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Department reviews mitigation schemes

As part of the Fresh Start Agreement, the Executive committed to a review of the welfare mitigation funding package in 2018/19. The Department for Communities has now published a Review of Welfare Mitigations Schemes, which examines progress against the recommendations that were made by the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group and includes details of the latest expenditure against the funding allocation for each recommendation.

The report acknowledges that the planned end of the mitigation funding on 31 March next year is likely to present “significant issues to people”, and includes information on the impact of the end of these mitigation schemes. The report focuses in particular on the impact of the Social Sector Size Criteria mitigation, which will continue to impact an estimated 34,000 people from April 2020.

Social Sector Size Criteria mitigation

Where a person’s benefit is restricted by the Social Sector Size Criteria, because they are deemed to be “underoccupying” their home, a welfare supplementary payment equivalent to the benefit cut is made to this person. The payment is only stopped if a person previously in receipt of the mitigation payment moves to another social housing tenancy and continues to underoccupy their home by the same or a greater number of bedrooms. The only saving provision preventing the payment stopping is if the move was made as the result of a management transfer.

The report references research carried out by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive into the impact of the SSSC on the households who have lost entitlement to a mitigation payment and acknowledges that the evidence suggests that the loss of mitigation payments will lead to an increase in rent arrears.

A further difficulty for those subject to the SSSC is the “clear mismatch between the size and type of social housing stock required to avoid SSSC deductions and the profile of the existing stock” This means that freeing up underoccupied social housing units, presumably the policy intention of the SSSC, is impossible to achieve as there is a shortage of available properties for those who wish to downsize. Only 18% of self-contained social housing stock has one bedroom while people whose benefits would be restricted to an allowance for one bedroom make up 45% of those registered for social housing.

Future plans

The report finds strong evidence to look at options for the continued mitigation of the SSSC and estimates the future cost of mitigating this welfare reform at £22.1 million per year.

In the absence of a functioning Assembly, the legislation required in order to introduce ongoing mitigation of the SSSC would need to be brought forward at Westminster. However, provisions in existing legislation effectively prevent the Westminster Parliament from making new primary legislation on matters relating to social security in Northern Ireland or from making legislation on the mitigation schemes. Therefore, unless the Assembly reconvenes, a new Legislative Consent Motion will be required in order to enact any meaningful change.

Sector raises concerns about mitigations cliff edge

Housing Rights is one of the many organisations in Northern Ireland who have expressed grave concern about the crumbling mitigations cliff-edge. Around 30 separate organisations have now committed to campaigning to prevent the end of the mitigation package on 31 March 2020.

Tagged In

Benefits, Research, Welfare Reform

This article was written on 2 April 2019. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.