'THINK' POLICY NEWSLETTER - OCTOBER 2020

The Advice NI Policy Team is delighted to publish our October edition of our policy eNewsletter ‘THINK’.
This edition has a wide range of issues including fears regarding those on furlough who face losing their jobs and self-employed who will be impacted by the Universal Credit ‘Minimum Income Floor’. There is also a House of Commons Petition to Extend the suspension of the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor

Also the Northern Ireland Assembly has agreed a motion calling for the removal of the six-month rule from the special rules for terminal illness.

And much, much more.
 
Please email us at policy@adviceni.net to discuss any policy matters, content, feedback or comments.

We'd be happy to share ideas on areas to focus on, content suggestions and other ways of getting involved.

Best regards,
The Policy Team

Latest News

Advice NI New Single Helpline

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

0800 915 4604

Email: advice@adviceni.net

Advice NI fears thousands may face poverty and hardship at Christmas

Despite the Government announcement on Friday about a different Job Support Scheme to follow the current furlough scheme, we in Advice NI remain concerned that thousands of employees across Northern Ireland could see their jobs under threat and so face the daunting prospect of claiming Universal Credit. In addition, the reinstatement of the ‘Minimum Income Floor’ for self-employed claimants in November is likely to deprive many of much needed financial support.

Advice NI is calling on officials and Ministers both in the Department for Communities, and the Department for Work & Pensions in Great Britain, to clarify when people (who unfortunately are not assisted by the Government’s new scheme and so lose their job) should claim Universal Credit in order to receive a payment for their first Assessment Period and so not be left penniless at Christmas.

In addition, Advice NI is calling for an extension to the suspension of the Minimum Income Floor for the entire 2020/21 financial year, as is the case for other Covid-19 measures within Universal Credit, for example the £20 uplift. Advice NI’s Head of Policy, Kevin Higgins, stated:

“I am deeply concerned about the poverty and destitution that could potentially face many people this Christmas.
Firstly, if we take the end of furlough, many thousands of people may find their jobs at risk and face into a redundancy situation. They will have to turn to the social security system for support, and for many, this will mean having to claim Universal Credit which is based on a monthly Assessment Period, hence the much-publicised concerns about the 5 week wait for the first payment. However, the biggest fear is associated with when these people claim Universal Credit.

For example, if they claim Universal Credit and then afterwards receive their final furlough payment this will be counted as income in their first Assessment Period and will likely mean that they will receive little or no Universal Credit payment for the first Assessment Period; and have to wait until after the second Assessment Period to receive a full Universal Credit payment which will most likely be after Christmas.”


Secondly, if we take the ‘Minimum Income Floor’, during the Covid-19 pandemic self-employed people have been able to claim and get paid Universal Credit as this assumed level of earnings has not been taken into account in the calculations. However, this measure is due to end in November, meaning that self-employed people, regardless of their actual income, will be treated as having an assumed level of earnings equivalent to the National Minimum Wage depending on the age of the claimant (Eg for someone 25 or over this would be £305.20 per week or £1,220.80 for the monthly Assessment Period). There is no doubt that this will significantly reduce or even eliminate any Universal Credit payment for self-employed claimants. Advice NI therefore urges both the Department for Communities and the Department for Work & Pensions in Great Britain to provide clarity on both the timing for a Universal Credit claim and an extension to the suspension of the Minimum Income Floor so that people are not left penniless during the holiday period.”

Minimum Income Floor legislation:
https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/371/contents
Belfast Telegraph - Thousands facing poverty at Christmas warns Advice NI
Mirror - Universal Credit change on November 13
Work & Pensions Committee write to Secretary of State for an update on the Government’s plans for the Minimum Income Floor (MIF) in Universal Credit.
 

House of Commons Petition to Extend the suspension of the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to thousands of self-employed workers seeing a massive reduction in trade. For many, Universal Credit has been the only way to survive, and the suspension of the Minimum Income Floor (MIF) has meant that their actual income has been used to calculate their payments.

