The benefits system will change significantly over the next few years.
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 introduced a variety of reforms to the benefits and tax credits systems. Some changes have already begun, while others will happen over the next few years.
Introduction of Universal Credit
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One of the main changes is the introduction of one benefit called Universal Credit to replace six income-related (means-tested) benefits:
These six benefits are being phased out between October 2013 and 2017. By the end of this period, all claimants will need to claim Universal Credit instead.
Universal Credit includes money for basic living costs, children and housing.
If you’re currently receiving any of these six benefits, you’ll have your claims transferred to Universal Credit before 2017. The amount of money you get won’t be reduced when this happens, as long as your circumstances stay the same.
If you’re receiving one of these six benefits, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will contact you. You don’t need to do anything until then.
We have more detailed information about Universal Credit, which might be helpful.
Personal Independence Payment is the current disability benefit for people aged 16-64 with a long-term disability. It started to replace an older benefit called Disability Living Allowance in April 2013.
Everyone aged 16-64 who makes a new claim for disability benefits will now need to apply for Personal Independence Payment.
Anyone who is still claiming Disability Living Allowance and is aged 16-64 will eventually be affected by the introduction of Personal Independence Payment, but this change won’t take place until 2015 at the earliest.
However, they’ll be invited to claim Personal Independence Payment instead of Disability Living Allowance if there’s a change in their circumstances before this time.
If you’re currently claiming Disability Living Allowance, you don’t need to do anything until the DWP contacts you.
Council Tax Support is a system of localised council tax support that has replaced Council Tax Benefit.
A benefit cap has been introduced across England, Scotland and Wales.
The cap means that the total amount of benefits you can claim, including Universal Credit, is limited to a maximum of:
£500 a week if you’re a single parent or part of a couple
£350 a week if you’re single.
This means that you can't get anything above these limits, even if you’re assessed as needing more. However, some benefits are not included in the benefit cap.You are also exempt from the cap if someone in your household:
is claiming Attendance Allowance
is claiming Disability Living Allowance
is claiming Personal Independence Payment
has limited capability for work or work-related activity.
A welfare rights adviser will be able to give you a full list of benefits affected by the cap. You can speak to one for free by calling 0808 808 00 00.
Benefits that will stay the same
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A number of benefits will remain as they are. These include:
If you might be affected by the changes described on this page, you should contact your local benefits advice service or a Macmillan welfare rights adviser on 0808 808 00 00.
The benefits system is changing across the UK. But in Northern Ireland, it is unclear when any changes will take effect.
The Northern Ireland Welfare Reform Bill is expected to create a number of changes to the benefits system in Northern Ireland. However, the Bill still needs to pass through a number of key stages before it can become law.
Summer 2014 update
The following changes are expected to happen, but it is unclear when they will take effect:
A benefit cap will be introduced, limiting the total amount of benefits that individuals can claim.
The new benefit Personal Independence Payment will be introduced, gradually replacing Disability Living Allowance.
Changes will be introduced to Employment and Support Allowance and Housing Benefit.
The Social Fund system will be replaced by a new service called Discretionary Support.
Further sanctions and hardship measures will be introduced.
There will be new powers to tackle benefit fraud.
The process for appealing a benefit decision will change.
It’s also expected that Universal Credit will be introduced to Northern Ireland.
Some of these changes will be similar to reforms that are already underway in England, Scotland and Wales.
The details above are based on information from the Social Security Agency, which is responsible for state benefits in Northern Ireland. But all of these plans may change. We aim to keep this page updated with the latest news about welfare reform in Northern Ireland, and you can also check nidirect.gov.uk for the latest news.
Further information and support
Macmillan Cancer Support, in partnership with Citizens Advice, provides a dedicated Welfare Rights Service to people affected by cancer in Northern Ireland. For information and support, or to arrange an appointment, please call 0300 1 233 233. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am-12.30pm and 1pm-4pm.
You can also call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00.
For benefits information and support in Northern Ireland please visit nidirect.gov.uk or call 0800 232 1271.
You can also contact the Northern Ireland Benefit Enquiry Line on 0800 220 674, or textphone 028 9031 1092 if you are deaf or hard of hearing.