable with a desktop review and are looking for telephony, should that be a video call or a phone call. Some have the opportunity for face-to-face, but it is important that we get not only the pre-COVID backlog addressed, but also the backlog since. I suspect that the figure that you have quoted has actually increased since that response was given.

Ms Brogan: Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-Leas-Cheann Comhairle; thank you. Minister, which of the different types of appeal available to claimants is the one most favoured by appellants?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I welcome the Member to the Assembly and wish her all the very best. The least favourite — also in response to Daniel McCrossan, as both of you share the same constituency — is probably the desktop. We are looking at video and telephone calls to try to assist people, because it is very stressful applying for this benefit, and it is even more stressful appealing it. We need to make sure that it is as smooth and stress-free as possible when people are applying for a PIP appeal.

Ms Armstrong: Minister, I am glad to hear you talking about an alternative to telephone as a means of communication. Videoconferencing would be very much welcomed for PIP assessments. I ask the Minister whether whatever system she is considering will be hearing-compatible for those with hearing impairments. Can those who are using this new type of system have someone with them? Quite a lot of people have had mental health issues due to the way that they have had to go through assessment so far.

Ms Ní Chuilín: I completely agree with the Member on all of the points that she raised. If people are doing video calls and have hearing impairments, they should absolutely, under disability law, which should be human rights-compliant as strongly as possible, have an interpreter there, even for those who have difficulty communicating. The other aspect is that we need to make sure that, particularly as I said to Nicola, this process is as stress-free as possible, so I am looking at alternatives. I met the Participation and the Practice of Rights group (PPR) last week, and that was one of the issues that was on the human rights checklist that it is asking us to bring forward.

Mr Allen: Minister, can you advise how many of the unsuccessful appeals went on to stage two appeals to the Social Security Commissioner? Also, do you have any data on how many of those within the backlog of appeals are currently in receipt of welfare supplementary payments? Can you give a guarantee that none of those payments will be impacted whilst they wait for their appeal to be heard?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for his three supplementary questions. [Laughter.] Fair play to you. I do not have the answers to the first two questions, but I will certainly get the Member the data that he has asked for. It is probably here somewhere, but it certainly did not jump out at me. I will get that response to you.

I have said this to others, but, as the Member will be aware from his constituency, going through the appeals process is very stressful. The last thing that we need is for people's stress levels to be increased, and we do not want the appeal to impact on other benefits and entitlements. We therefore need to make sure that it is done as smoothly as possible. That sounds like an easy thing to do, and it should be an easy thing to do, but the backlog is such that we need to tackle it head-on. We perhaps need to use this opportunity, if it is appropriate to call it that, to do things a bit differently and make sure that there are better outcomes for people who are waiting on good decisions.

Miss Woods: The Minister will be aware that people are much more likely to get a PIP award if they have support from another person or from the independent advice sector. Will the Minister support a list of independent advice sector organisations or advice lines being sent out with the PIP form and the overturn rate for mandatory reconsiderations being made available in the information that is sent out on how best to challenge a decision so that more people can make more of an informed decision about whether to take the matter further?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for her question. That is certainly one of the issues that I am considering. It comes up time and time again from the independent advice sector, as well as from GPs, social workers, family support workers and a whole range of others. I absolutely will consider that, and, as I said to Kellie Armstrong, I think that it would be more human rights-compliant and more humane if that were allowed to happen.

