Help new welfare system

Those at the coal face of real life issues have a vital role to play in shaping how the Department delivers flexibility in Universal Credit payments, said Social Development Minister, Nelson McCausland.

Calling on the community, voluntary and advice sector to share their vast experience and understanding of the issues facing local people, Nelson McCausland asked for their help in designing the criteria and guidance for accessing Universal Credit payment flexibilities.

The Minister said: “It is important to help people understand that there is a way out of poverty and to put the measures in place to help people help themselves. It is also important to ensure that those claimants in Northern Ireland who have particular needs are protected.

“In a recent Omnibus survey carried out on behalf of my Department, 81% of those surveyed had the view that benefit claimants should be paid fortnightly to make it easier to budget. In the same survey, only 34% of people had the view that all benefit payments, including Housing Benefit, should be paid in a lump sum like working people are paid their wages.

“These views are not new to me. I have heard these concerns raised by many interested parties and I have taken all these views on board.

“I recognised early that flexibility was needed for some in the Universal Credit system and I have managed to secure this flexibility. Now it is time to understand how this will work in practice and who should be able to access this help. Those people working on the ground, at the coal-face of real life issues, will play a vital role in helping my Department design a system which will deliver real support to those who need it.”

The flexibilities, recently secured by Minister McCausland, will help to protect the most vulnerable in society. The flexibilities are:

The ‘housing cost’ element of Universal Credit may now be paid directly to landlords, rather than a default payment being made directly to the claimant;

Universal Credit payments may now be split between two parties in the household, rather than a default payment to one nominated person in the household; and

Payments may now be payable twice each month, as opposed to the default monthly payment.

Views will be sought from advice sector, community sector and voluntary sector organisations at an event, held in Parliament Buildings and organised by the Social Security Agency. Further events will also be held in the coming months to gather views of the public.

These views will help inform the development of criteria and guidance for accessing payment flexibilities in Universal Credit when the new system begins its implementation in Northern Ireland in April 2014.