Advice NI calls for halt to Universal Credit rollout in Northern Ireland

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Advice NI has called for the Northern Ireland rollout of Universal Credit to be halted

The charity is calling for a halt to Universal Credit rollout, due to commence on Wednesday, September 27, in Limavady, citing a number of concerns:

• No NI Assembly, Ministerial or Committee oversight and monitoring

• Westminster Minister responsible for Universal Credit said to be analysing the data and listening to concerns;

• Universal Credit mitigation measures outlined in the Evason Report (accepted by the NI Executive) are not in place;

• Many vulnerable people with no digital access or skills will struggle with the Universal Credit digital system;

• Cost of calling the UC helpline which is charged at up to 12p per minute or more depending on the telephony provider;

• Irish passport and NI drivers licence problems with the online digital verification system ‘Verify’;

• Reported hardship reported from GB due to initial seven day exclusion period;

• Reported hardship reported from GB due to a six week (minimum) wait for a first Universal Credit payment;

• Reported hardship reported from GB in particular over Christmas and winter months;

• Reported hardship reported from GB due to the introduction of the harsher sanctions regime;

• Growing evidence from GB that the system that is intended to support people is making their situation worse (growing debt and rent arrears);

• Increased risk of claimants being vulnerable to online scams;

Universal Credit will replace Jobseeker’s Allowance (income-based), Employment and Support Allowance (income-related), Income Support, Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit (rental).

Bob Stronge Chief Executive of Advice NI said: “Advice NI has previously called for the return of NI Assembly to make critical Welfare Reform decisions, and stated that if the Assembly and an Executive is not in place it is worth considering a pause in the roll out of Universal Credit in light of the impact we have seen elsewhere in Great Britain.

“We have now reached the point where we believe the rollout of Universal Credit in Northern Ireland must be halted. We must have an Assembly, Minister and Committee in place to provide oversight for such a significant change to the social security system in Northern Ireland – and it is becoming increasingly clear that there will be a political vacuum when the planned rollout of Universal Credit commences on 27th September.

“We are therefore calling for the rollout to be halted until we have an Assembly in place to provide the required oversight and monitoring role – with the ability to take critical decisions as required.”

Mr Stronge added: “Advice NI’s main concern will of course be to protect vulnerable, local people from the harsh impact of welfare reform. The independent advice network has helped many people with welfare reform problems and this work will continue.”

For anyone worried about welfare reform, the free, independent Welfare Changes Helpline is available on 0808 802 0020.

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