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Welfare reform NI: the benefit cap

The benefit cap: what is it? 

Regulations have now been passed which means that the benefit cap will apply in Northern Ireland from 31 May 2016.

The benefit cap limits the amount, in total, that claimants can receive from a list of specified benefits.

The cap is currently:

  • £350 a week for single claimants
  • £500 for couples, with or without dependent children
  • £500 for lone parent families

How will it be applied?

Where a person’s benefit entitlement exceeds the cap, the reduction will be from the person’s Housing Benefit award.

What benefits are taken into account?

Most benefit income is taken into account:

  • Bereavement Allowance
  • Child Benefit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Guardian’s Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Income Support
  • Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)
  • Maternity Allowance
  • Severe Disablement Allowance
  • Widowed Parent's Allowance
  • Widowed Mothers Allowance
  • Widows Pension

Are there any exemptions?

The cap will not apply where the person claiming or her/his partner is receiving one of the following benefits:

  • Disability Living Allowance (including if received for a dependent child)
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Attendance Allowance
  • Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits
  • Employment and Support Allowance, if paid with the support component
  • War Widow's or War Widower's Pension.
  • Carer’s Allowance

The cap will also not apply where the person claiming or her/his partner had, in at least 50 out of the last 52 weeks, been in employment and not entitled to Income Support, JSA or ESA. In these circumstances, the cap will not apply for 39 weeks from the day after the last day of employment.

Additional exemptions as part of NI welfare reform mitigations

Two additional exemptions apply specifically to Northern Ireland as part of the welfare reform mitigations.

The first mitigation ensured that those in receipt of Carer’s Allowance were exempt from the cap: this has now been inserted into the legislation.

The second mitigation ensures that any families with children not exempt under the above provisions will receive a supplementary payment to compensate for any deduction made as a result of the cap being applied. This applies for up to four years.


Expected timeline of welfare reform in Northern Ireland

Please note: this is a rough timeline which could substantially change as the implementation of welfare reform develops in Northern Ireland. We will endeavour to keep you updated of any changes.

17 February 2016 - Abolition of ESA in Youth for new claims - now in force

1 April 2016              

For ESA, JSA and IS, the waiting period before housing costs (including help with mortgage interest) can be met is increased from 13 weeks to 39 weeks

4 April 2016

The amount a person can pay as a penalty in order to avoid prosecution changes from 30% of the overpayment to 50% (subject to a maximum of £2,000)

31 May 2016

Introduction of the Benefit Cap

Late May/ early June 2016

Introduction of Mandatory Reconsideration and Direct Lodgment of appeals

20 June 2016

DLA abolished for new claims and replaced by Personal Independence Payment. Start of “natural reassessment” of existing DLA claimants for PIP

September 2016

Introduction of new “Fraud and Error” provisions – changes to overpayments and how they can be recovered

Launch of Universal Credit pilot

31 October 2016

Time-limiting of contributory ESA to 365 days

Also applies to those in receipt of ESA in Youth

Time limit is retrospective but days in the support group do not count towards the 365 day time limit

November 2016

Discretionary Support Payments replace discretionary Social Fund

December 2016

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.

Similar changes are made to JSA regarding availability for work for lone parents where the youngest child is aged 5.

Other changes to be confirmed, depending on the passage of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015/2016

These could include:

  • Lowering the benefit cap to £20,000 per year
  • Freeze on working age benefit rates
  • Reductions in the amount of Child Tax Credit and the child element on Universal Credit – limited to two children, no higher amount for first child
  • Reductions in the earnings disregards in Universal Credit
  • Removal of the Work Related Activity Component for new claimants to ESA
  • Changes to conditionality under Universal Credit for carers and lone parents where the youngest child is aged between 1-3 years
  • Support for Mortgage Interest to be replaced by a loan system

Free welfare reform training event

2016 Belfast Festival of Learning Event

Welfare Reform: The Basics - free public ½ day training course

Monday 7 March 2016, 1.30-4.30

This course offers you a chance to increase your knowledge of welfare reform.

This 1/2 day course offers everyone a chance to increase their knowledge of Welfare Reform. It will primarily cover Universal Credit (UC) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP), summarising these benefits and illustrating the significant changes involved. However, it will also include other changes associated with Welfare Reform, including Contributory ESA changes, 'bedroom tax,' the benefit cap and a lot more besides. This course will be specifically designed to for the lay person to help them make sense of the benefit changes that are to occur over the coming months and years. The training will be provided within a training room close to the center Belfast (situated close to the central library in Belfast) and tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided.

