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Welfare mitigation payment update

The Department for Communities has written to the Cliff Edge Coalition to confirm that existing mitigation payments will continue until 30 September 2020 and that a draft Bill to provide for mitigation payments for people affected by the Bedroom Tax has been shared with the Executive.

Cliff Edge Coalition

For over a year, 100+ member organisations of the Cliff Edge Coalition have been urgently calling for welfare mitigations to be extended and strengthened to take account of the new challenges such as Universal Credit, including the two-child limit, and cuts to housing benefits in the private rented sector.

In 2015, under the Fresh Start Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive committed £585 million to a mitigations package in order to protect people in NI from some of the harshest aspects of Welfare Reform, such as bedroom tax (social sector size criteria)  and benefit cap. These crucial protections were due to end at the on 31st March.

Extension of the existing mitigations

Earlier this year Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey committed to extending the mitigations beyond the March 2020 Cliff Edge. While the necessary legislation was not passed in time, due to the Covid-19 crisis, the Department for Communities confirmed that payments would continue to be made for all of the existing mitigations schemes via contingency arrangements. In a recent letter to the Cliff Edge Coalition, the Department gave the following updates in this regard:

  • The contingency arrangements to provide for the continued delivery of mitigation payments, on the basis of the policy detailed in the existing legislation, have been extended until 30th September 2020.
  • A draft Bill to provide for mitigation payments for people affected by the Social Sector Size Criteria policy has been shared with the Executive. Once approval to proceed has been granted then the draft Bill will formally presented to the Assembly as quickly as possible. 
  • The Department will be bringing forward new Regulations to provide for the extension of the remaining mitigation schemes. It is anticipated that these will be laid shortly after the Bill is introduced.

While the extension of these mitigations is strongly welcomed, the Cliff Edge Coalition is concerned about loopholes that exist in the mitigations arrangements as they stand. The Coalition has therefore written to the Minister for Communities, highlighting the need to amend the new legislation to close the following loopholes, in order to ensure that it is fit for purpose in the current context:

  • Benefit Cap mitigations – as it stands, this mitigation only protects those claimants who were in receipt of a relevant benefit when the mitigation was introduced in 2016. Therefore the many low income families and lone parents who have lost employment due to Covid, or had a change in circumstances, will fall through this loophole if it is not amended.
  • Bedroom Tax mitigations – as it stands, households who move to another social home where they under occupy to the same or greater extent loose entitlement to this mitigation. When announcing the extension of the mitigation, Minister Hargey also committed to closing this change in circumstances loophole, it is crucial that this amendment is made in the new Bill in order to ensure people no longer fall through this loophole.  

Strengthening of Welfare Mitigations

As well as committing to extending the existing mitigations, Minister Hargey also committed to working with stakeholders, including the Cliff Edge Coalition and people directly affected by welfare reform, to review the mitigation measures to consider areas in which they could be strengthened. In a recent letter to the Coalition, the Department for Communities confirmed that the proposals for the review of mitigations are currently being finalised and it is hoped that a formal announcement on how this will be taken forward will be made available in the coming weeks.

Housing Rights looks forward to working alongside our Coalition colleagues as we continue to campaign for the extension and strengthening of welfare mitigations, particularly in light of the Covid-19 crisis which has brought into even sharper focus the need for strong, fair social security safety nets.

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Welfare Reform