There are many self-employed who are still unable to fully return to work and are facing a benefits cliff-edge on the 13th November when the MIF is reinstated. The reinstatement will lead to many losing their Universal Credit payments entirely and therefore may be unable to afford the basic human needs of rent, food, heat, and bills over the winter months and beyond. We ask that the MIF suspension is extended for 6 months in line with the new Winter Economic Plan. Petition Link
 

Amendment of benefit regulations in consequence of new marriage and civil partnership legislation in Northern Ireland

New regulations have been issued that provide, amongst other measures, for the amendment of benefit regulations as a consequence of new marriage and civil partnership legalisation in Northern Ireland.

In force from 7 December 2020, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (SI.No.1143/2020) enable couples to convert from civil partnership to marriage and vice versa, and provide such couples with a range of associated rights and entitlements as far as possible in line with their previously held rights, in particular in relation to pensions and social security, children and families, and employment equality.

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/1143/made[/embed]

Moore -v- Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

[2020] EWHC 2827 (Admin) — High Court rules that treatment of maternity allowance as unearned income for the purposes of universal credit is not unlawful.
 

The Universal Credit (Earned Income) Amendment Regulations 2020

 
The Universal Credit (Earned Income) Amendment Regulations 2020 make the following amendments to reallocate a calendar monthly payment of earnings reported via the Real Time Information (RTI) service to a different Universal Credit assessment period where it is necessary to maintain a regular payment cycle. 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/uksi/2020/1138/contents/made[/embed]

Free School Meals over Halloween

The Northern Ireland Executive is to extend free school meal payments to cover the Halloween break. The executive has said support is vital for families struggling financially due to Covid-19.

Direct payments in lieu of free school meals will be issued from Friday to cover the period 19 to 23 October, the Department of Education has announced.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-54652230
Notice Coronavirus Act 2020 Temporary Modification Education Duties (No. 13) Notice (Northern Ireland) 2020

Removal of waiting days for ESA extended for a further six months, where a person is affected by coronavirus

In force from 12 November 2020, the Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 (SR.No.217/2020) amend the Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (Coronavirus) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 (SR.No33/2020) to provide that their expiry date is extended from eight months to fourteen months.

Until 12 May 2021, where a person is infected or contaminated with coronavirus, is isolating to prevent the spread of coronavirus, or is caring for a child (or qualifying young person) who falls into either of those categories, DfC continues to have the discretion to -
  • remove waiting days in ESA claims; and
  • determine that when claiming ESA and/or universal credit, affected claimants are treated as having limited capability for work (LCW).
https://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2020/217/made[/embed]

MPs call for starter payments to provide financial support during wait for first Universal Credit payment

A starter payment should be made to people claiming Universal Credit (UC) for the first time to ensure that everyone has enough money for basics such as food and heating during the wait for their initial monthly payment, the Work and Pensions Committee says.

MPs Call For Starter Payments
 

Timetable for Development of Social Inclusion Strategies

 
In accordance with the New Decade New Approach, the Executive has agreed the indicative timetable for the development and publication of a suite of Social Inclusion Strategies for which the Department for Communities is responsible.

The Strategies, which include an Anti-Poverty Strategy, Disability Strategy, Gender Strategy and Sexual Orientation Strategy, will bring focus to identifying and addressing the issues, barriers and disadvantages that undermine equality of opportunity in our community.

https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/articles/social-inclusion-strategies
 

The Northern Ireland Assembly has agreed a motion calling for the removal of the six-month rule from the special rules for terminal illness

Introducing the motion in the Assembly, Alliance Party MLA Kellie Armstrong highlighted evidence including Rader’s review recommendations, the amended rules that will apply to disability assistance in Scotland under schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 2018, and the recent High Court judgment in [2020] NIQB 53 that held that the rule is ‘discriminatory' and 'manifestly without reasonable foundation'.

