'THINK' policy newsletter - July 2020
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The Policy Team
IMPORTANT UPDATE re online supermarket slots for those advised to shield in NISupermarkets should honour slots for people who have already registered.
- The facility for any new registrations will be withdrawn on 31st July.
- Register a request for a priority online supermarket delivery slot in Northern Ireland for those who have been advised by their Doctor(GP) to shield themselves (avoid all face-to-face contact for 12 weeks).
Suspension of benefit conditionality extended to 7 August 2020The Department for Communities has now updated its Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Benefits web page to confirm that - 'From 30 March 2020 until 7 August 2020, work search and work availability requirements will be removed for new and existing claims to Jobseeker’s Allowance ....[and] Universal Credit.'
However, the Department for Communities has now updated its 'Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Benefits' web page to confirm that -
'From 15 July 2020, claimant commitments will be introduced for all universal credit new claims ...
'Your work coach will contact you by telephone to discuss what activities you can do to help you move into employment and to offer support. You will be given notice of your telephone appointment on your journal. It is important that we have this conversation with you as part of your universal credit application process.'
NB - Work search and work availability requirements will continue to be removed for existing universal credit claims, the Department for Communities says. In addition, while in May 2020 the Department for Communities said that it was suspending the recovery of benefit overpayments and loans for three months, the updated web page advises -
'From July 2020 the Department for Communities will restart the recovery of overpayments and over a period of months will reinstate repayment arrangements that were previously agreed.'
Universal Credit UpdateIn the 2018 Autumn Budget, the Chancellor announced the introduction of a new two-week run-on of income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, and Income Support to people whose claim to Universal Credit terminates their legacy benefit award.
This run-on will take effect from 22 July 2020 and will provide welcome financial support for people during their first assessment period. For all those eligible, the run-on is a non-recoverable payment and is in addition to the existing two-week run-on of Housing Benefit.
The introduction of this run-on may help people while waiting on their first payment of Universal Credit, and it will be paid automatically to those eligible when they claim Universal Credit for the first time so people do not need to contact the Department to receive it.
The run-on payment incorporates other premiums that individuals or couples will have been receiving prior to receiving Universal Credit e.g. disability premiums such as enhanced disability premium, carer premium or ESA work-related activity or support component. Similarly, if someone was in receipt of a reduced benefit prior to receiving Universal Credit e.g. due to a sanction, this reduced payment will also be reflected in the run-on payment.
Kevin Higgins told Belfast Live: “This is a helpful development and will undoubtedly assist claimants moving from legacy benefits (like income based Jobseekers Allowance, Employment & Support Allowance and Housing Benefit) on to Universal Credit. Advice NI would urge anyone thinking about moving from their legacy benefits to Universal Credit to seek independent advice first as the Universal Credit amount can be less than the amount received within legacy benefits. Also unfortunately the 5 week wait for the Universal Credit first payment will remain a source of hardship for people claiming benefits for the first time for example due to redundancy. These people will not have a legacy benefit run-on to help them cope with the 5 week wait.
If anyone needs help and advice, please ring Advice NI on 0800 915 4604.”
Belfast Live: New Universal Credit claimants entitled to two weeks extra payments when switching benefits
Advice NI’s ‘Universal Credit & Redundancy Payments’ Briefing PaperAdvice NI has produced a ‘Universal Credit & redundancy’ Briefing Paper to assist employees and advisers where a redundancy situation arises. Speaking about the Briefing Paper, Advice NI’s Head of Policy, Kevin Higgins explained:
“There is no doubt that there are difficult times ahead, and sadly this will involve significant job losses as the economy contracts due to the current coronavirus crisis. In general, when someone is made redundant the social security benefit that will most often be claimed is Universal Credit. There are special rules around how redundancy payments should be treated. People need to be aware that redundancy payments should be treated as capital and ignored as earnings for Universal Credit (UC). If a redundancy payment is not treated correctly for example if it isn’t laid out clearly in the Real Time Information sent by HMRC to Universal Credit, and ends up being treated as earnings, this can have significant implications and lead to a significant reduction in any Universal Credit award.”