Venue: Law Centre (NI), 124 Donegall Street, Belfast BT1 2GY

Application forms available at: www.lawcentreni.org/application-forms/short-form.html

Applications should be returned to Law Centre (NI) 124 Donegall Street, Belfast, BT1 2GY by Thursday 3 March 2016 by Fax on 028 9023 6340 or by email at:

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (or telephone 028 9024 4401).

This course is free

20 places available

Belfast Festival of Learning 2016


New NI human trafficking statistics

The national human trafficking statistics for 2015 have just been published. Across the UK, there has been a substantial rise (40%) in human trafficking, with labour exploitation being the largest category of exploitation

Annex B shows the Northern Ireland figures. The number of victims identified here in 2015 has increased to 53.

Read the report here

Given the prevalence of labour exploitation, it is really important that workers know how to get help. The Law Centre has produced a leaflet that is available in different languages - if you would like a copy please ring on 028 9024 4401.


Train with Law Centre (NI): new courses at a glance

WRAP trainees 2016

Welfare reform, health and social care, immigration, trafficking, advocacy - we have an exciting selection of courses for you in the next few weeks.


Read more: Train with Law Centre (NI): new courses at a glance


Agency worker receives £5,900 for breach of equal pay rights

"I hope that my story will give others the confidence to ask for what they are entitled to."

Law Centre (NI) client Andrea Richardson has received over £5,900 in compensation in a settlement for breach of the law which protects agency workers’ rights. 

In her application to the Industrial Tribunal, Ms Richardson claimed that she was entitled to equal pay with direct employees of the organisation she was working for.

In a settlement reached on the morning of the hearing, Kennedy Recruitment Limited and an umbrella company, called Zeva, admitted being in breach of the Agency Workers Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011.

Welcoming the result, Ms Richardson said:

“I hope that my story will give others the confidence to ask for what they are entitled to. While agency work can suit some people, I am not an agency worker by choice – the lack of permanent, direct employment has made it my only option.  The job insecurity that comes with agency work can be stressful and it is important that our rights are protected.”

The regulations were introduced to protect the rights of agency workers.  Law Centre’s director Glenn Jordan is concerned that the Regulations are not benefiting agency workers to the extent that was envisaged at the time they were introduced. He added:

“We will continue to highlight cases where we believe that agency workers’ rights have been breached so that the Agency Workers Regulations truly work as they were intended, to protect agency workers.”

Andrea’s story

Andrea Richardson had been recruited by Kennedy Recruitment Limited to work with Land and Property Services (a division of the Department of Finance and Personnel) for ten months as a mapping and charting officer. She was paid less than mapping and charting officers employed directly by Land and Property Services.

Near the end of her time with the Land and Property Services, Andrea discovered that she might be on a type of contract - known as a Swedish Derogation contract - that allows a worker on an employment contract with an agency to be paid less than a direct employee in certain circumstances.  Andrea contacted Kennedy Recruitment Ltd. to ask about her rights under her contract.  She was told that her employer was in fact the umbrella company Zeva.

At this stage, Andrea contacted Law Centre (NI) for help.

Caroline Maguire, employment legal adviser at the Law Centre, assisted Andrea to lodge an employment tribunal case to claim that she was entitled to the same rate of pay as direct employees of Land and Property Services. 

Kennedy Recruitment Ltd. and Zeva settled the case on the basis that, since there was no employment contract with Andrea before she started her work at Land and Property Services, she was not on a valid Swedish Derogation contract and should not therefore have received less pay than colleagues employed directly by the Land and Property Service. 

Andrea received the full value of her back pay.

Protecting agency workers’ rights

Caroline Maguire said:

“This case is a reminder to other agency workers that they may need to check whether they are entitled to the same rate of pay as colleagues who are direct employees.   

We don’t know the extent to which agency workers in Northern Ireland are losing out on their employment rights but it’s not the first time the Law Centre has advised agency workers who have been affected by Swedish Derogation type contracts. 

It’s important for all agency workers to check the status of their contract with their agency and seek advice if they have concerns.” 

The Swedish Derogation

Under the Agency Workers Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011, after 12 weeks in the same post, agency workers should normally be paid the same amount as direct employees doing similar work in their workplace (in Andrea’s case, employees of Land and Property Services).

