The Welfare Reform Act

The Welfare Reform Act 2012 has introduced a number of changes to the welfare system in England, Scotland and Wales. These changes should be complete by 2017.

It is expected that similar changes will happen in Northern Ireland eventually. It’s not certain yet when these changes will take place. You can visit nidirect.gov.uk for more information.

There is one Universal Credit being introduced in England, Scotland and Wales. This is currently only available in certain areas. It is gradually replacing:

  • Income Support
  • Housing Benefit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.

There are some other changes:

  • Personal Independence Payment is replacing Disability Living Allowance for people aged 16-64. New claimants need to apply for Personal Independence Payment.
  • Council Tax Support has replaced Council Tax Benefit.
  • A benefits cap has been introduced.

The most up-to-date information about changes to the benefits system is available on the gov.uk website.

Welfare reform

The benefits system is changing 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.

One of the main changes is the introduction of one benefit called Universal Credit to replace six income-related (means-tested) benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Housing Benefit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.

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, children and housing.

If you’re currently receiving any of these six benefits, you’ll have your claims transferred to Universal Credit between April 2014 and 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 DWP will contact you. You don’t need to do anything until then.


Personal Independence Payment

Personal Independence Payment is the 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.

New claimants

Everyone aged 16–64 who makes a new claim for disability benefits will now need to apply for Personal Independence Payment.

Existing claimants

All existing Disability Living Allowance claimants who are aged 16–64 will eventually be affected by the introduction of Personal Independence Payment, but this 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

Council Tax Support is a system of localised council tax support that has replaced Council Tax Benefit.


The benefit cap

The total amount of benefits you can claim, including Universal Credit, is:

  • £500 a week if you’re a single parent and your children live with you, or you are part of a couple
  • £350 a week if you’re single and don’t have children, or your children don’t live with you.
  • £500 a week between you and your partner if you’re part of a couple, whether or not you have children.

This means that you can’t get anything above these limits, even if you’re assessed as needing more. Some benefits aren’t included in the benefit cap.

The cap doesn’t apply to you if someone in your household is getting particular benefits. Some of these include: Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment and Employment and Support Allowance (support component). These are examples rather than a full list.

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 us on 0808 808 00 00.


Benefits that will stay the same

A number of benefits will remain as they are. These include:

  • Attendance Allowance
  • bereavement benefits
  • Carer’s Allowance
  • contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance
  • help with health costs (including prescriptions and wigs and fabric supports).


Welfare reform in Northern Ireland

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 system called Discretionary Support.
  • 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.

Keeping updated

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.


Back to Benefits and your rights

An introduction to the benefits system

There are many different types of financial benefit that could be available to you.

Who can help you get financial support?

Many people can give you advice on your financial situation. Some charities and organisations offer grants.

Protecting your right to state benefits

Some benefits depend on your national insurance contributions. There are organisations to help you find out what you are entitled to.

Macmillan grants

A Macmillan grant is a one-off payment for adults, young people or children with cancer, to cover a wide range of practical needs.