Universal Credit and Redundancy Payments June 2020
Advice NI Produce ‘Universal Credit redundancy Payments’ Briefing Paper Fears Grow
Discretionary Support Letter From Paddy Rooney, Director of Working Age ServicesDuring this pandemic I have advised that Discretionary Support (DS) staff were prioritising the UC Contingency Fund, Covid-19 and DS living expenses grant applications. This was to help us maximise the support we could deliver to those facing financial difficulty during these difficult and challenging times. Unfortunately, due to this prioritisation, staff absences and increased demand for our services, it was not possible to process all applications for household items.
That said, we introduced the escalation process which enabled us to work collaboratively to identify and process applications for anyone who needed our immediate help with household items, etc.
I am now writing to advise that normal services have returned and Discretionary Support staff are now taking and processing all grant and item applications.
New Statutory Rule re: Reciprocal ArrangementsNew regulations have been issued that give effect in Northern Ireland to reciprocal arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in relation to universal credit.
In force from 24 July 2020, the new regulations, the Universal Credit (Great Britain Reciprocal Arrangements) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 (SR.No.129/2020) provide that the legislation referred to in regulation 2(2) -
the Social Security Administration Act 1992;
Chapter 2 (social security decisions and appeals) of Part 1 (decisions and appeals) of the Social Security Act 1998; and
the Welfare Reform Act 2012
- is adapted to give effect to the provisions contained in the Memorandum of Reciprocal Arrangements set out in the Schedule to the new regulations.
The explanatory memorandum to the new regulations advises -
'When people move from Great Britain to Northern Ireland they will become subject to the Northern Ireland regulations and the same will apply in reverse. In effect reciprocal arrangements facilitate the movement of Universal Credit claimants by treating anything done in one jurisdiction as done in the other. The regulations themselves allow for the relevant Northern Ireland legislation to be read with appropriate adaptations. Cross reference in the Northern Ireland legislation to other Northern Ireland legislation include the corresponding Great Britain legislation.'
Further Regulations Issued to Give Effect to Reciprocal Arrangements Between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Relation to Universal Credit
SSP Statutory RuleIn force from 6 July 2020, the Statutory Sick Pay (Coronavirus) (Suspension of Waiting Days and General Amendment) (No.. 2) Regulations 2020 (SI.No.681/2020) amend the Statutory Sick Pay (General) Regulations 1982 so as to ensure that persons who are shielding themselves from other people in such a manner as to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus will continue to be deemed to be incapable of work for the purpose of entitlement to SSP if they meet up with people outside their household, as now permitted by public health guidance. In addition, the regulations provide that -
the shielding group will continue to be eligible for SSP until the end of the shielding period, and that a person who is notified to shield at any future time will still be eligible for SSP; and
a person who is self-isolating because they or someone they live with, or a member of their extended or linked household, has symptoms of coronavirus, and they or that person receives a negative test and therefore stops self-isolating after less than seven or 14 days, they do not have to serve waiting days for the days in self-isolation.
Provisions corresponding to those made in Great Britain have also been made in Northern Ireland by the Statutory Sick Pay (Coronavirus) (Suspension of Waiting Days and General Amendment) (No.2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 (SR.No.134/2020).
Ensuring That People Who Are Shielding Due to Coronavirus Are Still Entitled to SSP if They Meet up With People Outside Their Household
Labour Relations Agency Workplace Information ServiceThe Workplace Information Service, which provides information to employers and employees about employment matters – this service is available by telephoning 03300 555 300, or visit the information pages on this site.
The Forum has produced A Practical Guide to Making Workplaces Safer which has been approved by the NI Executive and is now available to support organisations and workers across Northern Ireland to take appropriate measures to keep everyone safe.