Responding for the government at the end of the debate, in which there was cross-party support for the motion from MLAs, Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said -

'We all know that this rule is not working - everyone who spoke said that - and where there is good practice and good recommendations, we all need to listen to them. I want to let you know that that is exactly what I am doing. Walter Rader's independent review of PIP - the assessment process - is sobering reading for anyone for many reasons, but, if anything, it asks us to work collectively to change the status quo.

The devolved social security legislation powers are now with us, so it is in my gift to look at this, and I am saying that I am actively looking at it. When we have found a remedy or are in the process of going through a remedy, I will inform my Executive colleagues, the Communities Committee and, in turn, the Assembly. It will mean that you will need to change legislation and regulations, but that is what we are here for, so I think that we are all up for that..'


Official Report: Tuesday 06 October 2020
 

EUSS Update

Over 4 million applications have been made to the EU Settlement Scheme, according to the latest Home Office figures. This is an important milestone, with eight months remaining before the EU Settlement Scheme application deadline of 30 June 2021.

The latest monthly statistics show that the majority of applications (3,693,400) have been received from England with an additional 204,700 from Scotland, 67,200 from Wales and 66,300 from Northern Ireland. 

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/eu-settlement-scheme-statistics

There are several ways you can get in touch with Advice NI for EUSS advice in Northern Ireland, please visit our website.
 

Pension Credit

 
The Department is running a campaign which focuses on encouraging people to check their eligibility for Pension Credit, using the Pension Credit Calculator or by ringing the Pension Centre on 0800 587 0892. The campaign includes a short video which will be published on Twitter and Facebook and will also be available on NI Direct.

https://twitter.com/CommunitiesNI/status/1314495231308582912[/embed]

Human Rights Watch Universal Credit Report

 
HRW states: “This report documents how the government’s drive to promote efficiency and personal responsibility through Universal Credit has led to flawed design choices that are depriving people of essential social security support in the UK. As they borrow money to cope and turn to food banks to provide for their families, these restrictions on their right to social security are also undermining their rights to food and other essential elements of the right to an adequate standard of living.”

How Tech Driven Overhaul UKs Social Security System Worsens
 

Northern Ireland Assembly agrees to extend provisions of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill to Northern Ireland

 
The Northern Ireland Assembly has agreed to extend the provisions of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill to Northern Ireland. It agreed to the following Legislative Consent Motion -

'That this Assembly agrees, in line with section 87 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of the provisions of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill dealing with social security coordination as contained in the Bill that was introduced in the House of Commons on 5 March 2020.'

Northern Ireland Assembly agrees to extend provisions of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination

Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse Appointed

Fiona Ryan has been named as the first permanent Commissioner for Victims of Institutional Childhood Abuse in Northern Ireland.
 
The appointment follows from the 2017 recommendations of the late judge Sir Anthony Hart who found there was evidence of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, neglect and unacceptable practices across 22 Catholic and Protestant and state- run homes. Ms Ryan is currently chief executive of Irish domestic abuse charity Sonas, and a former chief executive of Alcohol Action Ireland. Her term will take effect on 14 December and last for five years.

For Historical Institutional Abuse advice and support call Advice NI 02890 645919

Email hia@adviceni.net
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-54434505[/embed]

Covid Update

Coronavirus (COVID-19): regulations and localised restrictions

The Executive imposed the following measures for four weeks:
  • Closure of the hospitality sector, apart from deliveries and takeaways
  • Other fast-food and takeaway premises to close at 23:00
  • Off-licences and supermarkets not to sell alcohol after 20:00
  • No indoor sport or organised contact sport involving mixing of households, other than at elite level
  • Close-contact services - apart from those meeting essential health needs - to close
  • Mobile hairdressers and make-up artists - also classed as close contact services - prohibited from working in homes
  • Gyms to remain open for individual training but no classes permitted
  • Places of worship to remain open but face coverings mandatory when entering and exiting
  • Schools will close for two weeks, including the half-term holiday, until Monday 2 November, when their closure will be reviewed.
The current restrictions on household mixing are expected to remain as they are.

https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus  [/embed]

Derry City & Strabane District Council

Following an increase in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, additional restrictions have been introduced for people living in certain areas. These are aimed at limiting the chances for the virus to spread between households.