Mr Frew asked the Minister for Communities why she is failing the most vulnerable in society because people have to make appeals, which can be horrendous, about personal independence payment or employment and support allowance (ESA) by phone and because the Kickstart programme has not been commenced. (AQT 702/17-22)

Ms Ní Chuilín: The Kickstart scheme will not be introduced this month, because we are not calling it "Kickstart"; we are callling it "Jobstart". It will be far better than what the British Government in England introduced. It will be a bespoke programme, and, if I introduced it, it would be done during a two-week lockdown. I do not want that to happen, because, as soon as it is introduced, the clock starts ticking. With regard to PIP,…people have said that they prefer that to happen by desktop, phone or videoconferencing. Again, I do not accept that I am deliberately failing anyone. If there are things that I could do better, I am happy to look at them, but I ask the Member to reconsider that.

http://aims.niassembly.gov.uk/officialreport/report.aspx?&eveDate=2020/11/23&docID=316868
 
AQW 9927/17-22  Mrs Rosemary Barton (UUP - Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

To ask the Minister for Communities, pursuant to AQW 7895/17-22, for an update of the benefits appeals awaiting decision since 31 August 2020.

Caral Ni Chuilin: By August 31 there were 7,731 social security appeals in the system, with Ms Barton warning it could take years to clear the backlog. But last night the Department for Communities revealed this figure had grown to 8,351 by the end of last month. The Department for Communities said: "The Appeals Service made arrangements to recommence hearings where the appellant has opted for a hearing on the papers and the appellant does not have an existing award, with effect from July 6, 2020.

"Oral hearings using telephone link commenced on September 28, 2020 and oral hearings using live link commenced on October 5, 2020. Face to face hearings resumed in Cleaver House on October 19, 2020 on a staged basis. There are plans to open two further hearing rooms in Cleaver House during November 2020. A priority exercise is ongoing with venues who indicated they can accommodate hearings. Appellants are being offered a choice of hearing type and The Appeals Service will be working to maximise capacity based on the responses."

https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/backlog-of-8351-benefit-appeals-may-take-years-39727657.html

 

Funding: Independent Advice Services


AQW 10181/17-22  Mr Andrew Muir

(APNI - North Down)  To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the current funding levels allocated to independent advice services; and whether there are plans to review and increase this in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

My Department has allocated in the region of £6.4million in the current year, for the provision of independent community based advice services, including appeals and help with problem debt. Furthermore, I have allocated just over £1million for the provision of free debt advice and financial wellbeing support for citizens. This additional funding which is being directed through regional and local delivery partners, will enable more people whose finances are impacted by COVID-19, to access the debt advice service. It will also support debt preventative and financial wellbeing measures.

During the current crisis the advice sector has been critical in assisting the most vulnerable in our communities. I am committed to addressing both the root causes and the impacts of poverty and to protecting those most in need. Access to community based, independent advice services, is critical to meeting that commitment.

My Department has been coordinating a regional response to the COVID-19 crisis, involving a comprehensive package of measures to support those most impacted by the pandemic. To date, £4.7million has been allocated through Councils, enabling a significant community response to those in need relating to food, low income and connectedness. My officials have worked closely with regional and local frontline advice organisations on a co-design, co-production approach to develop support mechanisms such as the COVID-19 Community Helpline, which refers people into community level supports.

The Community Helpline will continue to connect those most vulnerable people into local support services through our stakeholders in the Voluntary and Community Sector and I have allocated additional funding to support this. I am dedicated to ensuring that people continue to receive the support that they need.
 

Benefits


AQW 9461/17-22  Ms Kellie Armstrong (APNI - Strangford)

To ask the Minister for Communities whether she will follow the Scottish Government's approach by moving away from Personal Independence Payment assessments to a new Adult Disability Payment.

The Department’s existing contract with Capita for PIP Assessments is due to expire on 31 July 2021. An independent evaluation of the performance of the PIP Assessment Service is currently being undertaken. The purpose of this work is to identify potential service enhancements and to inform the future direction of the service.
 
AQW 8503/17-22  Ms Claire Sugden (IND - East Londonderry)

To ask the Minister of Finance, pursuant to AQW 7702/17-22, whether there is an opportunity to reassess means to apply for Low Income Rate Relief after the rates bill has been issued, thereby reducing the amount payable in one payment or through multiple payments in the same year.

