Resettled Syrians to be granted refugee status
On 22 March, the Home Secretary announced that Syrians admitted through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme (VPR) will now be granted refugee status. To date, VPR Syrians have been granted Humanitarian Protection.
Law Centre (NI) welcomes this announcement. At the outset of Northern Ireland’s participation in the VPR scheme, we highlighted how Humanitarian Protection would afford the Syrians fewer entitlements especially in the context of access to Further Education and entitlement disability benefits. We have worked constructively with Northern Ireland government departments to secure amendments to statutory guidance that facilitates access to VPR Syrians. We commend the Department for Communities and the Department for Economy for their approach.
However, despite the positive changes that Northern Ireland made, we continued to maintain that refugee status should be awarded to VPR Syrians. Refugee status provides access to a Travel Document that is cheaper and more widely accepted than that available for holders of Humanitarian Protection. In addition, refugee status is underpinned by the UN Refugee Convention and therefore is a term that has meaning in an international context. This change will mean that VPR Syrians will now have the same type of status as other Syrian refugees living in Northern Ireland.
Controversial 2-children limit for Child Tax Credit starts 6 April
From 6 April, people will not be able to claim Child Tax Credit (CTC) for third or subsequent children or qualifying young persons born on or after 6 April 2017.
The change also applies to Universal Credit (UC), which is to be rolled out in Northern Ireland from 25 September. However, government has indicated that until November 2018, existing claimants with more than two children who would otherwise claim UC will be directed to claim CTC instead.
Limited exemptions apply, including multiple births and the controversial 'rape clause'.
Concerns have also been expressed about the impact on child poverty.
Important changes to bereavement benefits
From 6 April, Bereavement Support Payment is being introduced to replace three existing bereavement benefits: Bereavement Payment, Bereavement Allowance and Widowed Parents Allowance.
Unlike the existing bereavement benefits, Bereavement Support Payment will only be paid for up to 18 months after the death:
- surviving partners with at least one dependent child – an initial payment of £3,500 and up to 18 monthly payments of £350;
- surviving partners with no dependent children – an initial payment of £2,500, no additional payments.
Bereavement Support Payment will be paid to new claimants where the date of death of a spouse or civil partner is on or after 6 April 2017. People already receiving Bereavement Payment, Bereavement Allowance or Widowed Parents Allowance will continue to do so and will not be affected by the introduction of Bereavement Support Payment.
Further information can be found on the Department for Communities website www.communities-ni.gov.uk/advisor-information.
Benefits, pensions, tax credits, Child Benefit and Guardians Allowance rates from April
New benefits and tax credit rates apply from 6 April, see below. Many other changes happening as part of welfare reform Northern Ireland and UK-wide changes. More information in our welfare reform news and information pages. Anyone with any concerns should contact the Welfare Changes Helpline 0808 802 0020.
For tax credits, Child Benefit and Guardians Allowance, see: www.gov.uk/government/publications/tax-and-tax-credit-rates-and-thresholds-for-2017-18/tax-and-tax-credit-rates-and-thresholds-for-2017-18#working-and-child-tax-credits-child-benefit-and-guardians-allowance
For other benefits and pensions rates, no Northern Ireland chart available yet, but see the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order (Northern Ireland) 2017 for details of changes in force in Northern Ireland from April 2017, and check GB rates charts, which are largely similar. Differences include Universal Credit which will only be introduced to Northern Ireland in the Autumn, and welfare reform mitigation payments which apply in Northern Ireland.
Also in force from April 2017, the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017:
- prevent any rate that is changed by the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order (Northern Ireland) 2017 from applying in cases where there is a question about its effect on a benefit that is already in payment that is still to be determined;
- restrict the application of the increases specified in the 2017 Order in cases where the beneficiary is not ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland; and
- increases by 1% the amount of benefit that a person must be left with if they live in a care home and, because they find it difficult to budget for their care fees, the care home costs are paid direct from their benefit to the person or body charging for care.
Again, anyone with any concerns should contact the Welfare Changes Helpline 0808 802 0020. See: www.lawcentreni.org/casework/welfare-changes-helpline.html
Welfare reform: free specialist awareness training at the Law Centre
- 29 March - Welfare reform overview - 1/2 day - Belfast
- 29 March - Mitigation Schemes under Welfare Reform - 1/2 day - Belfast
- 30 March - Welfare reform overview - evening - Belfast
- 31 March - Changes to the Social Fund - 1/2 day - Belfast
- All free for Law Centre members - Register by 17 March.
Legal remedies for victims of labour exploitation
The Law Centre has published a policy briefing outlining the legal remedies available for victims of labour exploitation and making suggestions to improve the compensation system.
Read it here:
Work-related activity component of ESA ends on 3 April
From 3 April, the work-related activity component will be removed from both contributory and income-related ESA in Northern Ireland.
See: the Welfare Reform and Work (Northern Ireland) Order 2016 (Commencement No. 2) Order 2017 (SR.No.46/2017), which brings into force provisions of the Welfare Reform and Work (Northern Ireland) Order 2016.