The NI Executive announced on 1 October 2020 that additional restrictions were being introduced for people living in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area. Areas may be added and removed from the local restrictions as the patterns of infection change, and further interventions and restrictions could be added as necessary.

The additional restrictions will be in place for two weeks in the first instance, and will be reviewed on a weekly basis. The regulations are available on the Department of Health website:

https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/health-protection-coronavirus-...

https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-derry-city-and-strabane-district-council-localised-restrictions-guide

First Minister Arlene Foster also confirmed that the use of mandatory face coverings in NI is to be extended. Face coverings are already compulsory on public transport and for customers in shops, but will now become mandatory in the following settings:
  • Taxis and private buses
  • For staff in retail shops
  • In public areas of civil services offices such as jobs and benefits offices
  • When boarding a plane
  • In banks, building societies, credit unions and post offices
  • For driving instructors and their students
The usual exemptions from wearing a face covering will still apply.
 

Covid-19 Grant for those self-isolating

Minister for Communities CaralNiChuilin has highlighted the existing Covid-19 Grant available to people with low incomes who need to self-isolate, they should apply to Scheme on-line via NIDirect or by phone 0800 587 2750. She stated:

“It is my priority to protect the health and well-being of those who find themselves in a crisis situation as a result of Covid-19.  I am determined that my Department will do everything it can to help people who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or are advised to self-isolate”

http://nidirect.gov.uk/services/claim-discretionary-support

The non-repayable Discretionary Support COVID-19 Grant introduced last March, nearly 7 months ago is specifically designed as supportive intervention for people on low incomes diagnosed with COVID-19 or told to self-isolate.

Key Supportive Features of the non-repayable DS COVID19 grant are:
  • Awards will have calculated after considering each person’s individual circumstances
  • Awards will include a specific amount for all of the children in the household
  • There are no restrictions on the number of Discretionary Support COVID-19 grants that can be awarded
  • Any Discretionary Support COVID19 award made will not affect any future application to Discretionary Support or the Universal Credit contingency fund.
  • Awards are disregarded for benefit purposes
  • Awards are not subject to income tax.
  • DfC will continue providing support to people affected by COVID-19 into the future
  • This support provided by DfC is not aligned to any lawful enforcement on self-isolation.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – changes from 1 November

On behalf of Chief Executive & Permanent Secretary of HMRC:

The Job Support Scheme (JSS) will open on 1‌‌‌ ‌November and run for six months, until 30‌‌‌ ‌April 2021. The government has said it will review the terms of the scheme in January 2021. There are two variations to JSS – JSS Open and JSS Closed.

In recognition of the challenging times ahead, the Chancellor said he would be increasing support through the existing Job Support and self-employed schemes.

JSS Open will provide support to businesses that are open where employees are working shorter hours due to reduced demand. Employees will need to work at least 20% of their usual hours. Employers will continue to pay employees for the hours they work, and the UK government will pay a contribution of 61.67% of the usual pay for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £1,541.75 per month. Employers will pay 5% of the usual pay for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £125 per month, and can top this up further if they choose. This means employees should receive at least two thirds of their usual pay for hours not worked. The caps are reduced according to the proportion of hours not worked. Further guidance on this will be available on GOV‌‌‌‌.UK shortly. Employers will need to cover all employer National Insurance and pension contributions.

JSS Closed will provide support to businesses whose premises are legally required to close as a direct result of coronavirus restrictions set by one of the four governments of the UK. This includes premises restricted to delivery or collection-only services from their premises, and those restricted to providing food and/or drinks outdoors.

For JSS Closed, the UK government will fund two thirds of employees’ usual wages for time not worked, up to a maximum of £2,083.33 per month. Employers will not be required to contribute, but they can top up the government’s contribution if they choose to. Employers will still need to cover all employer National Insurance and pension contributions.

