The Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group, established under “A Fresh Start, the Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan”, made recommendations to the Northern Ireland Executive as to how the impact of welfare changes could be mitigated within a defined budget. The Executive allocated a £501 million expenditure package over four years until 31 March 2020 to allow time for people to adjust to the welfare reforms. The recommendations in the report were developed by the Department for Communities (“the Department”) into a range of measures in the form of Welfare Supplementary Payments.
The Department has made Regulations introducing Welfare Supplementary Payments for the purpose of helping those who have incurred financial disadvantage through reduction, or termination, of current social security benefits as a result of welfare reform.
In the New Decade, New Approach Deal the Northern Ireland Executive committed to an extension of the existing schemes beyond the statutory end date of 31 March 2020. In early 2022 the Department made new legislation to extend and amend the existing schemes. All Welfare Supplementary Payment schemes (except for the Social Sector Size Criteria) have now been extended until 31 March 2025. The Social Sector Size Criteria scheme has also been extended but does not have an end date so these payments will continue until such times as further legislation might be made. The Department introduced contingency arrangements to ensure continuity of payments for all those who were eligible from 31 March 2020 until the new legislation came into operation.
The principal strand of the welfare reforms was the introduction of a new payment called Universal Credit. It replaced six existing benefits and may be payable to people in or out of work. The Department has introduced administrative payments, similar to the Welfare Supplementary Payments for existing benefits, to help those entitled to Universal Credit who incur financial disadvantage as a result of specified welfare changes. The Department has also introduced new payments for those entitled to Universal Credit and who are subsequently affected by specific welfare changes. The Department can stop these administrative arrangements at any time or make any adjustments it may consider necessary.
It is the intention of the Department to bring forward further Regulations to the Assembly as soon as possible to support those persons who are entitled to Universal Credit but because of welfare reform have incurred a financial disadvantage. In the meantime, the Department has put in place arrangements to ensure that mitigation payments are made.
After the introduction of Universal Credit on the 27 September 2017 those persons entitled to the benefit and receiving a Benefit Cap Welfare Supplementary Payment would lose that payment in the normal course of events because the award of Housing Benefit would cease. The Department intends to make interim payments equivalent to the amount of the Welfare Supplementary Payment unless the amount of Universal Credit is reduced by less than the Welfare Supplementary Payment. In that case a revised administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment equal to the amount of the deduction will be paid. Administrative Welfare Supplementary Payments will be made to the claimant(s) or a person appointed on their behalf.
The Benefit Cap amount was reduced from £26,000 to £20,000 from 7 November 2016. Persons entitled to Universal Credit and affected by a Benefit Cap reduction will be eligible for an administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment if they reside with a child for whom they are responsible.
The amount payable will be equal to the amount of the Benefit Cap reduction but if this reduces then the administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment will reduce to this lesser amount. The effective date of any change in the amount will be the same date as the change took effect for Universal Credit.
Administrative Welfare Supplementary Payments will be paid every four weeks in arrears from the date of the first Benefit Cap deduction from Universal Credit. The payment will be made to the claimant or a person appointed on their behalf.
Payment will cease if a person’s Universal Credit is no longer reduced by the Benefit Cap.
Administrative Welfare Supplementary Payments will be taken into account in relation to any decision as to whether a person has entitlement to a Discretionary Housing Payment to prevent an award being made for any loss for which an administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment has been paid. The Department will therefore be required to provide details of administrative Welfare Supplementary Payments to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
Time–limiting of Contribution-Based Employment and Support Allowance
The Department will provide for the continued payment of an administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment payable on the cessation of contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance if a claimant is entitled to Universal Credit and is determined to have limited capability for work. The administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment will continue at the rate that was payable prior to the award of Universal Credit and will continue until such time as Regulations come into operation or until the person no longer has limited capability for work, whichever is the first to occur. In any case administrative Welfare Supplementary Payments will not continue beyond a year from the date Welfare Supplementary Payments originally commenced.
