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NI welfare system 'most protected in the UK'

Published 19/01/2016

Northern Ireland's welfare system will be the most protective in the UK, a Stormont-ordered review says
Northern Ireland's welfare system will be the most protective in the UK, a Stormont-ordered review says

Northern Ireland's welfare system will be the most protective in the UK, a Stormont-ordered review said.

A helpline will be established for rejected claimants and extra payments made to some who lose out from the changes, Professor Eileen Evason said.

Universal Credit will replace many benefits and people on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) are expected to move to Personal Independent Payments (PIPs) over a three-year period.

Professor Evason said: "There is not another part of the UK with a belt and braces system in place to help people through this."

A total of 765,800 households are expected to be affected by welfare reform.

The Fresh Start Agreement between the British government and the Stormont parties tasked Professor Evason, an expert in social administration, with bringing forward proposals to maximise the use of additional spending power agreed for changes to the welfare regime.

Professor Evason said some people were dying in Great Britain because of a loss of benefits.

The Stormont ministerial Executive has agreed to allocate £585 million over four years to top up the UK welfare arrangements in Northern Ireland, with a review in 2018/19.

Some receiving enhanced disability payments could lose out from the shift from DLA to PIPs, and the report by Professor Evason recommended automatic supplementary payments to those eligible - covering the shortfall for up to one year.

They would kick in once losses are worth more than £10 a week and be expected to cover three quarters of the loss.

People with a conflict-related injury would receive special treatment, receiving extra points making them more likely to qualify for the extra relief.

Many people are carers for those receiving DLA and there is concern those who do not qualify for PIPs will lose their allowance to pay for care.

The report said: "We therefore recommend that in such circumstances carers should receive a supplementary payment to cover their financial loss for one year from the date entitlement ceases.

"This will provide breathing space for expert advice to be sought and fresh claims submitted if appropriate."

Changes to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) also caused Professor Evason "concern".

She said a supplementary payment should be made for a year to a claimant who loses out from the shift, subject to certain conditions.

Stormont has already agreed not to introduce the bedroom tax, which was brought in for other parts of the UK.

A UK benefit cap limits the amount in total that claimants can receive from specified benefits. The cap is £350 a week for single claimants and £500 for families, although that could change in the near future.

The report recommended supplementary payments for up to four years for families with children affected by the cap.

An OFMDFM spokesman said: "The First Minister and Deputy First Minister received the full report from Eileen Evason.

"They will now share the report with the Social Development Minister to ensure speedy implementation."

A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Office said: "The publication of Professor Evason's report is an important step towards implementation of the Fresh Start and Stormont House Agreements and builds on legislation passed in Westminster and Stormont last year.

"The UK Government will continue to work alongside Northern Ireland's political leaders and the wider community to help build a society where politics works, the economy grows and society is stronger and more united."

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