Northern Ireland

Welfare reform bill: Five schemes to provide financial support

Five new schemes are being developed to provide financial support for people who would lose money due to welfare changes in Northern Ireland.

The details are not specifically referred to in the Welfare Reform Bill, which is being debated for a second day by assembly members.

Welfare reform caused a political impasse until a deal was reached in December at inter-party talks.

These schemes will help to implement the Stormont House Agreement.

The details of the new "mitigation schemes" are expected to be put out for public consultation in March:

  • One provides flexibility for those receiving universal credit
  • Another covers those disadvantaged as a result of the spare room subsidy, also known as the bedroom tax
  • A third covers "discretionary support", which will be similar to emergency assistance already available under the social fund but will now also provide support for those on low incomes as well as those claiming benefits
  • The Disability Protection Scheme would apply to those switching from Disability Living Allowance to the new Personal Independence Payments
  • A fifth scheme will be known as the Supplementary Payment Scheme

An enabling clause is due to be added to the bill when it returns for its "further consideration stage" on 24 February.

This would provide the Department for Social Development with the authority to set up the schemes.

The department will write in advance to everyone who might be impacted with details of how the Northern Ireland Executive might support them.

'Preventing hardship'

The Chartered Institute of Housing Northern Ireland said financial support for those affected by the "bedroom tax" showed that "our politicians are recognising Northern Ireland's unique circumstances".

"These top-up payments combined with the housing element of universal credit being paid directly to landlords and more frequent payments of universal credit, should go a long way towards preventing hardship for many tenants," said the charity's director, Nicola McCrudden.

In the 2015/2016 financial year, £27m has been set aside to support people disadvantaged by welfare changes.

Sinn Féin say that sum will rise to £565m over the next six years.

It is understood this estimate refers to the resources that will be made available across all the new schemes, rather than one distinct fund.

Meanwhile in Stormont, Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey condemned politicians whom he claimed had made inaccurate claims about the Welfare Reform Bill.

"I have to say, if you were to listen to some of the comments made in the media this morning, there are a lot people who really need to take a long hard look at some of the things they have been saying," said the DUP assembly member.

The debate, which resumed on Wednesday morning, could continue until the early evening. The bill is expected to pass its consideration stage.

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