Awards of Housing Benefit (Rates) and Low Income Rate Relief are subject to regular reassessment of claimants circumstances. While Housing Benefit Regulations allow for retrospective reassessments, for many, changes are applied going forward from the Monday after the change has been notified to the Authority.

The assessment of entitlement to Low Income Rate Relief is determined by entitlement to Housing Benefit in accordance with Regulation 7(c) of The Rate Relief (General) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007. As Low Income Rate Relief is intrinsically based on Housing Benefit entitlement, my Department does not intend to review the Low Income Rate Relief Scheme.

New applications for Housing Benefit (Rates) and Low Income Rate Relief can be made by for non-working age citizens, those in supported accommodation and those receiving a severe disability premium as part of their benefit package. As a result of Welfare Reform, Universal Credit has replaced six social security benefits for working age citizens seeking help through the welfare system. Housing Benefit is one of the six legacy benefits replaced by Universal Credit. Working age citizens are not eligible to make a new claim for Housing Benefit (Rates) or, by extension, Low Income Rate Relief. However, claimants in receipt of Universal Credit can apply online for help with rates through the Rate Rebate Scheme administered by Land & Property Services.

If a person believes that they may be eligible for either Housing Benefit (Rates) and Low Income Rate Relief or the Rate Rebate Scheme, an application can be made at any time. If approved, Housing Benefit (Rates) and Low Income Rate Relief awards may be backdated a maximum of one month for working age claimants or three months for non-working age claimants. Awards of Rate Rebate are linked to entitlement to Universal Credit and it may be possible for claims to be awarded for a period of up to three months prior to the date the claim was received.
 
AQW 7185/17-22  Mr Gerry Carroll (PBPA - West Belfast)

To ask the Minister for Communities whether she has considered abolishing the (i) two child limit; and (ii) benefit cap in Universal Credit.

I am considering the feasibility of introducing a scheme to mitigate the restriction on support for a maximum of two children in Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit. The proposal is at an early stage of development with the estimated costs for delivering any additional welfare mitigation schemes currently being assessed. However, I can confirm, that it is my intention to bring forward the necessary legislation for any new mitigation measures at the earliest opportunity.

Currently Welfare Supplementary payments are made in certain situations where people are affected by the Benefit Cap in Universal Credit. These payments are part of the welfare mitigation measures. I intend to bring forward new legislation to provide for the extension of the existing welfare mitigation measures. This legislation will include proposed amendments to the Benefit Cap mitigation scheme to remove restrictions on entitlement. If approved this will ensure that all families with children who are affected by the Benefit Cap will receive a mitigation payment equivalent to the capped amount.
 
 
AQW 6679/17-22  Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP - Foyle)

To ask the Minister for Communities, pursuant to AQO 594/17-22, whether the forthcoming legislation will provide mitigation for claimants affected by the benefit cap and the two child maximum tax credit rule.

I intend to bring forward new legislation to provide for the extension of the existing welfare mitigation measures. This legislation will include proposed amendments to the Benefit Cap mitigation scheme to remove restrictions on entitlement. If approved this will ensure that all families with children who are affected by the Benefit Cap will receive a mitigation payment equivalent to the capped amount.

I am also considering the feasibility of introducing a scheme to mitigate the restriction on support for a maximum of two children in Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit. The proposal is at an early stage of development with the estimated costs for delivering any additional welfare mitigation schemes currently being assessed. However, I can confirm, that it is my intention to bring forward the necessary legislation for any new mitigation measures at the earliest opportunity.
 
 

Covid


AQW 9113/17-22  Miss Rachel Woods (GPNI - North Down)

To ask the Minister for Communities whether employees of local councils will be eligible to access the new Job Support Scheme.

My Department raised this issue with Treasury who subsequently published guidance on 22 October which states: “organisations that have staff costs that are fully publicly funded, should use that money to continue paying their staff, and not use the Job Support Scheme (JSS). Organisations can use the scheme if they are not fully funded by public grants, for the proportion of their revenue disrupted due to coronavirus. They should contact their sponsor department or respective administration for further guidance. Those that do claim should do so using the same process as all other employers.” I will continue to press the Treasury to ensure that adequate support and guidance is provided for all those that need it during this difficult time.
 