A clause in the regulations, called a ‘Swedish Derogation’ or ‘Regulation 10’ contract, entitles agencies to continue to pay them less if, in exchange, the agency has entered into a contract with the worker which:

  • gives the worker a permanent contract as an employee of the agency (in Andrea’s case, either Kennedy Recruitment or Zeva),
  • provides for a minimum amount of pay for the first four weeks after an assignment ends, and
  • requires the agency to actively look for suitable alternative work for the worker. 

The employment contract agreeing these arrangements must be signed before the worker’s assignment starts.

Law Centre (NI)'s employment legal advice line is open from 9.30am to 1pm Monday to Friday: 028 9024 4401


First set of rules on Northern Ireland's welfare reform applies from today

The first set of regulations regarding the implementation of welfare reform in Northern Ireland has been published.

Today 17 February, the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 (Commencement No. 1) Order 2016 (SR.No.46/2016) brings into force some of the provisions of the Welfare Reform Act, including provisions on: 

  • removal of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) in youth
  • dual entitlement to ESA
  • the Social Fund and discretionary payments to persons suffering disadvantage
  • the benefit cap
  • information sharing
  • application of the limitation on recovery of benefit overpayments
  • regulations making powers for Jobseeker's Allowance

The regulations also cover provisions coming into force at later dates:

4 April 2016

  • other provisions on the recovery of overpayments
  • penalties as alternative to prosecution

13 June 2016

  • new time limits for entitlement to contributory ESA and entitlement after the time limit has been reached

16 January 2017

  • entitlement to Income Support for lone parents restricted to those with children under 5 years of age.

Watch: NI welfare reform in focus

Welfare reform programme: NVTV Law Centre (NI)

Law Centre (NI) continues its series of programmes with Northern Visions NVTV, with an introduction to welfare reform in Northern Ireland.


Read more: Watch: NI welfare reform in focus


LSP volunteer gets DLA award for client

Law Centre (NI)'s Legal Support Project (LSP) successfully represented a woman in an appeal against refusal of Disability Living Allowance (DLA).   

The client suffered from asthma, fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety. As a result, she found it difficult to go out unaccompanied and experienced difficulties with self- care.

The LSP helped her to collect supportive medical evidence for her appeal and an LSP volunteer represented her at the hearing. The tribunal awarded the Low Rate Mobility component for a two year period.

The client received a backdated payment of £847.95 and £21.80 per week for the remainder of the two-year period.

The LSP relies on pro-bono work to help people who would otherwise go unrepresented at social security and employment tribunals.

More information on the project and how to volunteer


Social Security Advisory Committee meets local advisers at the Law Centre

On 10 February, Law Centre (NI) hosted a meeting between the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) and members of the Welfare Reform Group. SSAC is consulting local agencies on the impact of welfare reform and other benefits issues.

SSAC is a UK-wide advisory non-departmental public body with an important role in scrutinising social security legislation.

Convened by the Law Centre, the Welfare Reform Group is a coalition of voluntary and community organisations whose client groups are affected by welfare reform developments.


Belfast High Court rules Widowed Parent’s Allowance applies to unmarried mother

Law Centre (NI) welcomes this week's ruling in favour of an unmarried mother who launched legal action over her inability to access a widowed parent's allowance.

Citizens Advice had applied to Belfast High Court for judicial review on behalf of a client whose children were denied bereavement benefits following the death of her partner of 23 years.

The Court ruled that the client had no claim to the lump sum bereavement benefit but that she should have access to a £112.55 weekly payment, conferred due to parentage.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Treacy said: "Even allowing for the State's margin of appreciation, I do not consider that the exclusion of the applicant from widowed parent's allowance on the grounds of her marital status can be justified.

"Indeed, it may seem somewhat strange to rely, as a justification for the restriction, on the contention that it promotes the institution of marriage and civil partnership when parents, whatever the status of the relationship, owe the same financial or legal duties towards their children.”

The Law Centre congratulates Citizens Advice on this significant decision with potential UK-wide implications.


NIJAC seeks to appoint County Court Judge and CICAP Lay Member

County Court judge

Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission is inviting applications for the office of County Court Judge. It is intended to make one appointment (and to create a reserve list).

The scheme is open to applications from Friday 22 January 2016 and completed applications must be received by NIJAC no later than 12 (noon) on Monday 15 February 2016.

Further details: NIJAC- Current Opportunities

CICAP Adjudicator

NIJAC is also inviting applications for appointment to the office of fee paid Adjudicator (Lay Member) of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel for Northern Ireland (CICAP).

