In the news
N Ireland forced to make urgent plans for welfare
Benefit claimants in Northern Ireland are facing a 'cliff edge' when measures to ease the impact of welfare reform, including a subsidy to the bedroom tax, come to an end in March 2020.
Stormont, the Northern Ireland (NI) parliament has been suspended for almost 3 years at an estimated cost to taxpayers of over £100m, and as an unspoken means of encouraging Stormont politicians to re-sit, the UK is refusing to guarantee a new welfare mitigation package for Northern Ireland once the current funding runs out in March 2020.
The NI welfare reform mitigation fund was underspent by two thirds between 2016-2018. Nonetheless, in a letter to the Secretary of State for NI, responding to a DWP memorandum on welfare policy, Nigel Mills MP says that the lack of a mitigation package will lead to 'tens of thousands of affected claimants' facing a 'potential cliff-edge'.
Following a tweet in November, the Department of Communities has now changed the eligibility criteria for discretionary funding and, from January, recipients of the UC Contingency Fund will not have to have received a UC Advance payment before accessing the Fund. Whether this will be enough remains to be seen.
Pay first, report later
The DWP is reminding employers to report Christmas wages paid early as if they were paid on the usual payday, so that UC claimants are not adversely affected.
Failing to report this correctly may have a negative effect on claimaints' entitlement and eligibility for Universal Credit.
There are concerns that many employers will fail to do this but decisions are subject to mandatory reconsideration and appeal and advisors should look out for errors occuring around and after Christmas.
LAs urged to respond to SDP gateway enquiries
Local authorities are being urged to provide the DWP with Housing Benefit information on people who are in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium.
From 16th January 2019, anyone with a current or recent legacy benefit award including an SDP should be prevented from migrating to UC following a change of circumstances. But problems can often occur, as we reported in our Training Update last month.
For new claims where the claimant says they are in receipt of HB-only SDP, the DWP will contact Housing Benefit officers for information. The DWP says it is experiencing difficulty in obtaining information from some LAs, which is contributing to delays in payments to claimaints. Advisors should look out for likely problems with this.
Links to recent government guidance and bulletins
Guidance for LA staff on pensions strategy computer system, the LA audit process and requests for info on HB claimants who receive SDP (see also article above).
HMRC guidance to employers says Christmas wages may be paid early but should be reported at the end of the month to protect eligibility for Universal Credit payments.
New guidance affecting self employed EEA nationals with a right to reside who give up work due to the physical restraints of late stage pregnancy and childbirth.
New guidance on whether cash sickness benefits can be claimed by someone resident in EEA or Switzerland
Guidance on reduction in maximum length of higher level sanctions from 156 to 26 weeks.
Government should restore LHAs
The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has called on the next government to restore local housing allowance (LHA) rates so that they cover the rent in 30 per cent of properties in each market area.
A new CIH report Frozen Out: Fancy living on nothing for a month? highlights the problems caused by the LHA rate having been fixed in 2013 before the benefits freeze, even though rents have continued to rise and makes the point that the end of the benefits freeze in 2020 will not solve this by itself.
There's more on this and much else housing and benefits-related in our Universal Credit: The Housing Element course on 28th January.
Not 'the most wonderful time of the year' for everyone.
December is food banks' busiest month
Food banks are more in demand than ever, and December is their busiest month according to the Trussell Trust.
The charity reports that more than 800,000 food parcels were handed out between April - September 2019, 23% more than the same period the previous year.
But December is an even busier time for food banks, with over 185,000 food parcels given out by the Trust's partners last Christmastime, when present giving adds to the demands on people's pockets.
T'is the season. Please consider donating something - either food or funds - to the Trussell Trust Christmas Appeal this year.
RECENT CASE LAW
Quick links to selected recent benefits-related case law
Importance of consistency in tribunal’s reporting on claimant’s evidence
Published 27th November 2019
Use of aid/assistance must be a consequence of impaired function
Published 14th November 2019
Validity of medical evidence in telephone claims / period of appeal jurisdiction following fresh claim
Published 12th November 2019
Procedural fairness before adjournment / standards required for statement of reasons
Published 28th November 2019
Relevance of previous missed appointments when determining good cause for failure to attend medical assessment
Publishes 12th November 2019
Assessing whether two people are living together as a couple
Published 27th November 2019
No fresh claim required for A8 national who had claimed before Gubelzade
Published 12th November 2019
Supreme Court uses bedroom tax case to give LA and tribunals the power to disapply secondary legislation which contravenes ECHR.
Published 13th November 2019
Provision for ineligible service charges and the definition of exempt accommodation
Published 12th November 2019-12-02
When a tribunal notice contradicts the statement of reasons
Published 31st October 2019
CHILD TAX CREDIT
Child tax credit for a chlld living in the EU away from the claimant?
Published 12th November 2019
Universal Credit ads 'misleading'
The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld 44 formal complaints about a DWP-funded Universal Credit advertisement which ran on national websites and regional newspapers.
The ad, which aimed to debunk several 'myths' about Universal Credit, including the time it takes for the first payment, the difficulties associated with rental payments and the fact that it's 'not working', ran in the Metro newspaper, Mail Online and Metro Online and received 44 formal complaints on the basis of being misleading.
The complaints followed advance warning by the ASA that the ads would be withdrawn if they were not a 'representative reflection' of what happens in practice.
DID YOU KNOW.....?
Quick links to recent benefits-related news for those who don't do Facebook or Twitter.
A new report by leading palliative care charity Marie Curie is calling for an end to the six month rule on benefits for terminal illness.
Child poverty in working families up by 38% since 2010 says TUC report.
Over 50% of Universal Credit sanctions continue for more than 3 weeks according to DWP statistics.
The Public Accounts Committee has expressed concern that the HMCTS has not considered the impact of court reforms on vulnerable people.
The government has rejected the Work & Pensions Committee's call for stronger welfare safety net following the Committee's inquiry.
Finally! Benefits get an uprating
For the first time in five years, new benefits rates, increased in line with inflation, have been placed in the House of Commons and House of Lords libraries.
Benefits rates have remained the same since the 2015/16 rates were frozen by then Chancellor George Osborne, leaving many households further under the poverty line.
The new rates will come into effect from April 2020.
Social security and the General Election 2019
Boris Johnson has so far refused a party leaders' interview with the BBC's Andrew Neil
Voters face a stark choice on welfare between the Conservatives and the other parties, says the Resolution Foundation in new report: The shifting shape of social security.
If it isn't too late, or you haven't made up your mind already, here are links to the election manifestos, including social security commitments, of each of the major parties in the UK in the run-up to Thursday 12th December. And if you are reading this after 13th December, in the immortal words of Jim Bowen on Bullseye: Here's what you could've won:
Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland
We link briefly to articles and guidance which separately affect benefits in Scotland, Wales and/or Northern Ireland only when they differ significantly to those in England or the rest of the UK.
Parliament calls for 'more ambition' from government to tackle inequality
Scottish LAs spent over £100,000 in DHP payments in first half of 2019/20.
Social Security Scotland launches consultation on equality strategy
Social Security Committee calls for funding review of Scottish Welfare Fund
Department of Communities seeks to widen DHP eligibility critieria
Dept of Communities removes need for UC payment before eligibility for contingency fund
New statistics show that fewer than 25% of UC claimants in Northern Ireland are working
Legislation to protect EU citizens living in N Ireland post Brexit