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Changes to benefits - Welfare Reform

Subject to approval by the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive, the new Welfare Reform Bill for Northern Ireland will result in changes to the benefits system. Many of the current benefits will cease to exist and new benefits and payment systems will be introduced.

What are the changes to benefits being introduced in Northern Ireland?

  • introduction of Universal Credit
  • introduction of Personal Independence Payment
  • changes to Housing Benefit
  • introduction of a Benefit Cap
  • end of the current Social Fund scheme which will be replaced by a new service called Discretionary Support
  • changes to Employment and Support Allowance
  • introduction of new Fraud and Error powers
  • introduction of further sanctions and hardship measures

What support will be available?

If you are going to be affected by any of the changes, you will be contacted in advance. Support and advice will be available at every stage to help you through these changes and to answer your queries.

How will the changes affect you?

Housing Benefit

Housing Benefit payments may change in spring 2014 under Welfare Reform bill. When the Welfare Reform bill is made law, these changes will affect Housing Executive or Housing Association tenants from 16 to 61 years old.

Pensioners will not be affected.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit will be one single benefit for people aged 18 to 64 years old paid to each household. Some 16 and 17 year olds will be able to claim Universal Credit depending on their circumstances. It is expected to be introduced to Northern Ireland in summer 2014.

Employment Support Allowance

Welfare Reforms propose to limit the amount of time Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) based on contributions can be paid. It's also proposed to remove the special conditions that allow some young people to get contribution-based ESA. This is not yet law in Northern Ireland but may come into effect in spring 2014.

Personal Independence Payment

Personal Independence Payment is a new benefit to help people with disabilities live full, active and independent lives.

Social Fund

If the new Welfare Reform Bill for Northern Ireland becomes law the current payments from the Social Fund will change from spring 2014. Some payments will be part of a new type of support service called Discretionary Support, while some will become part of the new Universal Credit benefit system being introduced from summer 2014.

Benefit cap

It is proposed that a benefit cap will be introduced from spring 2014. This will limit the amount of benefit people aged 16 to 64 can get. This means you should not get more in benefit payments than you would if you were earning an average wage. This is law in England, Scotland and Wales but not law in Northern Ireland yet.

Fraud and Error

Government is putting new plans in place as it continues to tackle fraud and aims to reduce errors

Sanctions and hardship

If you do not follow the rules of the benefit you are getting such as going to an interview or medical examination you could lose benefit – these are called sanctions. If losing benefits means you are in severe need, hardship payments can be made which you will have to pay back. These new sanctions and hardship payments may come into effect in April 2014.