Concessions on welfare reform plans
The UK Government has made a number of concessions on proposed welfare reforms, the Social Development Minister has claimed.
DUP MLA Nelson McCausland told the Assembly that the controversial Welfare Reform Bill will be customised to suit the special circumstances of people in Northern Ireland.
Amendments include rolling out the new universal credit scheme six months after the rest of the UK and introducing a range of payment flexibilities to help those with budgeting difficulties.
Mr McCausland said: "The housing costs element of universal credit will be paid automatically to the landlord rather than the claimant, with an opt out arrangement for those who choose to receive the full universal credit payment and in turn pay their landlord.
"In addition the IT system functionality will be developed to enable to the computer system where necessary, to split the payment between the two parties in the household, and, again where necessary, to make two smaller payments per month rather than the single full monthly payment."
Other changes include splitting universal credit payments between two people in a household as well as paying the benefit twice each month.
Mr McCausland said the UK Government commitments were given during detailed negotiations with Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud, who will visit Northern Ireland next month.
The Welfare Reform Bill was voted through to the committee stage after a marathon debate in the Assembly last Tuesday.
It is aimed at getting more people off benefits and into work. Key features include the introduction of a universal credit to cover a range of existing benefits, a personal independence payment - reassessed every three years - to replace disability living allowance, and housing benefit reforms.
The Bill, if enacted, will implement changes to the benefits system similar to those in England and Wales.