Universal Credit Director General in Belfast as Fears Grow About Rollout in NI
Advice NI conference heard from Neil Couling who was appointed Director General for the Universal Credit programme in GB in 2014, amid fears about the impact of the new benefit on low income households in Northern Ireland.
“Universal Credit is constantly in the headlines in GB and rollout has already started here in Limavady and Ballymoney. Whilst we welcome the announcement in the Budget this week that the 7 day waiting period is to be removed, this comes nowhere near addressing the Universal Credit cuts amounting to £4.7 billion imposed by George Osborne in the Summer Budget 2015.
“Several inherent flaws remain. The prolonged wait for a first payment is still unacceptable, the work incentives need to be strengthened, the problems with the online identity verification system ‘Verify’ need to be addressed, the arbitrary ‘Minimum Income Floor’ for the self-employed needs to be removed, and much more needs to be done to help people access what is primarily an online digital system.
“Advice NI understands that the Department for Communities in NI is putting additional support in place for example via Digital Zones within local Jobs & Benefit Offices, additional measures in relation to sanctions and via funding to the advice sector. However this good work is undermined by the flaws which are still inherent in the system.
“Advice NI has previously called for the return of NI Assembly to make critical Welfare Reform decisions, and stated that if the Assembly and an Executive is not in place the roll out of Universal Credit should be halted in light of the impact we have seen elsewhere in Great Britain. Given neither of these scenarios are likely, we want an oversight body established to monitor the rollout of Universal Credit in Northern Ireland.”
Universal Credit replaces Jobseeker's Allowance (income based), Employment Support Allowance (income-related), Income Support, Housing Benefit (rental), Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credits for people aged over 18 and under State Pension age.
Existing claimants will transfer to Universal Credit between July 2019 and March 2022. Some claimants will naturally move to Universal Credit earlier, where their circumstances have changed.
For anyone worried about Universal Credit or any of the welfare changes, the free, independent Welfare Changes Helpline is available on 0808 802 0020.
Universal Credit NI rollout schedule: