Welfare Reform - What's Changing in Northern Ireland
The Welfare Reform Act is introducing a range of changes to the benefits system in Northern Ireland.
Many current benefits are going to be abolished and replaced by a new benefits system.
Universal Credit will replace many existing benefits
Universal Credit is a new single benefit for working-age people. From 2017 it will gradually replace most means-tested benefits such as income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, tax credits and Housing Benefit.
Personal Independence Payment will replace Disability Living Allowance
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will gradually replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for people of working age with daily care needs or difficulty getting about. From 20 June 2016 if you make a fresh claim or report a change of circumstances you will be assessed for PIP. If you are of working age and have an existing indefinite award of DLA you will be contacted to be reassessed for PIP in December 2016 at the earliest. Not everyone who gets DLA will be able to get PIP in future, but if you lose your award or are paid a lower amount of PIP, you may be able to get a supplementary payment for a year to compensate you for your financial loss.
Cuts to Housing Benefit if your social housing is too large
If you live in social housing, such as Housing Executive or housing association accommodation, your Housing Benefit may be cut. This will only apply if you're of working age and you have more bedrooms than you're allowed after the new rules come in. If you are affected you will be given a supplementary payment so that you will not be financially worse off.
Employment and Support Allowance
From 31 October 2016 a time-limit has been set on claims for contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance for people in the work-related activity group. If you are in this group and have been getting contribution-based ESA for 365 days, you will no longer be eligible. If you are in the support group you will not be affected.
If you are affected you may be able to get supplementary payments for one year to make up for any financial loss.
The special conditions for Employment and Support Allowance for young people were abolished in February 2016.
From 31 May 2016 there is a cap on the total amount of benefit you can get. To begin with, the cap may affect you if you're getting Housing Benefit and could mean you will get less money towards your rent. If you are affected you may be entitled to financial help.
Benefit appeal rights will change
From 23 May 2016 if you don't agree with a social security benefit decision you must ask for it to be reviewed before you can appeal the decision. This change applies to all decisions made on or after this date.
The rules for disputing a decision will be explained in your benefit decision notification. If you think a decision is wrong, you can ask for it to be looked at again for any reason. This is known as mandatory reconsideration.
Changes to the Social Fund
In November 2016 there will be a change in how some Social Fund payments will be made. Crisis loans and community care grants will become part of a new Discretionary Support Payment scheme.
Will you get less money under welfare reform?
If you're worried that the benefit changes will reduce the money you have coming in, it's a good idea to start thinking ahead. For example, you could get a benefits check on your current entitlement and see whether there will be any transitional protection available. You could also get some advice about budgeting.
- For more information about the benefits changes, who will be affected and how to plan ahead, go to our new section on Welfare benefits reform
Other useful information
- More about welfare reform on the nidirect website www.nidirect.gov.uk