More people in Northern Ireland to be protected from bedroom tax and benefit caps by Assembly

The closure of bedroom tax and benefit cap loopholes in welfare mitigation schemes has been hailed as an “important step” to “protect those most in need in our society.”

Legislation from Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to close “loopholes” in these schemes has been passed by the Stormont Assembly on February 8.

It means that around 260 families across Northern Ireland will receive average payments of almost £ 500 per year, while around 640 households will become eligible for mitigation payments.

Payments will be available to more people who currently have their benefits reduced because of the bedroom tax and benefit cap.

The changes will also allow people who previously lost their mitigation payments to re-qualify if they are impacted.

An estimated 38,000 households are currently in receipt of supplementary payments which protect them from the bedroom tax.

Minister Hargey said: “By closing loopholes, I have ensured that around 260 families will receive average payments of £ 480 a year regardless of whether or not they have moved home and continue to under-occupy.

“Changes to the benefit cap will also extend protection for families with children by simplifying the qualifying conditions.

“Many families who are currently not fully protected will see their payments increase with an estimated 640 households – that are currently losing an average of £ 49 per week – becoming eligible for mitigation payments.”

The Department for Communities currently administers a number of welfare mitigation schemes which were originally introduced to alleviate the impact of changes to the social security system. The schemes were introduced in 2016 for a four year period ending on 31 March 2020.

An extension for most of the schemes to March 31, 2025, was approved by the Assembly on January 31, 2022. Legislation relating to the ‘bedroom tax’ mitigation payments is currently with the Assembly.

Minister Hargey continued: “Too many people have been unfairly penalized under the old rules. It is not acceptable to stop payments when someone decides to move home or to deny financial support to an increasing number of families.

“I am determined to protect those most in need in our society and the expansion of the welfare mitigation package is an important step.”

Eligible households will not need to claim the mitigation payments. The Department will identify all people eligible under the new rules and will issue payments automatically. This process is expected to take around six weeks to complete.

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