Further details: NIJAC- Current Opportunities



Missed our welfare reform seminar?

Dr Grainne McKeever speaking -  being recorded by Alan Meban

Listen or read about it here


Read more: Missed our welfare reform seminar?


OFMDFM active ageing strategy launched today

OFMDFM has launched its Active Ageing Strategy today.

The Law Centre fed into the strategy through the participation of our Assistant Director (Policy and Communications) Ursula O'Hare in the Ageing Strategy Advisory Group. The Group was chaired by Claire Keatinge, the former Commissioner for Older People.

Tbhe vision is of "Northern Ireland being an age friendly region in which people, as they get older, are valued and supported to live actively to their fullest potential; with their rights respected and their dignity protected."

The strategy is to be implemented through the Delivering Social Change Initiative through a series of actions detailed in Annex B of the report. It involves two phases:

- a first phase of actions for which funding have been identified: covering age-friendly environments, fuel poverty, fear of crime, engagement, digital inclusion, a volunteering strategy, care and dementia services phase 1, aprenticeship, education and leisure, discrimination, decision making and mental capacity, 

- a second phase of actions for which funding remains to be secured: benefit uptake, accessible homes in the public sector, care and dementia services phase 2, quality of life in care homes, support for carers, and employment opportunities.

The report states: 

"OFMDFM will also liaise with its Ageing Strategy Advisory Group, which includes older people and members of groups representing the interests of older people.

We will explore with this group, which has played such an important role in providing advice during the development of this Strategy, whether it will provide a monitoring and review role of the delivery of the strategy through meetings with Junior Ministers and officials.

We will also make arrangements to enable older people directly to be involved in the monitoring of how the Strategy is implemented and to have direct access to appropriate officials."


UK signs up to international commitment to prevent forced labour

Today, 22 January, the UK became the third country in the world to sign up to an important international commitment to prevent forced labour and to protect all workers from exploitation.

The UK has joined Norway and Niger in ratifying the International Labour Organisation (ILO)'s Protocol on Forced Labour.

Building on the Forced Labour Convention of 1930, the Protocol adds requirements for governments to raise awareness, address the causes of exploitation, and strengthen legislation to tackle labour exploitation. Importantly it emphasises the need to both support and protect victims of forced labour.

Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), an organisation working to end human trafficking for labour exploitation, has welcomed this move but cautioned that some aspects of the UK Immigration Bill threaten to weaken labour inspection and therefore the UK compliance with the Protocol.

More information on the website of Focus on Labour Exploitation



DEL/DoJ seminar on labour exploitation

Awareness Raising Seminar on Labour Exploitation

Thursday 28 January

Wellington Park Hotel, 21 Malone Road, Belfast, BT9 6RU 

Speakers will include representatives from the Department for Employment and Learning, the Department of Justice, the PSNI, Freedom Acts, Law Centre (NI) and Migrant Help.

Registration, tea and coffee: 9.30am

Seminar: 10am

1pm: light lunch

Free parking available

RSVP to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  


Northern Ireland's welfare reform advisory group publishes recommendations

The Welfare Reform Mitigations Group has published its report today.

Chaired by Professor Eileen Evason, the Group was set up as part of the Fresh Start Agreement. 

The report makes a number of recommendations to soften the impact of welfare reform in Northern Ireland and provide independent advice to people who need support as they navigate the changes to the benefit system.

The recommendations cover mitigation payments to carers, people suffering ill health and families on low incomes.

Headline recommendations of particular interest to social security advisers include:

  • covering 75% of the loss incurred by people on Disability Living Allowance who would lose out over £10 a month in the move to Personal Independence Payment (PIP);
  • additional PIP points for those with conflict related injuries;
  • using the resources originally allocated to cover planned tax credit cuts to help people affected by the introduction of Universal Credit, as tax credit cuts have since been abandoned by the UK government. 

As expected, the report also recommends full mitigation for the bedroom tax.

Read the report here.

Eileen Evason will discuss the report's recommendations at the Law Centre's AGM and seminar on Thursday 28 January. Other speakers include Alison Garnham of Child Poverty Action Group, NI Human Rights Chief Commissioner Les Allamby and Dr Grainne McKeever of Ulster University and Social Security Advisory Committee. Find out more about the event here.



Changes to State Pension Age affect social security benefits

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that the State Pension age is going to increase at a faster pace than originally planned under the Pensions Act 2011.

State Pensions

From April 2016, women’s State Pension age will increase more quickly, to reach 65 by November 2018 instead of March 2020.

