Welfare Reform

This is a simple guide to let our tenants know how Welfare Reform may affect them. Follow the links for further advice and guidance. Our Housing Officers are also available to answer queries on 028 9059 2110.

Welfare Reform

What is Welfare Reform?

The government has changed the way social security benefits are administered and paid. Many of these changes are already in place in mainland UK and one by one they are being introduced into Northern Ireland.

 How will it affect me?

This page gives information on a range of benefits and how they are changing. If you are in receipt of any of them you will be affected. So it is important to know what is happening. But don't forget, at NB Housing our staff can assist you with any query you have. 

What are the changes?

Housing Benefit

If you are currently claiming Housing Benefit you could be affected by the changes. The first change you need to know about is the Social Size Criteria also known as the Bedroom Tax. This started on 20th February 2017 and will affect you if the property in which you live is under occupied by one or more bedroom. 

You can only claim for a certain number of rooms depending on how many people live in your home. This will only apply to those of working age. Those who are deemed to be under occupying their property will lose 14%  of their housing benefit if they have one spare room and 25% if they have two or more spare rooms. 

For example if your rent is £100 per week (excluding rates) and you have one spare room then your housing benefit would be reduced to £86.00 per week. If you had two or more spare rooms your housing benefit would be reduced to £75.00 per week. 

Under the Northern Ireland mitigations package the Government has agreed to cover any shortfall in housing benefit for those affected by this change until 31st March 2020. This is known as Welfare Supplementary Payment (WSP) and this will be paid automatically to NB Housing and you do not need to claim it. After March 2020 you will have to pay any shortfall in Housing Benefit to NB Housing.

PLEASE NOTE: If you transfer after the 20th February 2017 to another NB Housing or NIHE/ other housing association property and you do not reduce the current level of under occupancy you will lose your WSP. For example if you currently live in a property that is one bedroom under occupied and you move to a property that is also one bedroom under occupied you will lose your WSP because you have not reduced the level of under occupancy by moving.

At present this does not apply to those who have management transfer status as opposed to an ordinary transfer. Management transfer status is mainly awarded to those who are deemed as homeless or potentially homeless by NIHE, however there are other circumstances when management transfer status can be awarded. Further information is available here.

Personal Independence Payments

Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) has replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for working age people (16-64). This is a new benefit to help those with disabilities or long term health issues. 

PIPS are not a means tested benefit. This means that the claimant's income or savings are not taken into account. If you are working you can still apply. The only remaining DLA awards will be those for under 16s (child DLA) and anyone aged 65 or over. Anyone currently claiming DLA will have received or will receive a letter advising their claim will be coming to an end and invite them to claim the new PIP benefit. 

What is the difference between PIP and DLA?

The key change is that PIP has introduced a new assessment process. It looks at the impact the condition has on a person's everyday life, rather than the condition itself. There are two components - Daily Living and Mobility. When being assessed for each of these components a person will be given a score and this will determine if they qualify. For each component you must score at least 8 points to qualify. This will give you the standard rate and 12 points or above will entitle you to the enhanced rates. The new rates are shown below;

Disability Living Allowance Rates                      Personal Independence Payments Rates
High Rate Mobility £61.20                                 Enhanced Rate Mobility £61.20
Low Rate Mobility £23.20                                  Standard Rate Mobility £23.20
High Rate Care £87.65                                      Enhanced Rate Care £87.65
Middle Rate Care £58.70                                  Standard Rate Care £58.70
Low Rate Care £23.20                                      No low rate daily living exists

For more information on this benefit change click here.

Benefit Cap

The benefit cap was first introduced in Northern Ireland in May 2016. This restricts the amount of money a person or family can receive on certain benefits. 

The Benefit Cap limits are currently:

  • £384.62 a week if your household is made up of a couple (with or without children) or you are a lone parent and you have children living with you, that you are responsible for. 
  • £257.69 a week if you are a single person and have no children living with you.  

If you receive certain benefits you will be exempt from the cap. 

If you are affected by the benefit cap your housing benefit will be reduced. That means that you will be entitled to less housing benefit. This reduction will be covered by an automatic supplementary payment which will be made to NB Housing until 31st March 2020. You do not need to claim this. The Department for Communities will have already contacted you or will contact you to inform you and will automatically set up the payments to ensure you are not immediately affected. For further information on the Benefit Cap click here.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is one of the largest changes under Welfare Reform that has been introduced in Northern Ireland. It was introduced in Northern Ireland on a phased geographical basis from 27th September until December 2018.This new benefit will be for those of working age (16-64) and replaces six of the main working age benefits. This benefit will assist with living and housing costs. It will also help carers and people who are too ill to work, with childcare costs. Payment of these benefits will be made to a household twice monthly. A monthly payment can be requested. You will no longer receive housing benefit and your housing costs under Universal Credit will be paid directly to NB Housing. 

