Welfare Reform Mitigations: Less than 1 year to cliffedge

9 Apr 2019     Last updated: 17 Jul 2019

Advice NI and NICVA are warning that, with less than a year to go before Welfare Reform Mitigation runs out, thousands of vulnerable people across Northern Ireland may be facing a substantial drop in income and even eviction. 

As thousands head towards the cliff edge, the findings are stark:

34,000 Bedroom Tax households are set to lose support totalling £22million, prompting fears of a housing crisis, as thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of tenants find themselves unable to pay their rent, falling into arrears and over the cliff edge of eviction. Households affected by the bedroom tax are set to lose on average £50 per month

With the benefit cap set to hit Northern Ireland from March 2020, 1,500 Benefit Cap families with children are set to lose support totalling £3million. Affected Benefit Cap households are set to lose on average £42 per week putting children in the firing line as all the households protected from benefit cap are families with children

Thousands of sick, disabled and their carers are set to see their mitigations support prematurely end in March 2020. Thousands of disabled people who are worse off following reassessment from DLA to PIP are set to prematurely lose support. Up to 1,500 carers will also prematurely lose support through the mitigation schemes

Speaking as the two organisations hosted a media briefing day to highlight their fears, Kevin Higgins of Advice NI said that the end to welfare reform mitigation could be potentially disastrous for tens of thousands of vulnerable people across Northern Ireland:

“There will be uproar when 34,000 Bedroom Tax households are hit with a financial tsunami. Some claimants have already lost their Bedroom Tax mitigation, and their housing arrears have quadrupled as a result. We are deeply fearful that if mitigation is lost by 34,000 households we will see mass evictions on an unimaginable scale. That’s just in relation to bedroom tax; consider also those lone parents with children whose housing support is cut, for some by over £100 per week, due to the benefit cap: their mitigation also ends in March 2020. On top of that, our most vulnerable sick and disabled claimants (and their carers) will see their mitigation payments end prematurely in March 2020.”

 Seamus McAleavey of NICVA added,

“Why put our most vulnerable citizens through a prolonged period of uncertainty and fear as the clock ticks down until the end of the mitigations in March 2020? These mitigations were hard fought for in the Fresh Start Agreement in 2015 to protect the people of NI from the harshest impacts of welfare reform and action must be taken to avoid a mitigations cliff edge in one year’s time. With new mounting challenges, it is critical that current mitigations should continue and in addition, seek to address new challenges, particularly those associated with Universal Credit.  We urge everyone with an influence to ensure that a solution is found.”

At a recent Advice NI conference which focussed on the mitigations cliff edge, all of the main political parties agreed that the existing package of measures should continue. The Department for Communities own review of the mitigation schemes comments on the bedroom tax mitigation policy as follows:

“Evidence clearly shows that the impact of this policy has not abated and is unlikely to change over the next few years with the number of affected claimants remaining largely constant. It is therefore considered that there is strong evidence to consider the continuation of this policy.”

The chair of the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group, Professor Eileen Evason urged immediate action to avoid a crisis,

“What we have, limited as it is, is far in advance of what has been secured by other devolved governments and demonstrates what can be achieved through devolution when people work together. I am also very aware of the high level of social need that continues to scar so many households and communities and is most evident in the growing reliance on food banks.”

She continued

“We need to start thinking now about which parts of the package should be retained and whether we can help those affected by cuts made since our report: most obviously the implementation of the so-called 2 child policy, cuts to Employment & Support Allowance and the severe limitation in support for widowed parents which is now being put in place.”

Advice NI and NICVA say the continued mitigation of the bedroom tax is absolutely necessary due to the non-existence of suitable alternative accommodation. The two organisations stress we need continued benefit cap mitigation to protect the welfare of children in those affected households and the continuation of the now embedded additional independent advice services set up to help people through the welfare changes, including the rollout of Universal Credit.

Kevin Higgins concluded,

“Furthermore, we need to think about how we can help those affected by cuts made after the Evason report was produced: most notably those families affected by the implementation of the two-child policy. The clock is ticking on the expiry of the mitigations package and the savage cuts this will unleash on thousands of unsuspecting low-income households. We must commit now to remove the threat of the 2020 mitigations cliff edge.”

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