If you are worried about the impact of this new regulation on you or your clients' ESA, please contact the Welfare Changes Helpline: 0808 802 0020
Law Centre (NI) guide to Northern Ireland’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015
The Law Centre's Anti-Trafficking Young People Project has produced an online guide to Northern Ireland’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015.
This guide is of particular interest to the legal profession and other representatives of people identified as potential victims of human trafficking.
The 5 chapters of the guide consider existing criminal offences prior to the introduction of the Act, and the provisions contained in the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015, including:
- Slavery and Human Trafficking under Part 1 of the Act
- Other Exploitation Offences under Part 2 of the Act
- Assistance and Support for Victims of Slavery and Human Trafficking under Part 3 of the Act
- Protection of Victims of Slavery and Human Trafficking under Part 4 of the Act
Read the guide here:
Community care: information for service users and providers and their advisers
The Law Centre's Independent Advice, Support and Mediation Service (Community Care) has prepared four new information briefings to help health and social care staff, advisers and service users understand the law relating to the provision of community care services in Northern Ireland.
- 42. Provision of domiciliary care: treatment of disability related benefits - February 2017
This briefing examines the legal position governing whether a Health and Social Care Trust’s (HSC Trust) may take into account receipt by a service user of disability related benefits when making decisions about the provision of domiciliary care services.
- 41. Planning for future care needs; the legal position - February 2017
This briefing examines the legal position governing a Health and Social Care Trust’s (HSC Trust) duty to identify an adult service user’s future care needs and to make timely and appropriate preparation and provision for longer term care planning to address social care needs which may arise at a later stage in a service user’s life.
- 40. Personal Independence Payment: Implications for Financing Residential Care - February 2017
This briefing explains what Personal Independence Payment is and how people will qualify, and how receipt of PIP, as a source of income, will be treated by a Health and Social Care Trust when conducting a financial assessment of an individual’s means to determine whether they must contribute towards or pay for the costs of their placement in a residential or nursing home.
- 39. Self-Directed Support - Part 2 - February 2017
Self-Directed Support is currently being rolled out by the five Health and Social Care Trusts (HSC Trusts) in Northern Ireland. Self-Directed Support Part 2 examines how people can access Self-Directed Support and the role of HSC Trust professionals in facilitating an individual service user/carer’s request for Self-Directed Support.
- 38. Self-Directed Support - Part 1 - February 2017
Self-Directed Support is currently being rolled out by the five Health and Social Care Trusts (HSC Trusts) in Northern Ireland. Self-Directed Support Part 1 explains what Self-Directed Support is and the different forms of Self-Directed Support available in Northern Ireland.
For a full list of the Law Centre's community care legal information visit:
The Law Centre's Independent Advice, Support and Mediation Service (Community Care) runs a specialist advice line and representation service, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, with out-of-hours voicemail service available: 028 9024 4401.
Meet our Welfare Changes specialist advisers
Resolving tax credit delays for refugee family
Law Centre (NI) helped a couple who had been suffering hardship through unnecessary delays in obtaining Child Tax Credit (CTC). They had been granted refugee status a few days after registering their baby’s birth. They made a joint claim for Child Tax Credit soon afterward but were not given a decision for over four months.
They contacted HMRC on three occasions and were told that their case was with the compliance unit and that they should allow four weeks for their claim to be processed. The same explanation was given to a British Red Cross support worker who enquired why the claim to CTC had not been processed when Child Benefit had been awarded.
British Red Cross contacted us for help and we notified HMRC that if a decision was not made within 14 days we would initiate JR proceedings. HMRC promptly awarded weekly payments of £63.84 and paid nearly £1,295.04 in arrears.
This case illustrates an issue we have often encountered with refugees experiencing unexplained delays with payment of tax credits. The problems often appear to be resolved only when HMRC are threatened with legal action on a case-by-case basis. We have met with HMRC to address the causes of these delays in processing.
Others affected and their representatives should take advice from the Law Centre. Our specialist social security advice line: 028 9024 4401
Justice Restored for Trafficked Fisherman
Last November, Law Centre (NI) secured a repayment of wages for a Filipino fisherman who was trafficked into Northern Ireland. HMRC found that the client had been underpaid by just over £3,000 during a 10 week period.
The client was recruited in the Philippines by a Filipino shipping agency to work on a ship in the UK. He believed he was going to England but he in fact arrived in Northern Ireland. During his time on the fishing boat he was frequently working on board for 20 hours a day and when not on board he was put to work on land for long hours. Some payment was made to his family in the Philippines but this did not reflect what had been agreed in his contract and was nowhere near sufficient to cover the hours worked. He was rescued by the PSNI and came to the Law Centre for assistance.
In these cases, HMRC can issue a Notice of Underpayment which could result in the employer being fined with a penalty of 200% of the underpayment amount. HMRC also has discretion to whether to 'name and shame' the employer. Law Centre (NI) continues to monitor the situation.
