Social workers in Northern Ireland fear they could face prosecution for failing to inform the PSNI that a woman has been raped in light of benefits changes to be introduced next month.
The concerns centre around the extension of the 'two child limit' to new universal credit benefit claimants here, except in special circumstances, such as where a woman can prove a subsequent child was conceived through a non-consensual sexual act.
Women in Northern Ireland seeking benefits for a child conceived from rape must fill in an eight-page HMRC document containing a declaration that the "non-consensual conception exception applies to my child". Part of the form must be completed by an approved third party professional.
However, the form warns in NI, a third party who "knows or believes that a relevant offence (such as rape) has been committed" will "normally have a duty to inform the police of any information that is likely to secure, or to be of material assistance in securing, the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of someone for that offence".
Under section 5 of the 1967 Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland), failing to report a crime in Northern Ireland is an offence.
Chair of the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers Colin Reid says the benefits changes, being overseen by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), will mean social workers are "caught between a rock and a hard place".
"Social workers, doctors and nurses are going to be in a double bind whereby they either breach their professional code of ethics or the law," he said.
"The DWP is asking the medical profession to do its dirty work for them. We are seeking legal advice."
Women's Aid Federation NI also slammed the plans.
The PSNI's Detective Chief Superintendent George Clarke said: "The Criminal Law Amendment ACT (NI) 1967 deals with the non-reporting of arrestable offences. Each case is considered on its own merits and any case will be individually examined to assess whether the provisions of the Criminal Law Amendment Act apply."