In the news


Our bitesize news page includes the latest benefits news, guidance, training updates & case law. Please let us know what news or advice area you'd like us to include next month.

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.


 For more information on this issue, sign up for our Limited Capability for Work course on 4th February or our Benefits: The Problem Areas course on 31st January, in London.


Links to recent government guidance and bulletins

Welfare Direct Bulletin 12/2019

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).

Employer Bulletin Oct 2019

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.


ADM Memo 21/19 / DMG Memo 17/19

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.


ADM 20/19 / DMG 16/19

New guidance on whether cash sickness benefits can be claimed by someone resident in EEA or Switzerland

ADM 19/19 / DMG 15/19

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.


Quick links to recent benefits-related news for those who don't do Facebook or Twitter.

The Cost of Dying

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.

TUC slams huge rise in child poverty

Child poverty in working families up by 38% since 2010 says TUC report.

Most UC sanctions last more than 3 weeks

Over 50% of Universal Credit sanctions continue for more than 3 weeks according to DWP statistics.


Unforeseen impact of court reforms

The Public Accounts Committee has expressed concern that the HMCTS has not considered the impact of court reforms on vulnerable people.

Govt rejects stronger welfare safety net

The government has rejected the Work & Pensions Committee's call for stronger welfare safety net following the Committee's inquiry.


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

[2019] UKSC 52


Provision for ineligible service charges and the definition of exempt accommodation

Published 12th November 2019-12-02

CH/28/2019, CH/31/2019, CH/34/2019 and CH/36/2019


When a tribunal notice contradicts the statement of reasons

Published 31st October 2019

CPC/532/2019 & CPC/533/2019


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.

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

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:


Labour (plus later commitment to pensions compensation for women born in the 1950s)

Liberal Democrats

Scottish Nationalist Party

Plaid Cymru

Green Party

Brexit Party


Alliance Party

Democractic Unionist Party

Sinn Fein

Social Democratic & Labour Party
Ulster Unionist Party

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