AQW 8073/17-22  Mr Stewart Dickson (APNI - East Antrim)

To ask the Minister for Communities what preparations have been made to provide support to people in areas of heightened COVID-19 restrictions.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, my Department has adopted a cross sectoral partnership approach to ensuring support is in place for the most vulnerable. This involves working closely with other Executive Departments and Local Government within the civil contingencies framework and enabling the Voluntary and Community Sector response.

Anyone in need of support, including those within the areas of heightened restrictions, can contact the COVID-19 Community Helpline (Freephone 0808 802 0020, Email: covid19@adviceni.net, Text: ACTION to 81025) which will provide personalised advice and referral to appropriate support depending on an individual’s circumstances. In order to ensure that sustainable grassroots support is in place, my Department has confirmed an additional £1.75m for the COVID Community Support Fund, through Councils to support the Voluntary and Community Sector response to hardship created by the pandemic. We are also working with partner organisations to support and coordinate volunteering, liaising with local councils to tailor support to changing circumstances.

Improving access to food and a sustainable response to food poverty, is at the heart of my Department’s response and we have invested almost £800k to support Fareshare to deliver an increased supply of food to community food providers. We have also made a further £750k allocation to Councils for a COVID-19 Access to Food Fund. This will help deliver a more strategic response to the issue, recognising that whilst food is at the forefront of need, support and advice on wider issues is needed to reverse longer term need. This will be factored into the development of the Anti-Poverty Strategy.

It is important that financial support to meet immediate needs is in place to enable the most vulnerable to comply with restrictions. My Department has introduced a new COVID-19 living expenses grant to the Discretionary Support scheme. This grant is available where a person or any member of their immediate family is diagnosed with COVID-19 or is advised to self-isolate in accordance with published guidance.
 
AQW 9177/17-22  Ms Paula Bradshaw (APNI - South Belfast)

To ask the Minister for Communities when she will introduce a Test and Trace Support Payment, as is in place in England.

On 25 March Minister Hargey responded swiftly to the pandemic by introducing a non-repayable Discretionary Support COVID-19 living expenses grant where a person or a member of their immediate family is diagnosed with COVID-19 or is advised to self-isolate in accordance with guidance published by the Public Health Agency. There is no limit on the number of Discretionary Support COVID19 awards a person may receive as long as they meet the eligibility criteria. The amount payable is based on each applicant’s individual circumstances and will include a specific amount for all dependent children in the household. As we continue to respond to the impacts of the pandemic I will keep this under review.
 
AQW 9465/17-22  Ms Kellie Armstrong (APNI - Strangford)

To ask the Minister for Communities what discussions her officials have had with Westminster officials to examine whether the Carer's Allowance is delivering necessary support for carers; and whether there will be a COVID-19 payment made to carers.

In April 2020, my Department introduced two important temporary measures to help unpaid carers through the current COVID-19 emergency to ensure people most in need get the help and support they require: Unpaid carers are able to continue to claim Carer’s Allowance if they have a temporary break in caring, because either they or the person they care for becomes infected with coronavirus or has to self-isolate because of it.

Providing “emotional support” to a severely disabled person will also count towards the Carer’s Allowance threshold of 35 hours of care a week. My officials are in regular contact with all stakeholders as the coronavirus emergency progresses and we are continuing to look at how best to support people during this unprecedented time. We have extended the temporary easements in Carer’s Allowance until 12 May 2021. Carers in receipt of Universal Credit will also be able to benefit from the increase in the standard allowance put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (around £1000 a year). In addition, those in receipt of Carer’s Allowance here may, depending on their circumstances, be eligible to access the range of other emergency financial support that my Department is providing during the COVID-19 crisis, including Discretionary Support. In terms of providing longer term additional financial support for carers here, it is anticipated that this will be considered as part of the upcoming welfare mitigations review.
 