Covid19 Working Through it Together Practical Guide Making Workplaces Safer
DWP Update - Expanding service offer in jobcentres“We are working with local managers to start expanding our service offer in jobcentres to help get Britain back into work. Work Coaches are calling claimants – no one needs to contact us. We don’t want to sanction anyone. These are difficult, uncertain times for many people and we want to do everything we can to help them find work or increase hours, where that is possible for them. No sanction will be used until the claimant has an up-to-date Claimant Commitment in place. After that, a sanction will only be used where a claimant has not provided good reason for meeting the agreed requirements in the Claimant Commitment. Claimants who are shielding, have childcare responsibilities because of COVID restrictions, etc. will have their Claimant Commitment tailored to reflect their circumstances and will not be asked to do anything unreasonable.”
PIP UpdateCommunities Minister Carl NiChuilin MLA announced the extension of safeguarding measures currently in place to protect those claiming disability benefits.
Explaining further, the Minister said:
“Back in March 2020 in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, my colleague Deirdre Hargey, in her role as Communities Minister, announced a number of measures up to the end of June 2020 to ensure that disabled people continued to receive the most appropriate support during this period. I am pleased to announce that arrangements will be extended beyond June 2020.
In line with public health advice face-to face assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will continue to be suspended and be kept under review, with telephony assessments carried out where appropriate. Review activity will gradually resume from 21 July for PIP and Disability Living Allowance and measure have been put in place to ensure the payment of benefit continues until the review has concluded. If people experience a change in their needs they are still encouraged to contact the Department to ensure they are receiving the correct level of support.”
High Court Decides Different Treatment of Terminally Ill Claimants is DiscriminatoryThe High Court in Northern Ireland has ruled that the different treatment of social security benefit claimants with a terminal illness is “manifestly without reasonable foundation”. In a decision handed down by Mr Justice McAlinden, the difference in treatment for terminally ill claimants who cannot reasonably meet the six month criterion was deemed to be discriminatory.
“It is hard to imagine a more devastating diagnosis for a single mother of three young children. This illness is a progressive neurological condition for which there is no effective treatment or cure. The progression of the illness is unpredictable but it would seem that 50% of those individuals diagnosed with the condition die within three years of diagnosis…
“I have carefully analysed all the evidence put forward by the respondents in order to evaluate their arguments in relation to justification and I can find nothing to justify or indeed explain why those individuals who have a terminal diagnosis but are not expected to die within six months and those individuals with a terminal diagnosis and who are reasonably expected to die within six months but who survive beyond that six month period are treated differently…This difference in treatment is manifestly without reasonable justification and is, therefore, in breach of Article 14 ECHR in conjunction with Article 8 and Article 1 of Protocol 1.”
High Court Decides Different Treatment of Terminally Ill Claimants is Discriminatory
High Court Rules That Universal Credit Benefit Cap Earnings Assessment Is Irrational And Unlawful In Case Of A Four-Weekly Paid ClaimantIn a new judgment, the High Court has ruled that the assessment of earnings under universal credit benefit cap rules is irrational and unlawful because it subjected a working mother to the cap solely because she was paid on a four-weekly basis rather than calendar monthly. The case is Pantellerisco and Ors (R on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWHC 1944 (Admin).
The assessment method is governed by regulation 54 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013, which provides -
54(1 The calculation of a person's earned income in respect of an assessment period is, unless otherwise provided in this Chapter, to be based on the actual amounts received in that period.
- and the earnings threshold calculation for the benefit cap under regulation 82, which provides -
82(1) The benefit cap does not apply to an award of universal credit in relation to an assessment period where -
the claimant's earned income or, if the claimant is a member of a couple, the couple's combined earned income, is equal to or exceeds the amount of earnings that a person would be paid at the hourly rate set out in regulation 4 of the National Minimum Wage Regulations for 16 hours per week, converted to a monthly amount by multiplying by 52 and dividing by 12.
Commenting on the judgment, Child Poverty Action Group's solicitor Carla Clarke said -
'This is an extremely welcome judgment which follows the principles established in our recent Court of Appeal success for single mothers who, like Ms Pantellerisco, lose out under universal credit due to circumstances largely beyond their control: for one group it is whether their usual monthly pay date happens to fall on or around their UC assessment period start date; for the other group it is whether they are paid 4 weekly rather than monthly. Today the High Court has recognised that universal credit's inability to take account of non-monthly pay cycles defies common sense. A system that determines the amount of social security low paid working claimants are entitled to on the arbitrary basis of whether they are paid monthly or 4-weekly can only be irrational, unjust and unlawful.’