You or your clients will be able to make your first JSS claim in arrears from 8‌‌‌ ‌December, for pay periods ending and paid in November. We’ll let you know more about how to make a claim by the end of this month. Employees will be able to check if their employer has made a Job Support Scheme claim on their behalf through their online Personal Tax Account. Employees can set up a Personal Tax Account on GOV‌‌‌‌.UK, by searching 'Personal Tax Account: sign in or set up'.

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) Grant Extension

As part of support for businesses through the coronavirus pandemic, the UK government has increased the support available under the SEISS Grant Extension – doubling the value of the first grant. This brings support for the self-employed in line with that for employers under the Job Support Scheme Open.

The value of the first SEISS Grant Extension, covering the period November 2020 to the end of January 2021, will double. This means that the UK government will provide an initial SEISS grant based on 40% of three months’ average trading profits, paid out in a single instalment, and capped at £3,750 in total. To ensure that support will be targeted to those who most need it, SEISS Grant Extension will be available to self-employed individuals who temporarily cannot trade as well as those continuing to trade and facing reduced demand due to COVID-19. HMRC will provide full details about claiming and applications in guidance on GOV‌‌‌‌.UK in mid-November.

Job Retention Bonus (JRB)

You or your clients will be able to claim a one-off payment of £1,000 for every eligible employee you furloughed and claimed for through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), kept continuously employed until at least 31‌‌‌ ‌January 2021 and who meets the other eligibility criteria. Employers do not have to pay this money to their employee.

You or your clients will be able to claim the bonus between 15‌‌‌ ‌February and 31‌‌‌ ‌March. To do this you must have submitted PAYE information for the period up to 5‌‌‌ ‌February 2021 on time.

Further information on eligibility and when you can claim can be found on GOV‌‌‌‌.UK by searching 'Job Retention Bonus Guidance' and further guidance on the claim process will be published by the end of January 2021.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – closes on 31‌‌‌ ‌October

Please note that this scheme closes on 31‌‌‌ ‌October and employers will need to make any final claims on or before 30‌‌‌ ‌November. Employers will not be able to submit or add to any claims after 30‌‌‌ ‌November. From 1‌‌‌ ‌October, the UK government has paid employers 60% of usual wages up to a cap of £1,875 per month for the hours furloughed employees do not work. You or your clients will continue to pay your furloughed employees at least 80% of their usual wages for the hours they do not work, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. Employers need to fund the difference between this and the CJRS grant themselves.

The caps are proportional to the hours not worked. For example, if an employee is furloughed for half their usual hours in October, employers are entitled to claim 60% of their usual wages for the hours they do not work, up to £937.50 (half of £1,875 cap). Employers must still pay their employee at least 80% of their usual wages for the hours they don’t work, so for someone only working half their usual hours they’d need to pay them up to £1,250 (half of £2,500 cap), funding the remaining portion themselves. For help with calculations, search 'Calculate how much you can claim using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme' on GOV‌‌‌‌‌.UK.

Employers will also continue to pay employer National Insurance and pension contributions from their own funds. Employers must keep the records that support the amount of CJRS grant they have claimed in case HMRC needs to check it. Employers can now view, print or download copies of their previously submitted claims by logging onto their CJRS service on GOV‌‌‌‌.UK.
 

Are you a Close Contact?

As a #closecontact you will be asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days. It’s really important to do this even if you don’t feel unwell and even if you have received a negative test result because it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to develop!

For more information on self-isolation:
https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus
 

Contact Tracing Service goes ‘digital first'

The introduction of the digital model was brought forward in response to the sharp rise in case numbers. The launch of the digital first approach has enabled the CTS to make prompt contact with positive cases and their close contacts. This is the link to the easy explainer for further information on it -

People will then be notified via the contact tracing text service of their need to self-isolate. For further information click here.

