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Welfare Changes Helpline: 0808 802 0020

Pol Calaghan, CAB, Ursula O'Hare, Law Centre (NI), Bob Stronge, Advice NI

An independent Welfare Changes Helpline  - 0808 802 0020 - has been launched to offer support to people who need help or advice relating to any of the changes to the welfare system.

The helpline is operated by the Welfare Reform Advice Services Consortium (Law Centre (NI), Advice NI and Citizens Advice) and is available 9.00 to 17.00 Monday to Friday.

Speaking at the launch of the Helpline, Professor Eileen Evason, said:

“When I was appointed to lead the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group on foot of the ‘Fresh Start’ agreement, our strategy had three main strands.

The first related to allaying anxiety around welfare reform legislation and providing supplementary payments, for varying periods, over the four years of this programme for carers, those with ill health and disability and families.

The second strand highlighted the need to support vulnerable people with independent advice which provides expertise and support on a range of welfare reform issues. 

The third strand looks forward to the introduction of universal credit and, following the strategy adopted in Scotland, the need to explore new ways to alleviate hardship. 

I am delighted that we are now in a position to launch the independent advice helpline envisioned in our report, and congratulate all involved in making this a realty, so quickly.”

The helpline is funded the Department for Communities, as part of a £2.5 million package of support to frontline advice organisations to provide additional services to help the general public through the ongoing changes to the welfare system. This includes:

- 9 additional advisers for the Helpline, employed by theWelfare Reform Advice Services Consortium

- 35 advisers located in local Citizens Advice and Advice NI offices across all 11 council areas in Northern Ireland. These advisers will provide face to face assistance to anyone affected by the changes to the welfare system

- specialist legal advice from Law Centre (NI) who will arrange access to specialist legal services as required. 

These services are free for anyone who needs help or advice relating to any of the changes to the welfare system.

Speaking on behalf of the Consortium, Bob Stronge, Chief Executive of Advice NI, said that many families across Northern Ireland will benefit from the new helpline:

“This new helpline will hopefully make the changes to the system more manageable for those affected. We are, of course aware that the most vulnerable may be the hardest to reach, including those with, for example, mental health problems or transient lifestyles. All of these groups will, however, be in contact with, for example, those managing hostels, community psychiatric nurses, Sure Start staff or members of their local church. As such, a key part of the outreach work is to enable those intermediaries to act as guides or signposts to advice and help.”

The new helpline will provide bespoke additional independent expertise and support on a range of welfare reform issues including Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Employment and Support Allowance, changes to Housing Benefit and changes to Social Fund.

Advisers, voluntary and community sector workers, constituency offices and others who encounter complex social security cases in their work can of course continue to call the Law Centre's legal advice line: 9024 4401, Monday to Friday, 9.30 am to 1pm.

Welfare Changes Helpline Northern Ireland 0808 802 0020

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