Benefit Capped Working Mother Wins Test Case Against DWPS Irrational
Second Independent Review of the Personal Independence Payment Process (Northern Ireland): Letter from Marie Cavanagh“Dear Stakeholder,
I wrote to you in May 2020 to tell you that the Department for Communities had approved my request for an extension to the Call for Evidence period until the 16 October 2020, with the final report being laid with the NI Assembly by 11 December 2020.
The focus of this Call for Evidence will remain as follows:
How the assessment process is operating;
Claimants’ experience of taking part in the process;
Perceptions of health care professionals and other staff involved in carrying out the
How effectively further evidence is being used to assist the correct claim decision.
As you know, any review can only be as good as its evidence base, I hope that everyone who is able to provide me with relevant, robust evidence and analysis will do so. I am keen to hear your views and would like to take this opportunity to encourage engagement with the Review. More detailed information and details of how to respond is available here.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Money Navigator ToolNew Online Tool To Help People Navigate Finances
The Money and Pensions Service is launching the Money Navigator tool. Available on the Money Advice Service website, it asks people a short series of questions about their financial situation, before providing guidance which is personalised according to their needs. It will highlight areas where they should consider taking action most urgently to avoid money problems later on.
For further information visit the Money and Pensions Service Website
One Year Left To Apply To The EU Settlement Scheme
Today (30 June 2020) marks one year before the EU Settlement Scheme application deadline of 30 June 2021. Already there have been over 3.6 million applications and, according to internal management figures, more than 3.3 million applications have been granted. Communication materials were translated into 26 EU languages, including Welsh and Irish. Applications must also be submitted for children of any age and parents applying on their behalf are encouraged to link their applications.
EUSS LegislationNew regulations have been issued in relation to family members of people of Northern Ireland accessing income-related benefits.
In force from 24 August 2020, the Social Security (Income-Related Benefits) (Persons of Northern Ireland - Family Members) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (SI.No.683/2020) make amendments to regulations for income-related benefits to provide that, subject to certain conditions, a family member of a relevant person of Northern Ireland who has been granted limited leave under the EU Settlement Scheme will not be considered as being a person from abroad, a person not in Great Britain or a person to be treated as not being in Great Britain, thereby adding them to the list of people exempt from the habitual residence test.
The Explanatory Memorandum to the regulations advises that -
'The amendments will enable [family members of relevant people of Northern Ireland] to access income-related benefits on broadly the same terms as family members of citizens of the Republic of Ireland.' NB - a relevant person is a person who is entitled to reside in Northern Ireland without any restriction on their period of residence.
Access to Income Related Benefits for Family Members of People of Northern Ireland
HMRCHM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is reminding tax credits customers that they need to tell HMRC about any changes in their circumstances or income by 31 July. Tax credits help working families with targeted financial support, so it is important that people don’t miss out on money that they are entitled to.
Customers who need to respond to the Annual Review pack will need to do so by 31 July – or their payments will stop. HMRC’s Director General for Customer Services, Angela MacDonald said: “If you have been contacted by HMRC to provide your income details, I urge you to contact the department before 31 July. If any information HMRC holds is incorrect or incomplete, customers may have to pay back any tax credits that have been overpaid. They may also have to pay a penalty.
HMRC Updated Guidance for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)This extension affects self-employed parents who did not submit a tax return for 2018/2019, or whose trading profits in 2018/19 were less than their other income, and were therefore ineligible for the SEISS, because they were taking time out of their trade to care for their new-born or newly adopted child (i.e. within 12 months of the birth of the child or within 12 months of an adoption placement). This is an amendment to bring these individuals into eligibility for the scheme. It does not affect the grant calculation for those who submitted a 2018/19 return and were already eligible.
