Advice: How does Welfare Reform impact on me and my family?

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We have been receiving a lot of enquiries about Welfare Reform and how this will affect people. I have summarised a few of the changes that have taken place since January this year.

Income Support:

Before 16 January 2017 you could claim Income Support as a lone parent if your child was under 7 years of age. Since this date the age has been reduced from 7 to 5 years old. This will be phased in for existing claimants. If you feel that you will be affected by this change contact us so as we can complete a benefit check to advise on any other benefits you would be able to receive instead.

Housing Benefit:

From 20 February 2017 if you live in a Housing Executive or housing association home and you claim Housing Benefit to help you pay your rent, your Housing Benefit may be reduced if you’re of working age and your home is considered to have more bedrooms than you need.

The Housing Executive will have written to you in January 2017 if they thought you would be affected by the introduction of the Bedroom Tax. The letter tells you what information they have on record about your household, eg the number of people in your household and their ages.

If the information was correct, you don’t need to do anything. If any of the information is wrong, send in a correction in the pre-paid envelope provided. Tell the Housing Executive if there are any special circumstances they should know, for example you need an extra room for an overnight carer.

Once the Housing Executive has reviewed any new information, they will send you a letter with confirmation of your Housing Benefit award.

If you don’t agree with their decision, you can challenge it.

The Housing Executive should then have sent you a further letter in February if you are claiming Housing Benefit and are affected by the Bedroom Tax to tell you what your new Housing Benefit award is. The Department for Communities (DfC) will write to you separately to let you know about your Welfare Supplementary Payment. You do not need to apply for it. The Supplementary Payment is a payment that will be made in the same way as your Housing Benefit is paid either to yourself or your landlord and it will be for the same amount as the cut in Housing Benefit.

Payments can be made until 31 March 2020 unless you have a change in circumstances.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA):

In November 2016 entitlement to Contribution based ESA was reduced to 365 days for clients who are in the Work Related Activity Group. A supplementary payment can be made for up to a year to fully compensate for any loss of ESA, provided that you continue to qualify for the Work Related Activity Group.

For new claims made on or after 3 April 2017, not linking to a previous ESA claim, the Work-Related Activity Component will not be payable. This component would have given claimants an additional £29.05 weekly. This change brings payments for the majority of claimants in the Work Related Activity Group into line with the rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Child Tax Credits:

From 6 April 2017 the Child Element of Child Tax Credit will be limited to two children per family, with some exceptions. However, people will still be able to claim for more than two children if they were born before 6 April 2017. This is a reduction of £2,780 per year for each additional child.

The Family Element of Child Tax Credit is abolished for new families from 6 April 2017. People will continue to receive it if they are responsible for a child or children born before that date. This is a reduction of £545 per year for new claimants.

Bereavement Support:

Bereavement Support Payment will replace three existing bereavement benefits from 6 April 2017: Bereavement Payment, Bereavement Allowance and Widowed Parents Allowance. The rates will be:

– surviving partners with at least one dependent child – an initial payment of £3,500 and up to 18 monthly payments of £350;

– surviving partners with no dependent children – an initial payment of £2,500, no additional payments.

People already in receipt of the existing bereavement benefits will not be affected by the change.

Universal Credit:

Universal credit is to be rolled out in Northern Ireland in phases starting from September 2017. We will keep you updated as the changes come into effect.

For further advice get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice at www.citizensadvice.co.uk or for further information go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk.nireland