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Support measures yet to be drawn up


Stormont is yet to draw up measures to help those affected by benefit reforms

Stormont is yet to draw up measures to help those affected by benefit reforms

Stormont is yet to draw up measures to help those affected by benefit reforms

New measures to provide additional support to those set to lose benefits when welfare reforms are introduced in Northern Ireland have still to be drawn up by Stormont officials, an Assembly committee has been told.

The multi-million pound Executive-funded package envisaged in the Stormont House political deal to supplement the new-look benefits system will not form part of a major Stormont debate on the legislation tomorrow, a senior official told the Social Development Committee.

Tommy O'Reilly, the chief executive of the Social Security Agency, said schemes were still being worked on by officials and had yet to be tabled before the Executive for approval.

"The detail of the schemes hasn't yet been confirmed," he said.

"The Stormont House Agreement has set down some parameters for those, officials are working on those still and they have to go back to the Executive in the first instance and that's the proposal."

He added: "The intention is they will be brought forward in the next number of weeks for agreement by the Executive.

"Ultimately it's for the Executive to make the decisions as to what it wants in those schemes."

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The Stormont House deal finally resolved the long-running impasse over the introduction of the UK Government's welfare reforms by addressing Sinn Fein concerns that some recipients would be adversely impacted.

The Executive has set aside tens of millions of pounds to support those whose payments would have dropped if the reformed welfare model in GB had been introduced in Northern Ireland unaltered.

The legislative process to introduce welfare reforms will re-start tomorrow with what is set to be a marathon debate on the Bill's consideration stage in the Assembly.

Members will discuss a number of amendments tabled by Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey and other MLAs.

Among the changes to the original bill, Mr Storey is proposing to reduce penalties that would be imposed on those failing to comply with regulations required to receive benefits.

The maximum length of time a sanction could be imposed will be cut from three years to 18 months under Mr Storey's proposals.

MLAs will tomorrow also debate the changes to the Social Fund. The fund is used to offer support such as winter fuel payments, funeral costs or emergency loans for people experiencing a financial crisis.

While the Social Fund responsibilities have been devolved to local councils in England, its functions are being retained centrally in Northern Ireland, with some elements being absorbed into the new universal credit and others being provided through a new Discretionary Support fund.

The separate schemes for more regular top-up support payments for those losing out under welfare reform are set to be debated at the further consideration stage of the Stormont bill.

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