 

Unemployment


AQW 9486/17-22  Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP - Foyle)

To ask the Minister for Communities whether her Department has considered a support scheme for people unemployed as a consequence of COVID-19, similar to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment available in the Republic of Ireland.

My Department has introduced a number of financial support measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic for those who have become unemployed. Depending on a person’s circumstances, financial assistance is available to those impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak through Universal Credit, New style Jobseekers Allowance, and New Style Employment Support Allowance. Further information can be found here.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have taken a number of steps to ensure that the social security system is more flexible, to relieve hardship and to ensure people most in need get the help and support they require. These include:
  • increasing the standard allowance of Universal Credit (and working tax credit) for this financial year by £1,040 per year (£20 a week). This is in addition to the annual uprating of 1.7%. This means that for a single Universal Credit claimant aged 25 or over, the standard allowance will increase from £317.82 to £409.89 per month;
  • increasing the Local Housing Allowance rates for Universal Credit and Housing Benefit claimants so that it covers the cheapest 30% of local market rents;
  • making a number of enhancements to the Discretionary Support scheme including increasing the amount of individual living expenses awards by increasing the rate of benefit used when calculating awards and allowing discretion to pay for longer periods;
  • increasing the Discretionary Support Annual Income Threshold to £20,405 and increasing the debt threshold to £1,500 to ensure that more people on a low income can access assistance when they need it most;
  • providing access to emergency financial support through the Discretionary Support (DS) scheme to students in full-time education who are normally not eligible for benefits; and
  • providing a DS Self-Isolation Grant to a person when they or a member of their immediate family is diagnosed with COVID-19 or is advised to self-isolate in accordance with guidance published by the Regional Agency for Public Health and Social Well-being. There is no restriction on the number of COVID-19 related grants that a claimant can receive.
 
AQW 8326/17-22  Ms Kellie Armstrong (APNI - Strangford)

To ask the Minister for Communities when employees notified that they are being made redundant at the end of the furlough period should make an application for Universal Credit.

My Department is committed to supporting people at this difficult time and my priority has been to ensure that the social security system remains flexible, to relieve hardship and to ensure those people most in need get the help and support they require. This remains the case for those who will be impacted by the end of the furlough scheme. As Universal Credit is for people on a low income or no income and, subject to meeting the eligibility criteria, a person currently on furlough can apply for Universal Credit. Details on making a claim for Universal Credit including the eligibility criteria can be found at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/you-claim-universal-credit

However, for anyone receiving Tax Credits I would advise that they should refer to https://www.gov.uk/tax-credits-calculator if they are considering making a claim to Universal Credit.

Prior to making a claim a person can also check the ‘entitled to’ benefit calculator to get an estimate of how much they may be entitled to: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/benefits-adviser
 
AQW 8488/17-22  Ms Kellie Armstrong (APNI - Strangford)

To ask the Minister for Communities what Barnett consequentials are available as a result of the Kickstart programme in the UK; and how much of the allocation has been allocated to her Department to support the Communities Jobstart programme due to commence in November 2020.

Following the British Chancellor’s update the Executive received Barnett consequential of £6.116m of Resource DEL in 2020/21 for New Jobs for Young People. It is for the Executive to decide how this is allocated. My Department bid for £4.8m for Labour Market Inventions in 2020/21 but to date has received no Executive allocation.  My Department is now seeking to manage this pressure internally through reprioritising and reallocating funding. A further bid will be considered as part of January Monitoring for any pressure remaining to 31 March 2021.
 
 

PIP Assessments


AQW 9463/17-22  Ms Kellie Armstrong (APNI - Strangford)

To ask the Minister for Communities whether she intends to review how welfare benefits are assessed; and whether she will consider bringing the process back into public sector control where her Department will be able to audit and manage performance.