From December 2018, the State Pension age for both men and women will start to increase to reach age 66 by October 2020 instead of 2026.

How this will apply in practice:

  •  women born on or after 6 April 1953 will be affected by the accelerated equalisation of State Pension age to 65;
  •  men and women born after 5 December 1953 but before 6 October 1954 will have a State Pension age between 65 and 66;
  • men and women born on or after 6 October 1954 and before 6 April 1960 will have a State Pension age of 66.


This change impacts on a number of social security benefits:

  • Pension Credit qualifying age will rise in line with the accelerated increase in women's state pension age to 65 and subsequently in line with the increase to 66;
  • working age benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker's Allowance and Income Support will now be available up to the appropriate revised state pension age; and
  • all future claimants for other benefits with a link to the state pension age threshold - for example the Winter Fuel Payment, Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment - will also be affected.

Northern Ireland advisers who need help with this or with other social security issues can contact our advice line, Monday to Friday, 9.30 to 1pm: 028 9024 4401

The DWP announcement can be found here


Minister announces free English classes for refugees in Northern Ireland

Refugee Asylum Forum members at Stormont promoting the 5 Asks SAFER campaign

The Law Centre is delighted with Minister Farry’s announcement to ensure that all refugees in Northern Ireland can access English classes in further education colleges, free of charge.

Recognising the importance of English language skills for refugees, the Law Centre has long pressed for free classes. The journey has taken a while and we view today’s announcement as testament to the power of collective effort.

The Law Centre, NICRAS and Bryson Charitable Group first called for free English classes back in 2010.

DEL agreed to implement free English classes on a pilot basis from 2012. The following year, the Law Centre compiled detailed feedback from a range of voluntary and community organisations and made the case for extending the scheme to all refugees.

This call has reverberated ever since, with a wide number of organisations, agencies and MLAs highlighting the importance of free English classes. The Refugee and Asylum Forum made English classes one of its Five Actions in its SAFER campaign in 2015.  We were so pleased when the campaign gained backing from Belfast City Council and then from many MLAs during a Northern Ireland Assembly debate. The Equality Commission and OFMDFM also lent their support.

The Law Centre would like to say a big thank you to Minister Farry and DEL officials for today’s announcement.

We have no doubt that this change in policy – while relatively small in budget terms – will make a huge difference to the lives of refugees in Northern Ireland.

Photo: Members of the Refugee Asylum Forum on the steps of Stormont last year, promoting the SAFER campaign, including request for free English classes.


Job advert - Joint Standards Committee Member

DSD logo

Job reference number: IRC206402

The Joint Standards Committee of the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency (the Agency) and the Northern Ireland Child Support Agency was set up in December 1999. The latter has been succeeded by Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division from April 2008 and then Child Maintenance Service from April 2013. The Committee is a non executive body with an independent chairperson responsible for providing the Chief Executive of the Agency and Director of Child Maintenance Service with assurance on the standards of decision making.

The Social Security Agency and Child Maintenance Service wish to appoint an independent member and are now seeking applications.

Applicants must have:

• a general knowledge of the business of both the Social Security Agency and the Child Maintenance Service and the corresponding legislation;

• an awareness of public opinion on social security and child support matters;

• experience of working with the voluntary sector, community groups, trade unions or other groups which regularly represent customers in their dealings with the Social Security Agency and the Child Maintenance Service;

• an ability to work as part of a team;

• an ability to put forward views and opinions clearly and concisely.

The appointment is for an initial period of 4 years, renewable by agreement. It is expected that the member will commit approximately eight days a year. Salary will be £2,080 per annum subject to annual review. Successful applicants may be required to travel within Northern Ireland.

How to apply

For an application form and more detailed information, including the duties and responsibilities of this post, and the criteria to be used in the recruitment and selection process:

Please go to: www.nicsrecruitment.gov.uk

Alternatively, an application pack can be requested by contacting: HRConnect, PO Box 1089, The Metro Building, 6-9 Donegall Square South, Belfast, BT1 9EW.

Telephone: 0800 1 300 330. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

All requests must include your name, address and reference number IRC206402

Completed applications must be returned by 2pm on Friday 5th February 2016

The Department for Social Development is committed to the principles of public appointment based on merit, with independent assessment, openness and transparency of process. The Department is committed to providing equality of opportunity and welcomes applications regardless of gender, age, marital status, disability, religion, ethnic origin, political opinion, sexual orientation or whether or not you have dependants.


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