Advice: How will welfare reform affect you?

Pat Hutchinson MBE.
Pat Hutchinson MBE.

By Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager, Newtownabbey CAB

You’ve probably heard a lot about the Welfare Reform Bill that is currently subject to approval by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Many existing means-tested benefits are due to be abolished and replaced by a new benefits system.

Universal Credit (UC) will replace many existing benefits. UC is a single means-tested benefit which will be paid to people of working age. It will replace most means-tested benefits including:

• income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)

• income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

• Income Support

• Housing Benefit

• Working Tax Credit

• Child Tax Credit.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will replace Disability Living Allowance. PIP will be paid to you if you’re very ill or disabled and have trouble getting around or need help with day-to-day living. It will replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and will be paid to people aged between 16 and 64.

If you’re getting contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), you may be affected by the proposed changes.

If the changes go ahead and you’re in the Work-related Activity Group, you will only be able to get contribution-based ESA for a maximum period of one year. Time spent in the Work-related Activity Group before the change takes place counts towards the year, so if you’ve already been getting it for a year and you are in this group, your contribution-based ESA will stop immediately. You won’t be affected if you’re in the Support Group.

A benefit cap will be introduced, meaning there will be a limit on the total amount of money from certain benefits you can get if you’re of working age.

Currently, if you get certain benefits, you may be able to get a payment or loan from the Social Fund. These are meant to help towards the costs of unexpected or one-off expenses.

However, as part of the welfare benefit reforms, parts of the Social Fund will be abolished while others, such as funeral or maternity expenses and budgeting loans, will be paid under Universal Credit. A new service called Discretionary Support will offer grant and loan payments if you are in extreme hardship.

Will your income from benefits be lower after the changes?

To begin with, people getting certain benefits will be protected if their income drops once they move onto Universal Credit. This is called transitional protection. There is no transitional protection for people currently getting Housing Benefit. This means that your income may go down as soon as the new Housing Benefit rules become law.

• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau or log on to www.adviceguide.org.uk

Call Newtownabbey CAB, Dunanney Centre, Rathcoole on 028 9085 2271 or email enewtownabbey@citizensadvice.co.uk