Decisions taken by our politicians last week on the Welfare Reform Bill, will impact on the lives of thousands across Mid Ulster.
The Bill, which the Northern Ireland Assembly must consider as part of the Stormont House Agreement, contains a number of proposals to reduce government outlay on benefits.
Two such measures are the [spare] ‘bedroom tax’ for those in receipt of housing benefit and also a ‘benefit cap’, to limit the amount a household can receive a year in welfare payments.
According to the Department of Social Development [DSD], which oversees the benefit system, 1,595 Mid Ulster homes in receipt of housing benefit could be “affected by under occupation”.
Of the total 412 are in Cookstown and 479 Magherafelt.
But there is some good news for those facing the impending bedroom tax - a tax some politicians have said is “about punishing people who rely on support from the state”.
“The Executive will create a separate Discretionary Housing Scheme to protect tenants from any reduction in their housing benefit until a significant change in their personal circumstances, or they are offered suitable alternative accommodation,” according to DSD.
This protection “will be initially set for five years with a review to be carried out at that point”, and will also allow DSD to build 200 new one-bed units a year going forward, in answer to the shortage.
As well as those who may have to ‘pay’ bedroom tax, 370 households in the district that take home over £26,000 in benefits, will see their payments capped at that amount unless the type of payment they receive, exempts them.
These exemptions include DLA, the support element of ESA, working tax credit, industrial injuries benefit, war widow[er] pension, attendance allowance, armed forces compensation/ independence payment and war pensions.
In June last year, DSD said it paid 6,600 households in Northern Ireland, over £26,000 in benefits.
But when the exemptions are taken into consideration, the department said “470 households should be affected by the benefit cap at £26,000 per annum” - just over 7 per cent of the total.
However, they said it should also be noted that: “These 470 households contain approximately 2,430 children, with an average of five children living in impacted households, with 62% of these households being lone parents.”
The Welfare Reform Bill is two stages from becoming law.