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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: 

The Welfare Supplementary Payment (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017

More information on welfare reform issues


Affected by welfare reform? Need advice? 

Ring Welfare Changes Helpline: 0808 802 0020




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:

WATCH: Strategic Litigation Conference - Focal Point Tuesday 25 October 2016 from Northern Visions NvTv - starts at 9.18 minutes.

Strategic Litigation Conference - Focal Point Tuesday 25 October 2016 from Northern Visions NvTv.

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.


Read more: Law Centres Network meet in Belfast


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.

The purpose of the strategy is to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery offences and contribute to a reduction in the number of such offences. In doing so it also seeks to improve victim identification and recovery and ensure that appropriate protection and support measures are in place for victims.

Download the strategy here


Welfare Changes Helpline: 0808 802 0020

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


Read more: Welfare Changes Helpline: 0808 802 0020


Law Centres Network conference and AGM to be held in Belfast

The Law Centres Network, a UK wide umbrella organisation of which Law Centre (NI) is a member, will hold this year's conference and AGM in Belfast, from 12 noon Thursday 10 November to 5pm Friday 11 November, Assembly Buildings Conference Centre (Spires Centre).

See the  draft programme HERE. Please note, the venue has changed to Assembly Buildings Conference Centre.

Book your Conference 2016 place here on the Law Centres Network website. 

When booking please note that the conference tickets do not include accommodation or travel although they do include meals and the drinks / dinner on Thursday evening. You will also see there is the option, if bringing a non-delegate, to pay for them to attend the Thursday evening events.


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.


Work with us: Advisers (Welfare Reform)

Advisers (Welfare Reform)

35 hours per week. Based in Belfast

Salary £25,440 + pension contribution, fixed term to 31 March 2018 with possibility of extension.

These new adviser posts will give legal advice through the Welfare Reform Support Project advice line and face to face to clients in the area of welfare reform law as well as preparing and presenting cases to tribunals.

Candidates will be required to have a degree in law (min 2.2 hons) and at least the full time equivalent of one year’s advice experience in social security law or be an adviser with at least the full time equivalent of three years’ experience of providing advice in social security law.

Please see person specification for full criteria

Applications must be received at the Law Centre’s Belfast office by 12 noon, 31/10/2016

Job Description and Person Specification (PDF)

Application Form (Word document)


Law Centre (NI) welcomes conviction for human trafficking offenses and calls for proper compensation for victims

Law Centre (NI) has welcomed the recent conviction of two men for human trafficking offences. Ioan Lacatus was given a sentence of two and a half years while Samuil Covaci was given a conditional discharge for time already served.

The convictions arose out of a PSNI operation in August 2014 when 15 people were recovered from a house in Portadown.  The workers had been duped into coming to Northern Ireland on the promise of good pay, food and accommodation.  However, on arrival they were put to work for long hours in a variety of jobs, given little food to eat, had their wages taken off them and were living in substandard conditions.

Caroline Maguire, employment caseworker at Law Centre (NI), welcomed the sentence and commented:

“The Law Centre commends the work of the PSNI Human Trafficking Unit for pursuing this investigation and securing convictions.  We hope that the sentences handed down will serve as a warning to others who seek to profit through the exploitation of other human beings that such exploiters will be pursued and brought to justice.”

Ursula O’Hare, Interim Director of the Law Centre stated:

“This case highlights the importance of prosecutions as a vital part of the fight against modern slavery. As an organisation which seeks justice for victims of human trafficking and slavery, we believe that victims need to be adequately compensated for the exploitation they have suffered.”


Eligibility rule for DLA and PIP declared unlawful: Refugees and those with humanitarian protection no longer to be discriminated against

Law Centre (NI) has recently been challenging the past presence test as it applied to refugees and those with Humanitarian Protection. This test said that refugees and those with humanitarian leave could only apply for DLA once they had been in NI for a certain period of time. This was originally 26 weeks out of the last 52 weeks but was increased for DLA and PIP on 20 June 2016 to 104 out of the last 156 weeks. The same past presence test applied to Attendance Allowance and Carers Allowance.

A test case in GB (MM & SI v SSWP [2016] UKUT 149 (AAC) (30 March 2016)) held that this rule amounted to discrimination contrary to the Qualification Directive and could not be justified. Whilst originally intending to appeal the decision the DWP later confirmed that it would not be doing so and issued departmental guidance that the test would no longer be applied to those categories of claimants. This change in policy has been extended to PIP also. Law Centre (NI) kept a close eye on these developments and, in addition to challenging the rules through the appeals process here, invited the Department for Communities to adopt the verdict and guidance.