The six benefits that are replaced by Universal Credit are:

  • Jobseekers Allowance (Income related)
  • Employment and Support Allowance (Income related)
  • Income Support
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Housing Benefit (Rental cost only)
Please note that help with rates will no longer be available under Universal Credit and this will have to be applied for separately via Land and Property Services. This will be called Rates Rebate. NB Housing will advise further about this process. 

Please ensure you have an independent benefit check before moving into UC as it may not be financially beneficial at this time. 

Please note if you receive the Severe Disability Premium or have received it within the last month as part of your benefits, you cannot transfer onto UC and should claim legacy benefits instead, such as Housing Benefit or Income Based ESA.  

For more information about Universal Credit click here.

Employment and Support Allowance

Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people of working age who have a limited ability to work because of ill health or disability.

There are two types of ESA:

  • Contributory ESA - linked to your National Insurance contributions
  • Income-related ESA - means-tested and takes into account your other income and savings 

You may be entitled to either, or a combination of the two. The Work Capability Assessment, carried out by Approved Healthcare Professionals (AHP) on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), tests your eligibility. 

Support Group

The test has a list of activities and descriptions relating to physical and mental, cognitive or intellectual functions. If you satisfy at least one, you are thought to have limited capability for work-related activity and will be placed in the support group. 

People in this group:

  • get a higher rate of ESA
  • are protected from the benefit cap
  • do not have to do specified work-related tasks 

Work-related activity group 

If you do not satisfy at least one activity, you are thought not to have limited capability for work-related activity and are placed in the work-related activity group.

People in this group:

  • get a lower rate of ESA
  • are not protected from the benefit cap
  • must do specified work-related tasks 

Limited capability for work

The first test is the Limited Capability for Work assessment. This considers 17 activities and descriptors: 10 physical and 7 mental, cognitive and intellectual. 

Contributory ESA

If you are entitled to Contribution Based ESA and are placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), your payment is limited to 365 days payment. And from April 2017 if you are placed in the WRAG you will not be awarded any additional payment, your weekly amount will be the same as Contribution Based JSA. After 365 days you may be able to claim Universal Credit but this depends on any other income and that of your partner if applicable. 

How to claim ESA

You can claim ESA by: 

  • Calling the Job Centre claim line (Telephone 0800 055 6688/ Textphone 0800 023 4888)
  • Using the paper claim form ESA1

 For more information about ESA please click here

When you make a claim to UC there is a five week waiting period before the first payment. You can apply for an advanced payment to cover this period, but this will be loan, paid back over 12 months from your UC entitlement. However you can also access the UC Contingency Fund which is a grant and is aimed at supporting benefits claimants with financial difficulties. Applicants must have already claimed a UC advanced payment, have not received a discretionary support living expenses grant within the previous year and must be in their first or second UC assessment period. Please contact us for further information in relation to the UC Contingency Fund.  

Financial Support

Discretionary Support payments have replaced Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans for household items and living costs. Discretionary Support offers grants and interest free loans to people on a low income who are in exceptional or crisis situations. Discretionary support will be provided through loans for:

  • immediate assistance with short term living expenses
  • household items, or assistance with the repair or replacement of household items
  • travelling expenses in prescribed circumstances
  • rent in advance to a landlord other than the Northern Ireland Housing Executive

Discretionary support will be awarded through grants where: 

  • the grant is to provide assistance for a claimant or their immediate family to remain or begin living independently in the community
  • the claimant or their immediate family are prevented from remaining in their home
  • the grant is to provide assistance assistance in the form of living expenses where the claimant or their immediate family are prevented from remaining in their home
  • the grant is to provide assistance in the form of living expenses where the claimant is over the acceptable debt threshold
  • the claimant is eligible for a loan for living expenses and cannot afford to make repayment
The regulations  also set out provisions in relation to: 
  • claims and payments
  • eligibility conditions including income and capital
  • recovery methods and the provisions required in any review process which may be set up under the regulations. 

For further information click here

Disputing a Social Security Benefit Decision

The way in which you can dispute a social security decision has also changed. If you disagree with a social security benefit decision or over payment request you will now have to ask the office in question to formally reconsider the decision. This is known as a mandatory reconsideration. 

If this decision is upheld and you still disagree, you then have the opportunity to appeal this. You will have to register your appeal after mandatory reconsideration directly to the appeals service. This is a slight change as beforehand you could have lodged your appeal with your social security agency department. 

If you need some help with your reconsideration request, contact your local Advice Agency (previously known as Citizens Advice Bureau) or Advice NI. Try to get in touch straight away - you might have to wait for an appointment and you only have a month to send your letter in.

We, at NB Housing, hope you have found this information helpful. Should you need further advice or information please do not hesitate to contact us on 028 9059 2110 or via email, our staff are more than happy to assist.

You can read more information on Welfare Reform on Citizen's Advice website or by reading the document below.