This case first came to the attention of the Law Centre’s anti-trafficking unit, which provides advocacy and immigration advice for young people who have been trafficked, and was referred to our employment legal advice unit.
Any similar cases can be referred to the Law Centre’s employment legal advice line: 028 9024 4401
Helping older carer plan for son's future care needs
Law Centre (NI)’s Independent Advice, Support and Mediation (Community Care) unit has acted for an older carer who needed advice and assistance about her needs as a carer and those of her son who lived with her.
Her son has complex physical and mental health needs following a road traffic accident as a child. The client contacted the Law Centre for help to reach agreement with the HSC Trust relating to the future care of her son so she could be assured that a care plan was in place as her ability to care declined.
Following a number of meetings with the HSC Trust, an increased Trust support package was agreed. The Trust also agreed to an adaptation to her property to enable care workers to attend her son without having to go through her home.
For many older carers in Northern Ireland, worried about their future ability to continue to provide care to loved ones, this important case underscores the importance of advice and assistance in reaching a concrete plan for future care.
People with similar needs and other health and social care services issues can contact Law Centre (NI)’s Independent Advice, Support and Mediation Service (Community Care) helpline on 028 9024 4401, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Out of hours voicemail service available.
Find out more about how we can help you: www.lawcentreni.org/casework/community-care.html
Towards a better Border Force approach to victims of trafficking
In summer 2016, Law Centre (NI) was the only Northern Ireland organisation to feed into an inspection of the UK Border Force approach to victims of human trafficking. The Chief Inspector has just issued the inspection report, where many of our concerns are reflected.
In particular, we had highlighted that Border Force had made only one NRM (National Referral Mechanism) trafficking referral in three years (out of a total of 139 referrals). The report discusses the extremely low rate of referrals and recommends more robust training to ensure that Border Force staff are better able to identify victims of trafficking rather than focus on immigration and criminality matters.
The Law Centre will request that Northern Ireland's Department of Justice makes note of the findings and seeks to monitor progress.
Welfare reform: update on supplementary payments to mitigate 'bedroom tax'
The Housing Benefit (Welfare Supplementary Payment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 (SR.No.35/2017) will come into force on 20 February.
They provide for welfare supplementary payments to mitigate the impact on Housing Benefit of the social sector size criteria under regulation B14(2) of the Housing Benefit Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006.
In particular the regulations:
- make provision for welfare supplementary payments to be made to social sector claimants subject to reduced housing benefit awards as a result of the bedroom tax;
- provide for payments to be made without a claim and to be paid four weekly in arrears;
- provide that entitlement will cease if the person moves within the social sector and continues to under-occupy to the same or a greater extent than before, unless the move happens because the person has Management Transfer status; and
- set out the circumstances when the Department for Communities is entitled to recover an overpayment, and the methods of recovery.
SR.No.35/2017 is available from legislation.uk
With thanks to RightsNet
Supplementary Payments can be paid to landlords
Housing Rights would like to alert advisers to section 18 of the Supplementary Payments regulations, which explains that the benefit cap supplementary payment can be paid direct to landlords, even if they are private landlords/agents, as long as they are registered:
More information on welfare reform issues
Affected by welfare reform? Need advice?
Welfare changes November 16-January 17
Recent changes in Northern Ireland welfare reform:
15 November 16 - New provisions on changes to overpayments and how they can be recovered come into effect
28 November 16 - Discretionary Support Payments replace parts of the discretionary Social Fund (Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants). Budgeting loans will remain (probably until full introduction of Universal Credit)
December 16 - Start of “managed reassessments” of existing DLA claimants for PIP
16 January 2017 - For Income Support, the age of the youngest child for which a person is responsible in order to be treated as a lone parent changes from 7 to 5 years old, with a phased-in process for existing claimants. Similar changes are made to JSA regarding availability for work for lone parents where the youngest child is aged 5.
Bedroom tax - The Housing Executive has issued guidelines for tenants on the 'bedroom tax'.
If a household is considered to be ‘under-occupying’, the rent used to calculate Housing Benefit will reduce by:
- 14% if under-occupied by 1 bedroom, or
- 25% if under-occupied by 2 or more bedrooms
There are mitigations in place for those affected but only until 31 March 2020.
Affected by welfare reform? Ring the Independent Welfare Reform Helpline: 0808 802 0020
For more information on welfare reform issues, visit: www.lawcentreni.org/welfare-reform.html
Strategic Litigation: what does it mean? What is it for?
Last October, the Law Centre held a conference on Litigating for Social Change in partnership with the Social Change Initiative and Atlantic Philanthropies.
Ever wondered what Strategic Litigation really is about? Find out more by watching this short news item:
More information on the conference here: Litigating for Social Change
Law Centres Network meet in Belfast
The annual national conference for Law Centres was held in Belfast this year, with numerous delegates from Law Centres and partner organisations from across the UK and abroad.
Northern Ireland Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Strategy
The NI Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Strategy 2016/17 was published at he end of November.
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