The Department has now confirmed that it will not be applying the past presence test for DLA or PIP (or Attendance Allowance or Carers Allowance) to refugees or those with Humanitarian Protection or their family members. It has issued its own guidance to that effect in the last few weeks. See here for guidance: www.communities-ni.gov.uk/publications/decision-makers-guide-memos-volume-2. This development is welcome across the board and will benefit may disabled people in NI who have fled conflict. In particular, this change will have a significant impact on the Syrian families settled in NI as part of the Syrian Vulnerable Person Relocation Scheme. This will ensure that the most disabled people will be eligible for essential costs towards their care and mobility needs without having to comply with any qualifying period. The MM & SI case confirms the rights of refugees and those with Humanitarian Protection of full access to social assistance free from discrimination as enshrined in the Qualification Directive.

Representatives should be advising all refugees, those with Humanitarian Protection and their family members to claim DLA or PIP immediately where they could meet the other qualifying conditions. These benefits can not be backdated. Any decisions refusing DLA or PIP based on the past presence test should be challenged in the normal way by first requesting a mandatory reconsideration and then appealing.

Law Centre (NI) is happy to advise generally and/or receive referrals in cases where the test is still being applied.


Litigating for Change: conference programme out now

Graphic from conference programme cover


Read more: Litigating for Change: conference programme out now


Welfare reform training for frontline advisers

Welfare reform mitigations training at the Law Centre

Citizens Advice and Law Centre (NI) are offering a joint, DfC funded, training programme to fully equip advisers to advise clients affected by welfare reform changes. 


Read more: Welfare reform training for frontline advisers


WRAP: empowering welfare rights advisers

Eamon Doherty, Law Centre (NI) training officer, with some of the WRAP students, Derry 2016

Congratulations to advisers from the Foyle area who completed the latest round of our Welfare Rights Adviser Programme (WRAP).


Read more: WRAP: empowering welfare rights advisers


Immigration experts discuss implications of Brexit on island of Ireland

North South Immigration Forum at Law Centre (NI) Sept 16

This event brought together academics, policy makers and NGOs with immigration expertise, creating a space to consider the implications of Brexit on immigration on the island of Ireland.

Participants discussed the future of the Common Travel Area; the principle of free movement and cross border workers; and refugee resettlement schemes north and south of the border.

Speakers included experts on the Common Travel Area as well as in EU and refugee law, including (pictured above) Catherine Cosgrave, Immigrant Council of Ireland, Professor Colin Harvey, QUB, Liz Griffith, Law Centre (NI), and Professor Bernard Ryan, Leicester University.


Lady Hale to speak at Law Centre social justice lecture 2016

 Lady Hale, Deputy President, UK Supreme Court


Read more: Lady Hale to speak at Law Centre social justice lecture 2016


Personal Independence Payment: notes for advisers


Read more: Personal Independence Payment: notes for advisers


Social security and Brexit

A recently published House of Commons research paper outlines the likely impact of the UK leaving the European Union in a number of areas, including social security:

"Entitlement to welfare benefits for people moving between EU Member States is closely linked to free movement rights.  Brexit could have significant implications both for EU/EEA nationals living in or wishing to move to the UK, and for UK expatriates elsewhere in the EU/EEA, and those considering moving abroad.

If Brexit means the end of free movement rights, the UK will be able to impose restrictions on access to many social security benefits via immigration law. Entitlement to contributory social security benefits could be limited by limiting access to employment.  It will also be possible to restrict the ability of EU nationals to apply for social housing.

The UK could seek to secure bilateral social security agreements on reciprocal rights with individual EU/EEA states, but negotiations could be difficult and protracted.  Alternatively, the UK could seek a single agreement with the EU/EEA as a whole.  Such an arrangement could, however, end up closely resembling existing provisions in EU law.  Whatever the solution, decisions would have to be made on how to protect social security rights already accrued at the point of withdrawal from the EU."

Advisers in Northern Ireland should read the Law Centre's briefing on the social security impact of BREXIT.


A fond farewell to Glenn Jordan

Glenn Jordan says goodbye to Law Centre colleagues

Law Centre staff and Management Committee said goodbye today to Glenn Jordan who is moving on from his post as Director of the Law Centre to return to full time studies.


Read more: A fond farewell to Glenn Jordan


Litigating for Social Change - conference

Bringing together NGOs, community activists, litigators, academics and funders to reflect on how strategic litigation can transform lives and enable people and communities to realise their rights.

Strategic Litigation Conference 19-21 Oct 16 Law Centre (NI) Social Change Initiative The Atlantic Philanthropies


Read more: Litigating for Social Change - conference


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