This extension complements the government confirming that parents on statutory maternity and paternity leave who return to work in the coming months after a long period of absence will be permitted to be furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
How Different Circumstances Affect the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme
Agents With Multiple Tax Credit ClientsTo remove the burden on tax credits customers during Covid-19 and in anticipation of a reduction in HMRC staff availability on our helplines during the pandemic, most tax credit renewals this year have been served an ‘Auto Renewal’ notice. However, the notice we issued to some customers was missing some of the income information we use to calculate the award. In view of this, we have written to those who are affected and set out their missing income details.
Although selected for auto-renewal this year, self-employed customers must as usual confirm their actual or estimated income by 31 July 2020, otherwise we will finalise their award using the information we hold, and they will not be able to change it at a later date. Where an estimate is provided, as typically expected for self-employed customers, they will need to contact us again when they know their actual income by 31 January 2021.
A new process has been introduced to support agents who contact us to discuss more than one client. We will:
- establish if an agent needs to discuss more than one client on the call
- arrange a call back within 48 hours to discuss their clients.
TV Licence UpdateIn March this year, the BBC, with the Government's agreement, decided to delay the changes to over 75s licence fees until 31 July 2020 due to the Coronavirus.
This means that if you are aged 75 or over and hold a free BBC TV licence which expires on 31 May 2020, your licence will last a further two months until 31 July 2020. This will happen automatically. This notice formally extends your free TV licence and you do not need to contact TV Licensing about this or take any further action.
If you are currently aged 74 and turn 75 between 1 June and 31 July 2020, you can apply for a free TV licence which will expire on 31 July 2020. For further information on how to apply for a free TV licence, please telephone 0300 790 6073 or visit tvlicensing.co.uk/over75
The implementation of the new scheme will be Covid-19 safe. Information about how those receiving Pension Credit can apply for a free licence and the payment options that will be available for those who will need to buy a licence will be sent to customers starting from next month. No one will be expected to pay for a new licence until they have been contacted via letter from TV Licensing and they will be given plenty of time to set up their new licence.
Around 1.5 million households with residents aged over 75 will be eligible for a free TV Licence funded by the BBC if they receive Pension Credit. TV Licensing is operating a self-verification system where individuals simply need to demonstrate their receipt of Pension Credit in order to qualify and 450,000 have already applied for a free licence.
Important notice from the BBC about TV licences for people aged 75 or over
Covid-19 in Northern Ireland: Moving out of LockdownPivotal is beginning a series of short, evidence–based briefing papers on Northern Ireland’s social and economic recovery from Covid–19. These papers will explore evidence from around the world to inform public debate and assist policy–makers in their decision making.
This first paper examines key learning from other countries about lockdown easing and uses this evidence to suggest policy considerations for Northern Ireland:
Advice for workers:
The Labour Relations Agency Workplace Information Service, which provides information to employers and employees about employment matters – this service is available by telephoning 03300 555 300, or see website:
AQW 3545/17-22 Mr Andy Allen (UUP - East Belfast)To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the number of (i) successful; and (ii) unsuccessful Personal Independence Payment appeals, broken down by those with and without tribunal representation, over the last three years.
During the last three years there have been 14,198 Personal Independence Payment appeals that have had a final decision, of which 8,347 were successful and 5,852 were unsuccessful. The appellant was represented in 6,547 of the 8,347 successful appeals and the remaining 1,800 were unrepresented. In relation to the 5,852 unsuccessful appeals, 3,607 appellants were represented while the remaining 2,245 were unrepresented.
AQW 2807/17-22 Ms Kellie Armstrong (APNI - Strangford)To ask the Minister for Communities to outline the accessibility audit used by the Appeals Service to measure the appropriateness of venues it uses to hear benefit appeals; and whether the accessibility audit will be revised to add consideration for the impact such venues have on appellants with mental ill health, learning disabilities and limited mobility.
Appeals are heard in public and privately owned venues based on the facilities available in each area.
