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Universal Credit to start in Northern Ireland in 2014

Nothern Ireland Executive website (link opens in a new window)Northern Ireland Social Security Minister Nelson McCausland has confirmed that he now plans to introduce Universal Credit in Northern Ireland from April 2014 as part of the UK-wide roll.

This announcement follows successful negotiations with Lord Freud, the Minister for Welfare Reform, to secure changes to the way Universal Credit is paid to protect the most vulnerable and reflect Northern Ireland's unique circumstances.

The changes agreed are:

  • Housing cost element of Universal Credit paid direct to landlords rather than customer;
  • Payment of Universal Credit may be split between two people in the household; and
  • Payment of Universal Credit may be payable twice each month.

Nelson McCausland's statement

The Minister said: “I am fully committed to social security parity between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the principles underlying Universal Credit. However, I also recognise that in Northern Ireland we do have unique circumstances and for many months I have been in negotiations with Lord Freud on alternative payment arrangements for Universal Credit in Northern Ireland. Throughout those discussions I have sought his agreement that the Universal Credit IT system will be enhanced to accommodate these alternative payment arrangements.

“I can now report that I have secured the agreement of Lord Freud to these changes so that when Universal Credit goes live in Northern Ireland, the housing cost element of Universal Credit will automatically be paid directly to landlords rather than the claimant. This is an important change as it will help to avoid rent arrears, with all the implications that can have for claimants and their families.

“I am also pleased to advise that in special circumstances, where necessary, we will be able to split the Universal Credit payment between the two parties in a household and make the Universal Credit payment twice every month rather than monthly. I will begin to consult with representative groups and stakeholders to develop the criteria and guidance for when it is appropriate to apply these alternative payment arrangements.

“In order to allow for the development of the necessary IT to support these alternative payment arrangements and for the necessary guidance and procedures to be put in place, I have decided to launch Universal Credit in Northern Ireland in April 2014. I have the agreement of Lord Freud that this maintains the principle of parity in that it will be part of a continuous United Kingdom wide roll-out commencing in October 2013. This timing has the added advantage that issues raised and lessons learned across other parts of the UK in the early stages of the roll-out can be reflected into local implementation planning and delivery.”

Impact of Housing Benefit reform

In relation to the overall impact of Housing Benefit reform Minister McCausland said: “This remains a matter of considerable concern for me and I will be hosting an event in November, attended by Lord Freud the architect of the reforms, with key interested parties to consider the evidence from a number of surveys I have commissioned. I believe this will afford the opportunity to develop measures specific to Northern Ireland that may help soften the impact of the Housing Benefit reforms here.”

Source: Northern Ireland Executive (link opens in a new window), BBC News (link opens in a new window) and Rightsnet (link opens in a new window)

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