An independent evaluation of the performance of both the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Assessment Services and the Medical Support Services contracts in delivering health assessments for welfare benefits will be completed by the end of the year. Any enhancements identified through this evaluation will be considered for the future delivery of health assessments. Additionally, a business case is under development to appraise all options for the delivery of health assessments from August 2023, including in-housing the service.

My Department manages a programme of monthly, quarterly and annual reviews of the current performance against defined service levels for both contracts. Officials also carry out an independent audit of completed health assessments to provide assurance on both quality and procedural accuracy.
 
 

Video Relay Service


AQW 9854/17-22  Ms Claire Sugden (IND - East Londonderry)

To ask the Minister for Communities (i) for an update on the plans she has to extend the Video Relay Service for deaf people to any service that relies on telephone contact with service users or customers, i.e. public, third party and private sectors; (ii) whether this service would be provided by a single or multiple providers; and (iii) what contact she has had, or plans to have, with members of the Northern Irish deaf community as part of this process.

My Department is committed to addressing issues of accessibility for the Deaf community and officials are currently developing options to continue to improve and expand local British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) interpreter support. In October 2019 my Department introduced a Video Relay Service (VRS) in Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Disability and Carers Service (covering Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Carer’s Allowance). As VRS is being deployed across all areas of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), DfC officials have ensured that additional local benefits areas have been included in this roll out from October 2020.

The Health and Social Care (HSC) Remote Interpreting Service is co-funded by the Department of Health and my Department and is managed by the HSC Board. It was launched as part of an urgent response to the COVID-19 emergency to ensure that BSL and ISL users can contact all non-emergency HSC services for information, advice and to arrange appointments and treatment. This service provides two local Deaf Community Liaison Officers who communicate directly and regularly with BSL and ISL users to promote the service and report continuous feedback from the Deaf Community regarding its effectiveness to the service’s monitoring group. The Department of Finance Collaborative Interpretation, Translation and Transcription Services contract has been extended to April 2021 and has been varied to include the capacity for VRS to be delivered by the provider, Action on Hearing Loss. This VRS is available to all public bodies listed at https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/publications/list-public-bodies-which-can-participate-cpd-collaborative-frameworks

Following my meeting with the NI Coalition on Deafness on 9 September during which I had a constructive discussion on how we continue to support Deaf people, I instructed my officials to continue this engagement with the Deaf community and its various representative groups over the coming weeks and months. Officials have subsequently met with several local Deaf organisations in recent weeks to discuss a range of sign language issues, including VRS and financial support for the sector, and will continue to do so. I assure you that I remain committed to ensuring that BSL and ISL users have the same rights and opportunities as those in the hearing community.
 
 

UC & Human Trafficking


AQW 9201/17-22  Ms Joanne Bunting (DUP - East Belfast)

To ask the Minister for Communities whether subsistence payments provided under the National Referral Mechanism for victims of Human Trafficking identified in Northern Ireland is not considered as unearned income in relation to the operation of Universal Credit.

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a framework for identifying and referring potential victims of modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support. Individuals who are recognised as a potential victim of modern slavery through the NRM have access to specialist tailored support, which may include access to advice, accommodation, protection and independent emotional and practical help. Individuals here will receive support for at least 45 days while their case is considered by the Single Competent Authority in the Home Office, and Subsistence Payments under NRM are £65 per week. Under Universal Credit rules such payments do not fall within the prescribed categories of unearned income, and are therefore disregarded when calculating entitlement to Universal Credit.
 
 

Gambling Legislation


AQW 9496/17-22  Mr Robbie Butler (UUP - Lagan Valley)

To ask the Minister for Communities what plans she has to introduce legislation to require gambling operators to include explicit and prominent public health warnings about the harms associated with their products and services in their advertising and marketing.