The Department will arrange for administrative Welfare Supplementary Payments to be paid if a claimant in receipt of Universal Credit is subsequently affected by the time limiting of contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance The claimant will need to have been in receipt of contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance when time limiting was introduced and be deemed to have had a continuous claim until the date on which they were affected by time limiting.
The administrative payment will be paid at the rate at which contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance was payable when time limiting occurred except when the amount included the support component, in which case the administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment will be calculated based on the work-related activity component.
As with other Welfare Supplementary Payments the administrative payments will be paid every four weeks in arrears and may be paid to someone appointed on the claimant’s behalf.
Payments will cease if the claimant becomes entitled to a further award of contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance effective from the date of that entitlement.
Where a person has no entitlement to Carer’s Allowance and loses the carer element in their Universal Credit award because the person they cared for is not entitled to the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment on reassessment from Disability Living Allowance, they will receive an administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment. Administrative Welfare Supplementary Payments will cease if a person becomes entitled to Carer’s Allowance or to the carer element in their Universal Credit award.
The amount of the payment will be equal to the amount of carer element they received on Universal Credit. The payment will be made four weekly in arrears. Payments may be made to the claimant or to a person appointed on their behalf.
An administrative mitigation payment payable to the carer will cease if the person being cared for is no longer in receipt of a loss of Disability Living Allowance mitigation payment. Administrative mitigation payments may recommence if the person being cared for or the Department is granted leave to appeal to the Commissioner against a Personal Independence Payment decision or the person being cared for becomes entitled to a conflict related loss of Disability Living Allowance mitigation payment.
The Department will stop an administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment payable to a carer if the person being cared for ceases to be entitled to Personal Independence Payment or they are awarded the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment. An administrative payment will also cease on the death of the carer or the person being cared for.
Any administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment paid to a couple will, on separation of the couple, be paid to the individual the Department decides was providing the care.
Administrative Welfare Supplementary Payments will stop if a recipient is resident in a care home or a hospital in-patient for more than 28 days.
The Department will adjust the rate of any administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment paid should a person cease entitlement to Universal Credit and is entitled to a contribution-based benefit.
Where someone is receiving a Welfare Supplementary Payment under the Welfare Supplementary Payment (Loss of Disability-Related Premiums) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 and becomes entitled to Universal Credit that person will continue to receive a Welfare Supplementary Payment. The payment will continue at the rate previously in payment. If the person ceases to receive Universal Credit and does not make a claim to State Pension Credit then the payment shall cease.
Social Sector Size Criteria
The Department may make administrative Welfare Supplementary Payments to claimants who have their Universal Credit award reduced by the application of the Social Sector Size Criteria.
The amount payable will be calculated by reference to the amount of the Social Sector Size Criteria deduction and will be converted from a monthly to a four weekly amount payable every four weeks in arrears. Payment will be made to the person receiving payment of the housing costs element of the Universal Credit award.
To enable payments to be made it will be necessary to exchange information between the Northern Ireland Housing Executive or registered Housing Associations and the Department in respect of Social Sector Size Criteria administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment recipients.
Persons receiving administration payments will be expected to follow the rules applicable to any benefit they receive and to report any changes in their circumstances which may affect their administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment.
Administrative payments will not be affected because of a sanction (imposed for example, for any failure to take part in a work-focused interview).
Any decision taken in relation to an administrative Welfare Supplementary Payment may be subject to review by the Department on request by the person impacted by the decision or a person acting on their behalf.
Administrative Welfare Supplementary Payments will be disregarded when calculating entitlement to Universal Credit, any other social security benefit or Discretionary Support.
The payments will only be paid to Northern Ireland residents or those who are temporarily absent from Northern Ireland.
With the exception of payments made in respect of a Social Sector Size Criteria deduction, payments will cease if a claimant or person being cared for is imprisoned or detained in legal custody for more than one month.