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Housing Rights & Law Centre respond to SSAC consultation on changes to Housing Benefit & Pension Credit

Housing Rights and Law Centre (NI) have submitted a response to the Social Security Advisory Committee’s consultation on the Department for Work and Pensions’ proposed changes to Housing Benefit and Pension Credit, concerning temporary absences from Great Britain.

Although these Regulations initially refer to Great Britain only, it is expected that similar policies will be introduced in Northern Ireland, to ensure parity.

Proposed changes to temporary absence rules for Housing Benefit and Pension Credit 

DWP proposes to amend the Housing Benefit and State Pension Credit regulations to reduce the period of allowable absence outside Great Britain, generally from 13 weeks down to 4 weeks. This is part of a series of measures intended to harmonise existing Regulations with the incoming Universal Credit system.

It is the expectation of DWP that similar policies will be implemented in Northern Ireland.

Housing Rights and Law Centre NI raise concerns about changes to Housing Benefit

We made the following key points in our consultation response:

Geographical scope. The geographical scope of the Regulations is confused, substituting ‘Great Britain’ for ‘United Kingdom’; this could adversely impact claimants travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. If parallel Regulations were introduced here, the scope would presumably be reduced further to just Northern Ireland. We therefore asked the Committee to seek an explanation from DWP as to this change.

Increased rent arrears and homelessness. It is likely that these changes will result in increased rent arrears, homelessness and avoidable public expenditure. DWP forecast that 45,000 claimants across GB will lose an average of £600; given that claimants in receipt of these benefits are less likely to have £600 in disposable income to begin with, it is likely that these claimants will accrue rent or mortgage arrears and the accompanying threat of eviction.

This is particularly concerning in the Northern Irish context, where a claimant could see their Housing Benefit claim terminated under the new rules, and upon re-applying be “migrated” onto Universal Credit, which take a minimum of 5 weeks for regular payment to commence. A recent survey has found that 89% of 2,000 Universal Credit recipients surveyed were in rent arrears.

Impact on particular groups. The changes will have significant negative effects on victims of domestic violence fleeing abroad (including to Northern Ireland from GB); prisoners detained outside NI and/or GB; participants on training programmes occurring outside NI/GB; and migrant workers, including cross-border workers in NI and the Republic of Ireland. The Equality Analysis submitted by DWP has offered little evidence of the scale of these Regulations’ impact on these particular groups.

What happens next

These Regulations are due to take force in Great Britain from April 1st. The Assembly’s Committee for Social Development is due to consider similar regulations for Northern Ireland at their next meeting, on Thursday March 3rd; pending their approval, these Regulations will also take effect in Northern Ireland from April 1st.