To find out more about both the self-service contact tracing and StopCOVID app:
https://covid-19.hscni.net/[/embed]

Resilience Plan and Equality Screening from the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust

The Minister of Health has announced a new COVID-19 Surge Planning Strategic Framework for Northern Ireland and outlined that each Trust have also published an individual localised surge plan.

Every year Belfast Trust prepares a Winter Plan to deal with the additional demand for unscheduled care. This year this extra pressure will be further compounded by the likely impact of a second wave of Covid-19. And so the Trust has developed a Resilience Plan (Surge Plan) which brings together what we will do to address winter pressures coupled with those arising from COVID-19.

The Trust will endeavour to maintain as many services as possible during this period and will apply the learning from the first wave of COVID-19 earlier in the year. Nonetheless due to our limited capacity, managing service demand arising from Winter and COVID-19 will have to take priority over planned or elective services.

In accordance with our equality duties under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Trust has assessed the potential impact of the measures outlined in our Resilience Plan in an equality screening and sought to lessen any adverse impact.

https://belfasttrust.hscni.net/2020/10/06/belfast-trust-resilience-plan/...

Assembly Questions

AQW 7023/17-22 Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP – Foyle)  

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the number of (i) households; and (ii) children in those households affected by the two-child maximum rule for the child element of Universal Credit for (a) 2017-18; (b) 2018-19; and (c) the most up to date figures.

As at 31 May 2020, a total of 2,620 Universal Credit (UC) households were impacted by the two child policy.  Historical data and data on the number of children in impacted households are not currently available.  My Department continues to develop the range of statistical data on Universal Credit and as additional information becomes available it will be published on my Department’s website.

AQW 7093/17-22 Mr Gerry Carroll (PBPA - West Belfast)    

To ask the Minister for Communities whether she plans to increase the awareness of the Universal Credit Contingency Fund

Claims for the Universal Credit Contingency Fund can be made via nidirect using an online application form or by calling the Freephone number on 0800 587 2750.

Information on how to apply is advertised to everyone making a new claim to Universal Credit via their customer journal. From 21 September 2020, a link to the online application form has now been included in the journal entry.  Further information on all Finance Support provisions, including the Universal Credit Contingency Fund, is available on the Extra Finance Support page on nidirect.

AQO 762/17-22 Mr Gerry Carroll (PBPA - West Belfast)

To ask the Minister for Communities to outline her Department's plan to reduce absolute poverty levels.

Work on the development of an Anti-Poverty Strategy to tackle poverty and its root causes is due to commence imminently in line with commitments made in New Decade, New Approach and in support of the delivery of the Executive’s Programme for Government.

I intend to establish an Anti-Poverty Strategy Expert Advisory Panel in the coming weeks. It will be tasked with making recommendations on the key themes and priorities that a new Anti-Poverty Strategy should contain.

The Strategy will be co-designed and co- produced with people who have direct experience of poverty, sector and academic experts, voluntary and community groups, councils, and other stakeholders including children and young people.

I have written to Executive colleagues to secure their commitment to the development of the Strategy, with a view to securing the participation of senior officials in a Cross-departmental Working Group which will provide a platform for all departments to contribute to the development of the Strategy and its action plan.

I am committed to ensuring the new Strategy is evidence based, developed with meaningful input and targets the areas of greatest need.

AQW 7170/17-22 Mr Alex Easton (DUP - North Down)

To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the departmental grants to which community and voluntary organisations can apply.

Information on the Department’s grant and other contracted programmes can be found on the Department’s website NICVA provides the GrantTracker funding database - https://www.grant-tracker.org/
 

AQW 6862/17-22 Mr Mervyn Storey (DUP - North Antrim)    

 
To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the rate of uptake of Pension Credit among over 75 year olds living in Northern Ireland; and to provide a breakdown by council area.

The Department will shortly publish new experimental statistics on Pension Credit uptake which will include data by Local Government District. I encourage anyone over State Pension Age to take a few minutes to make sure they are getting all they are entitled to. They can do this by calling the Pension Centre line on 0800 587 0892 or by visiting NI Direct.