Before any venue is confirmed as suitable for an appeal tribunal hearing the location and facilities are assessed based on a number of criteria, including accessibility/DDA compliance, parking, privacy, lighting, ventilation, heating and other criteria which consider the needs of the parties involved in the hearings.
A review of the criteria upon which venues are assessed has commenced and this will include any additional considerations which should be taken into account as part of the process.
AQW 4833/17-22Kellie Armstrong has asked the Minister for Communities (i) to detail the communication she, and her department, has had with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury, regarding the suspension of the Move to Universal Credit; (ii) when the Move to Universal Credit is expected to happen and (iii) what plans she has to introduce transitional protections for people moved off legacy benefits before the Move to Universal Credit is introduced
(i) I am committed to protecting the vulnerable in our society and so officials in my Department engage regularly and closely with officials in DWP on all aspects of Universal Credit.
On the move to Universal Credit, a DWP pilot started in July 2019, with the aim of testing a number of possible approaches, including the calculation of transitional protection to support people through the next phase, known as Move to UC. I am aware that due to the Coronavirus outbreak and the need to meet the priority of responding to unprecedented demand and getting payment to those who need it as quickly as possible, the Move to UC pilot in Britain has been temporarily suspended.
(ii) While my Department had work ongoing in planning for a future Move to UC exercise, including monitoring closely the pilot in Britain, people here were not included in the DWP pilot. However, as a result of the pandemic my Department has also faced an unprecedented increase in demand for services with reduced staff capacity. All available resources are being directed to delivering essential frontline services to those who need them, in particular the most vulnerable in our communities. Resumption of non - essential activity including work on planning for the Move to UC phase here, will take place at an appropriate time.
(iii) The British Government has made a commitment that those people who make a claim to UC during the Move to UC phase will not receive less in Universal Credit at the outset than they would have in the previous legacy benefits - assuming their circumstances remain the same.
However, it is not appropriate to compare those who may move onto UC through Move to UC (with no change of circumstances) and those who move onto UC because of an event that triggers a new benefit claim. Where there is a change of circumstances, different amounts of benefit may be payable. Therefore, there is no ‘correct’ amount that can be calculated for transitional payments in comparison to what might be payable by way of transitional protection under Move to UC.
There are however additional payments of two weeks of Housing Benefit, known as a “run-on” which are already available to people moving to UC. Remaining people moving to UC under the Move to UC process will be eligible to receive a two-week Transitional Payment, in line with those claimants who migrate to UC because of a change of circumstances.
There will also be a two-week “run on” for people in receipt of income-based Jobseekers Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support from 22 July 2020. The amount of these “run-ons” will be fixed according to the amount of the award payable immediately before claiming UC.
My Department is also currently making transitional payments to those who lost the Severe Disability Premium after moving from legacy benefits to UC.
AQW 4856/17-22 Mr Patsy McGlone (SDLP - Mid Ulster)To ask the Minister for Communities whether work has been carried out to establish if there has been a shortfall in state pension payments to married women in Northern Ireland.
Under the State Pension rules that apply before 6 April 2016, individuals may be able to derive entitlement or a top up to their State Pension using their husband’s National Insurance (NI) contributions once he reaches his State Pension age.
My Department is aware that in some instances the proper action was not taken in all cases in line with legislation in place at the time however our early assessment is that volumes in NI will be small. This is due to the fact that the Pension Centre in NI has over the years targeted these type of cases in their routine accuracy checking regime, corrected them and paid arrears when detected.
My Department is checking for further cases and will reassess their entitlement immediately if there has been a shortfall and people will be contacted in these circumstances. In the intervening period if a married woman contacts the Pension Centre enquiring about their State Pension award, staff will check the award and revise if necessary.
AQW 4608/17-22 Mr Patsy McGloneTo ask the Minister for Communities how many claimants are subject to the benefit cap and cannot avail of an Administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment.
The most recent statistics on the impact of the Benefit Cap were published in February 2020. At this time a total of 507 households were subject to the Benefit Cap and were not in receipt of a Welfare Supplementary Payment.
Useful InformationAdvice NI’s new single helpline number for all our advice services is 0800 915 4604