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When everyone has a home

Housing and debt helpline for Northern Ireland – 028 9024 5640

A timeline of the key Welfare Reform changes

Welfare Reform will bring an enormous range of changes to the Social Security system in Northern Ireland. Many people will be aware of the introduction of new measures or benefits – like Universal Credit, the Benefit Cap or the “bedroom tax” – however, there have also been a series of other changes to existing benefits; how benefit decisions can be challenged; and where claimants can apply for funding in a crisis.

This timeline gives a brief overview of the main changes, starting with the changes timetabled to come in. You can download a PDF of the timeline.

Date Welfare Reform
September 2018  (until September 2022)

Migration of existing “legacy benefits” claimants onto Universal Credit. After Universal Credit is rolled out for all new claimants or change-of-circumstance claimants, all other claimants of “legacy benefits” will be migrated onto the Universal Credit system.

1st April 2018

Conversion of Support for Mortgage Interest into an interest-bearing loan (“Loan for Mortgage Interest”). The Welfare Reform & Work Act empowers the Government to make Regulations, turning SMI into an interest-bearing loan. 

27th September 2017 (until September 2018)

Beginning of introduction of Universal Credit – for new claimants, and claimants whose circumstances change – in Northern Ireland.

The introduction of Universal Credit is the single biggest change of Welfare Reform. UC will replace 6 existing benefits, now known as “legacy benefits” – jobseeker’s allowance, ESA, Income Support, Housing Benefit, and Working & Child Tax Credits – with a single benefit. You can find out more about the basics of Universal Credit from our online training, or attending Welfare Reform training.

Universal Credit will be introduced for new claimants, and claimants whose circumstances change, gradually across individual Jobs & Benefits/Social Security offices, starting with Limavady on 27th September 2017 – see the full list.

20th April 2017 20th April 2017. Changes to Housing Benefit regulations which expand the circumstances in which a household is permitted an “additional” bedroom. These changes were added as a result of a successful Supreme Court challenge to the bedroom tax, and apply to both the social sector (for the purposes of the bedroom tax policy) and the private sector (for the purposes of awarding the correct LHA rate).
6th April 2017

Child Tax Credits limited to 2 children for new claims. There will be exemptions from this limit for twins/triplets etc, children born as a result of rape, children living long-term with family or friends and children part of a “sibling group adoption.” The child element of Universal Credit will also be limited to the first 2 children. 

There are also consequential 2-child limits to Housing Benefit, as well as Universal Credit, Income Support and Jobseeker’s Allowance.

20th February 2017

Social Sector Size Criteria – the “bedroom tax” – introduced in Northern Ireland. The “bedroom tax” is a policy affecting social households receiving Housing Benefit, whereby if they have 1 “spare bedroom” their HB eligible rent is reduced by 14%, and if they have 2 or more, it’s reduced by 25%.

The Assembly has introduced supplementary payments to mitigate the impact of the tax in Northern Ireland.

16th January 2017 Income Support eligibility changes: age limit for the child is reduced from 7 years old to 5 years old. A claimant can gain eligibility for Income Support by being the lone parent of a child – this child must now be under 5 years old.
28th November 2016

Contributory ESA (including “ESA in Youth”) is retrospectively time-limited to 365 days, essentially meaning Contributory ESA can’t be claimed for more than 1 year. As mentioned, this applies retrospectively – so if (for example) someone has been claiming contributory ESA for 5 years, their claim will immediately cease. There are 2 protections against this measure:

  • Days in the ESA Support Group do not count towards this limit;
  • Claimants who lose their Contributory ESA in this way will get a supplementary payment, equal to their loss, for up to 1 year
7th November 2016

Benefit Cap levels reduced significantly. The levels of the Cap are reduced from £500 per week to £384.62 per week for families and/or households with children; and from £350 to £257.69 for single adults. The original exemptions and supplementary payments will remain available.

31st October 2016

Abolition of the Social Fund; replacement with Finance Support. From 31st October 2016, Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants ceased to exist. The Social Fund has been replaced by Finance Support. The 2 main changes here are:

  • “Discretionary Support” – designed to be a fast and responsive means of receiving short-term financial support. Loans or grants are available, if the applicant has “a crisis which places them or their immediate family’s health, safety or wellbeing at significant risk.” The application process for this is by phone.
  •  “Short Term Benefit Advances” are available if the applicant has “an urgent financial need that could have a serious impact on their or their family’s wellbeing.” This can be applied for when making a fresh claim, or reporting a change in circumstances for an existing claim. The applicant must be able to repay the advance within 12 weeks.
5th September 2016

Abolition of Housing Benefit ‘Family Premium’, and reduction of HB backdating. The ‘family premium’ is an amount added to Housing Benefit if the household has children; this will no longer apply, though existing HB claimants will continue to get the premium.

The length of time by which Housing Benefit can be “back-dated” has also been reduced from 6 months to 1 month. 

20th June 2016

DLA abolished for new claims, and replaced by Personal Independence Payments. From this date on, existing working-age claimants of DLA will be “migrated” from DLA to Personal Independence Payments, which has a different testing process and payment structure. Children under 16 and people over 64 will still be able to apply for, or continue claiming, DLA.

31st May 2016

Benefit Cap introduced. The Benefit Cap places a limit on the amount of benefits any working-age household can receive. In May 2016, this was set at £500 per week for couples and/or households with children; and £350 per week for single adults.

There is a range of exemptions and NI-specific mitigations for the Cap.

23rd May 2016

Introduction of ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ and ‘Direct Lodgment of Appeals.’. Claimants or advisers contesting benefits decisions must now undergo a Mandatory Reconsideration of the decision, before appealing to tribunal. Any appeals must then be “directly lodged” with The Appeals Service in Belfast, and advisers/claimants should include evidence of their mandatory reconsideration.

These changes apply to all Social Security benefits, apart from Housing Benefit – this means they will eventually also apply to Universal Credit.

1st April 2016

Working-age benefits frozen for 4 years. Income Support, jobseeker’s allowance, Employment & Support Allowance, Housing Benefit elements, Universal Credit and Tax Credit elements are all frozen for 4 years.

Disability benefits and elements are exempt from this freeze, and are instead uprated in line with the Consumer Price Index.

1st April 2016

Waiting period for Support for Mortgage Interest increases. The waiting period for SMI has been increased from 13 weeks to 39 weeks

7th February 2016

“ESA in Youth” is abolished for new claims. ESA in Youth formerly allowed young people under 20 to claim contributory ESA, even if they had never paid National Insurance.