There’s also an online calculator to check eligibility and get an estimate of what they may be entitled to. Since 2015 the Make the Call Service has delivered just over £22m in additional Pension Credit payable to Pensioners and whilst that work continues my Department will in the coming weeks also undertake a number of actions intended to further increase awareness of Pension Credit.
 

AQW 6229/17-22 Ms Kellie Armstrong (APNI - Strangford)

To ask the Minister for Communities to outline (i) the actions taken by her Department during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide accommodation for homeless street sleepers; and (ii) the actions her Department is taking to prevent the issue from returning after any temporary measures are withdrawn.

An MOU was set up between my Department, the Housing Executive and DoH. As the statutory body with responsibility for provision of housing, the Housing Executive was best placed to commission necessary accommodation arrangements. The Housing has advised that as of 8 September it, in conjunction with homeless charities and organisations, has identified 62 individuals who were rough sleeping. These individuals were engaged with and assisted to avail of temporary accommodation and support.

These individuals were placed in temporary accommodation, including homeless supported accommodation, B&B/Hotels, single lets and a House of Multiple occupation (HMO).  All placements have been made with the aim of providing the most suitable type of accommodation that is sensitive to the extreme vulnerabilities that are often present amongst rough sleepers.

A number of those sleeping rough had no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and were ineligible for housing assistance. In the context of maintaining adherence to current public health advice on social distancing, self-isolation or shielding, DoH agreed to fund the provision of accommodation for these individuals during the period of the current emergency.

My Department and the Housing Executive are currently assessing and evaluating the measures put in place to address homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis. This will inform our future homeless policy as we look to improve our response to homelessness.

PQs

Asked by Claire Hanna (Social Democratic & Labour Party, Belfast South)

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to the Answer of 17 September 2020 to Question 89694, what steps she is taking to ensure that people who received support through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will be able to have their eligibility for universal credit assessed promptly at the end of that scheme; and what assessment she has made of the effect of including those people’s final CJRS payments in their eligibility assessment for Universal Credit on those people’s financial security over Christmas 2020


Answered 12 October 20, Mims Davies MP:

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is a HMRC-led initiative providing a grant to help employers pay the wages of their employees.  When the scheme ends, any employee who sees their income reduced may be eligible to apply for Universal Credit.  The Department ensures all claimants are supported in both making and maintaining a claim.  For those claimants who are particularly affected by any loss of income and need urgent support, new claims advances are available during the first assessment period to provide upfront support – meaning the claimant will receive their first year’s entitlement over 13 payments instead of 12.  Where a payment from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is used to fund earnings, the earnings of the employee will be taken into account in the calculation of entitlement to Universal Credit in the usual way.  The intention being that payments to employees should mirror the way equivalent income is treated in Universal Credit.
 
In response, Head of Policy @ Advice NI, Kevin Higgins, stated:

This is a very confused and confusing response from the DWP Minister Mims Davies MP.

“For those claimants who are particularly affected by any loss of income and need urgent support, new claim advances are available during the first assessment period to provide upfront support – meaning the claimant will receive their first year’s entitlement over 13 payments instead of 12”

Is Mims Davies really saying that Universal Credit advance loans are available to EVERY UC CLAIMANT, regardless of whether there is entitlement or not? Surely this is a recipe for inappropriate and potentially fraudulent use of public money?

What does she mean by saying claimants receive their first year’s entitlement over 13 payments? Doesn’t she realise that Universal Credit Advance Loans need to be repaid? Doesn’t she realise that these payments push claimants into debt and the repayments reduce the amount that the UC claimant has to live on?

And there is no attempt to address the central question regarding people who are currently on furlough and sadly lose their jobs at the end of October: when should these people claim Universal Credit to ensure they receive a payment for their first monthly Assessment Period and so not be penniless at Christmas?

Useful Information

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

Email: advice@adviceni.net