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Cautious welcome to welfare reform changes

The Law Centre today welcomed the Social Development Minister’s announcement that he has secured changes to the way Universal Credit can be paid in Northern Ireland.

Speaking ahead of giving evidence to the Social Development Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill today, 23 October 2012, Law Centre Director Les Allamby said, “The Minister’s announcement yesterday represents a step towards tailoring welfare reform to Northern Ireland’s circumstances, but more can still be done to improve upon the Welfare Reform Bill currently before the Social Development Committee. It is imperative that the proposed changes will work effectively in practice for Northern Ireland”

“We are not looking to devise an alternative social security system but rather to ensure that the proposals designed for Britain take into account the specific circumstances and local needs of Northern Ireland,”  Mr Allamby told the Social Development Committee today.

“The Minister’s announcement that the housing costs of Universal Credit will be paid direct to landlords and that there is scope for payment of Universal Credit to be split within the household and paid fortnightly, unlike in Britain, will make a positive difference to those affected by these changes,” he said.

He went on, “while flexibilities have been achieved on some issues, the Committee needs to closely examine what other steps can be taken to protect households affected by the changes.  For example, the Committee needs to carefully scrutinise the under occupation penalty for people in public rented housing, the level of conditionality and sanctions proposed under the Welfare Reform Bill and the lack of childcare provision across Northern Ireland.”

Mr Allamby also called on the Social Development Committee to ensure that there is an opportunity for comprehensive scrutiny of the regulations that will ultimately implement the welfare reform legislation as this is where lies the scope and flexibility for things to be done differently in a Northern Ireland context.

The announcement

The Minister announced on 22 October that changes had been secured to the way Universal Credit can be paid to reflect Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances.

The changes are:

  • the housing cost element of Universal Credit will be paid direct to landlords rather than the claimant;
  • the payment of Universal Credit may be split between two parties in the household;
  • the payment of Universal Credit may be payable twice each month;
  • and Universal Credit in Northern Ireland will now begin in April 2014.

The Welfare Reform Bill is largely an enabling Bill which means it only provides an outline of Universal Credit with detail left to regulations, still to be drafted.

See DSD press release about the announcement: http://www.northernireland.gov.uk/news-dsd-221012-tailoring-welfare-reforms

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