The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985 sets out the law in respect of advertising of gambling products and services. Online advertising of gambling products and services is regulated under Section 5 of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 which permits a remote (online) operator to advertise to consumers here provided they hold the appropriate Gambling Commission licence. Both local and online advertising of gambling products and services must comply with the Advertising Codes issued by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and administered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Any decision to take a public health approach to gambling is a matter for the Minister of Health in the first instance and for the Executive to approve.

AQW 9942/17-22  Mr Robbie Butler (UUP - Lagan Valley)

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the protections that exist for Northern Ireland consumers when accessing online gambling sites licensed by the Gambling Commission.

Online advertising of gambling products and services are regulated under Section 5 of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 which permits a remote (online) operator to advertise to consumers here provided they hold the appropriate Gambling Commission licence and comply with their codes of practice. This inclusion ensures that consumers here will have the same level of protection as consumers in Britain in respect of the advertising of remote gambling. The protections that exist for consumers are set out in the Codes of Practice and Licencing conditions at Part II Section 3. They include:
  • Protection of Children and other Vulnerable persons
  • Self-exclusion
  • Prohibiting the use of credit cards for payments
  • Provision of a complaints and disputes service.
AQW 9494/17-22  Mr Robbie Butler (UUP - Lagan Valley)

To ask the Minister for Communities what plans she has to ask the UK Government to repeal Section 5 of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 that regulates the online advertising of gambling products and services in Northern Ireland, so that the regulation of this activity can be developed and introduced here where the gambling takes place.

The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985 contains no provisions in relation to remote (online) gambling. Online advertising of gambling products and services is regulated under Section 5 of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 which permits a remote (online) operator to advertise to consumers here provided they hold the appropriate Gambling Commission licence. This inclusion ensures that consumers here will have the same level of protection in respect of the advertising of remote gambling. The Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) recently launched a public consultation on proposals to introduce new strengthened rules and guidance to better protect children and young people (under-18s) and vulnerable people from potential gambling-advertising related harms. This consultation is in response to research published by GambleAware. Meanwhile, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), an independent body, will continue to monitor and enforce the strict guidelines around gambling advertising. I continue to keep all aspects of the regulation of gambling under review, including the operation of Section 5 of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014. I will make an announcement on the way forward shortly.
 
 

Parliamentary Questions

2 wages in 1 Assessment Period


Asked by Justin Madders (Labour) To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps her Department is taking to implement changes in response to the court ruling (Case No: C1/2019/0593 22 June 2020) in respect of two wages being received in one assessment period for Universal Credit

Answered by Will Quince:

On 20th October I laid secondary legislation in response to the Court of Appeal judgement made on the 22nd June, in the case of Johnson, Woods, Barrett and Stewart, which concerned claimants who received two calendar monthly payments of earnings in one Universal Credit assessment period. This will allow us to reallocate a payment of earnings reported via the Real Time Information Service to a different Universal Credit assessment period or (in the case of calendar monthly paid employees) it is necessary to maintain a regular payment cycle. This legislation will come into force on 16th November, and will mean that in future, claimants who are paid calendar monthly will have one salary payment taken into account in each assessment period.  It also means that certain claimants will also benefit from any applicable work allowance.

Responding to a follow-up question on Twitter yesterday - directed at the Secretary of State, Mr Quince and Mr Couling - which asked whether this will happen automatically or whether the claimant will need to ask the Department to act, Mr Couling clarified -

‘Bit of both. Not able to discern salary pattern from RTI data, so fully automated solution a way off. We have a list of cases where this has happened, which we will use, but it's bound to be incomplete and will get new claims too. So will also need to rely on folk coming forward’
 
Asked by Claire Hanna (Belfast South)

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if she will extend the run on period for entitlement for the childcare element of universal credit, to include two assessment periods after the assessment period in which the client ceases employment to help mitigate the economic effects of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Universal Credit (UC) claimants who cease employment and have pre-existing childcare arrangements, will be eligible for reimbursement of up to 85% of their childcare costs as part of their UC award for the assessment period in which they cease work and the subsequent assessment period.  There are no current plans to extend this.
 

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