Mid Ulster Citizens Advice Bureau has been granted extra funding from Stormont to help those affected with incoming ‘benefits’ changes.
As well as the movement of many DLA recipients to PIP (Personal Independent Payment) Stormont’s acceptance of Welfare Reform from Westminster will also see changes to child tax credit.
This means parents who have welcomed a third child from April 1 will not be able to claim tax credits for them.
But the team at Mid-Ulster Citizens Advice Bureau - which has offices in Cookstown, Dungannon and Magherafelt - are on hand to help.
Advice Co-ordinator Andrea Bedell told the Mail: “We would be concerned there’s a lot of people out there who haven’t investigated how the Welfare Reform changes will affect them.
“There are so many changes happening to so many different benefits, it’s really important for anybody who’s claiming benefits to have a general chat with somebody to get advice. There can be big differences in money, big differences in entitlement. Right now we’ve got those changes that have been made to PIP which are going to affect clients with mental health problems.”
She also spoke about the “two child limit” on tax credits that has been introduced.
“Any children that are born after April, if they are the third child in the family, the family will only get paid tax credits for two children,” Andrea explained. “Since last year there’s a four-year freeze on the rates of tax credits, but now this two child limit is going to affect people and they might not be aware.
“We would be encouraging everybody to come and seek advice,” she added. “Department for Communities have given advice agencies funding to provide advice specifically on Welfare Reform issues.”
Another change introduced in April was the work-related activity component of ESA (Employment Support Allowance) which is paid to the sick. It means new claimants - if placed in the ‘work’ category will be paid £30 less a week.
“Previously it was recognised by the government that people who are sick - because of health needs needed more money,” Andrea said.
Now, after a points assessment, some sick people could be put on the lower band while they apply for jobs.
“We know it’s very difficult for people relying on benefits... probably the most difficult time we have had for many years,” she said.
Mitigation in place to help those losing out says DfC
As part of incoming welfare changes, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) was introduced by Department for Communities (DfC) in Northern Ireland on June 20, 2016.
It replaces Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for working age people (those aged 16-64), but DLA will continue for children up to 16 and existing DLA recipients aged 65 and over on 20 June 2016, provided they continue to meet eligibility criteria.
PIP will be available whether people are working or not and includes an assessment of an individual’s needs.
“It aims to help disabled people live more independently and support those with the greatest need,” said DfC.
As well as new claims, the department said it is gradually contacting those currently on DLA between 16-64 about the change over to PIP, and aims to have reached everyone on the benefit by December 2018.
DfC said a number of mitigation measures are in place to support customers who financially lose out after reassessment from DLA to PIP.
You can also find out more at www.nidirect.gov.uk/pip or by calling 0300 123 9221.