Communities Minister closes bedroom tax and benefit cap loopholes
In a welcome announcement this week, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey confirmed that legislation designed to close ‘loopholes’ in welfare mitigation schemes has been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
This will make a real difference to many households in Northern Ireland who have been affected by the way previous UK Government decisions have impacted their benefit entitlement. Two examples of this are the benefits cap and bedroom tax.
Employers For Childcare has been part of a campaign which has been actively working towards ending these benefit cap loopholes for the past three years, recognising the impact that they have on many families. The Cliff Edge NI collation had estimated that over 38,000 households in Northern Ireland would suffer if legislation to extend the welfare reform mitigations and close the loopholes was not passed.
What is the Bedroom Tax?
The proper name for the bedroom tax is the ‘social sector size criteria’. This reduces how much help you get towards your rent if your home has too many bedrooms compared to what the UK Government says you need for your household.
What is the Benefit Cap?
In 2016 the UK Government set a maximum amount it would pay in benefits to any household. This policy is called the “benefit cap“. Whilst there are some households who are exempt, for those affected it means that they may not get all the benefits they are entitled to.
What does this new legislation mean for families?
Many households in Northern Ireland have been getting an extra payment – called a welfare supplementary payment – to make up for a reduction in their benefits.
However, various loopholes in the legislation resulted in some families not being eligible for the welfare supplementary payment, or losing their eligibility. These loopholes have now been closed. Additionally, simplification of the qualifying conditions will mean that more families who currently have their benefits reduced will become eligible for the welfare supplementary payments.
Specifically, the changes as a result of the legislation approved this week by the Northern Ireland Assembly remove the restriction that requires a household to have been in receipt of benefits from 6 November 2016. They also allow for the payments to automatically match the amount by which the benefit has been capped.
An amendment was also passed at the Assembly to remove the end date for the bedroom tax mitigations, which were originally due to end in 2025 meaning that whereas before these payments were temporary, they can now be extended indefinitely. All other schemes have been extended until at least 31 March 2025.
If I am impacted, do I need to anything?
Eligible households will not need to do anything to receive any extra payments they may be entitled to. The Department for Communities, which administers the benefits, will identify all people eligible under the new rules and will issue payments automatically. This process is expected to take around six weeks to complete.
If you would like further advice on these changes or other benefits advice, contact our Family Benefits Advice Service on 0800 028 3008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.