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34,000 in Northern Ireland may face benefits cut due to bedroom tax


Thousands of people could be affected when the mitigation to the bedroom tax ends.

Thousands of people could be affected when the mitigation to the bedroom tax ends.

Thousands of people could be affected when the mitigation to the bedroom tax ends.

34,000 households could be affected by the addition of the bedroom tax despite claims there is enough money to continue to subsidise it.

Welfare claimants are facing a cliff edge when measures to ease the impact of welfare reform are scheduled to come to an end in March 2020.

It means thousands could lose up to a quarter of their benefits if it's deemed they have a spare room in their house.

"34,000 people have their housing benefit reduced and they are impacted by the bedroom tax but they get a mitigation payment to offset that," said Kevin Higgins from Advice NI, speaking to the BBC's Nolan programme.

"Come March 2020, people will be subjected to the full brunt of the bedroom tax to the tune of 50 pounds a month on average," he said.

The Northern Ireland Affairs and Work and Pensions Committees have published a joint report calling on Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith to commit to legislation which will extend the social security mitigation package here.

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"The joint committee is saying that in the absence of an assembly, our government and secretary of state must act quickly to legislate and avoid the looming cliff edge, and extend the mitigations," said Mr Higgins.

"People will slide into housing arrears, inevitably you'll get towards repossessions, evictions and homelessness as a result of the mitigations ending."

There's very little that can be done by those receiving the benefits to prepare, he said.

"Housing executive research shows that many don't know they're getting the mitigation to begin with, it happens behind the scenes. Even if you did know, because of the cuts that have been made to the social security system, there's very little you can do to make plans for such substantial cuts."

The mitigation measures were passed shortly before the Stormont assembly's collapse in order to allow claimants to have their benfits topped up from a separate fund.

Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey said "for people who are on a very low income, any money out of their benefits is too much".

"The programme we [created] a number of years ago was that the department had to do a full review of the mitigations programme after three years and the department has done that.

"They will tell you themselves they can within the existing legislation continue to pay the bedroom tax and the benefits cap within existing regulations and there is money in the kitty to continue to pay that," he said.

Mr Maskey said the parties agreed in December last year that they would try and reach a consensus to continue the mitigations post-2020.

He said there is money which isn't being spent in the mitigations programme due to tax purposes.

However, the Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen said he's met with senior officials in the Department for Communities and that his understanding is a minister is needed to make the decisions about welfare mitigations.

"The senior officials running the department at the moment in the absence of ministers, their advice to us is that they are unable to take forward the mitigation measures post March 2020. We're taking our advice from them, the most senior people running the department," he said.

"The reality of it is we want Stormont back to be able to protect those individuals."

The Department for Communities has been contacted for a response.

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