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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 changes to benefits are 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 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

If the new Welfare Reform Bill becomes law in Northern Ireland Universal Credit will be introduced. 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.

Employment Support Allowance

The Welfare Reform Bill for Northern Ireland proposes to limit the amount of time you can claim contribution based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you are in the Work Related Activity Group. It is 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.

Personal Independence Payment

As part of the new Welfare Reform Bill Disability Living Allowance will be replaced by Personal Independence Payment for eligible people of working age (16 – 64 years). Personal Independence Payment is a new benefit to help people with disabilities live full, active and independent lives. This is not yet law in Northern Ireland.

  • Personal Independence Payment

Social Fund

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

Benefit cap

It is proposed that a benefit cap will be introduced as part of welfare reform. 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

If the new Welfare Reform Bill for Northern Ireland becomes law it will introduce new measures to tackle fraud and reduce error.

Sanctions and hardship

The Welfare Reform Bill proposes introducing new sanctions and hardship payments. 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 your 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.