Welfare reform news: ESA, Benefit cap, Discretionary Support, benefit freezes and more
Welfare reform changes are gathering speed. See some of the changes below. For regular updates, follow our Welfare Reform News and information pages.
- ESA 365 days payment limit introduced for some claimants from 31 October. Read more on NI Direct website
- The Benefit cap will be lowered from 7 November.
The new limits will be:
- £384.62 a week for households made up of a couple (with or without children), for lone parents with children living with them and that they are responsible for, or
- £257.69 a week for single persons who have no children living with them.
- Direct Earning Attachments come into force on 15 November
As part of the Welfare Changes in Northern Ireland, the Department for Communities will be introducing Direct Earnings Attachments (DEA) on the 15 November 2016.
A DEA will allow DfC to recover overpaid social security benefits in circumstances where there is no agreement to a repayment plan by asking employers to take deductions directly from an employee’s earnings.
DEAs will impact people who are employed, not currently in receipt of a social security benefit but who have an outstanding benefit debt (including a Social Fund loan) and do not have a repayment arrangement currently in place.
In advance of the introduction of DEAs, DfC has written to approximately 6,000 people who are not currently in receipt of benefit but have an outstanding debt and have not yet agreed a repayment plan. The letter will encourage them to contact the Department to discuss their repayment options.
More information on the benefit cap, exemptions and additional protections is available in a Law Centre briefing published in May: http://www.lawcentreni.org/Publications/Law-Centre-Information-Briefings/Benefit-Cap-Law-Centre-NI-information-briefing-May-2016.pdf. Please note, the benefit cap rates in the briefing were correct at the time but need to be updated to the new limits from 7 November.
- The new Discretionary Support service will replace the current discretionary aspects of Social Fund (Crisis Loans & community Care Grants) from 28 November in Northern Ireland.
This service is aimed at helping people on low incomes (working and non-working) at times of exceptional or crisis situations. The service will be delivered primarily through a telephony based service in Antrim and Dungannon Jobs & Benefits offices (JBos), a face to face service will be available in local offices. Freephone: 0800 587 2750. Free textphone: 0800 587 2751
- The Welfare Reform and Work (NI) Order 2016, which introduces the new level of benefit cap, benefit freezes and other important changes, is available here: Welfare Reform and Work (NI) Order 2016
The Order amends social security law relating to the Benefit Cap, Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit, the expenses of vehicle hire and loans for mortgage interest and other liabilities. In addition the Order introduces a freeze on certain benefits and makes provision in relation to mitigation payments in connection with welfare reform.