Welfare reform mitigation to be extended in NI legislation

Ministers have released a statement regarding the legislation they intend to introduce to the Assembly.

Toy house and calculator on a pile of bank notes

Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Minister have released a statement regarding the legislation they intend to introduce to the Assembly in the remaining part of the 2019-20 session.

As announced, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA intends to introduce four bills:

  • The Welfare Mitigation/Social Sector Size Criteria Bill – in respect of mitigation payments regarding the bedroom tax

The Bill will remove the current end date of 31st March 2020 in respect of mitigation payments for the Bedroom Tax.

This will fulfil the commitment in The New Decade, New Approach Deal that existing mitigation payments should continue beyond the 31st March.

  • The Pension Schemes Bill – to ensure that those saving into a Master Trust scheme, which is a form of multi‐employer occupational pension scheme, are protected
  • The Housing (Amendment) Bill – to make the changes urgently required to address the Office for National Statistics’ classification of Housing Associations to the public sector

According to reports, the purpose of the Housing (Amendment) Bill is to make the changes urgently required to address the Office for National Statistics’ classification of Housing Associations to the public sector.

Reclassification to the private sector will allow Housing Associations to borrow money to facilitate the Social Housing Development Programme and to access Financial Transactions Capital, which supports the Co-ownership scheme, among other housing projects.

As reported by 24housing, benefits claimants were described as facing a “cliff edge” as the previous set of mitigations, including a subsidy to the bedroom tax to ease the impact of welfare reform, were due to run out at the end of March.

A Commons report urged that the welfare mitigation package in Northern Ireland needs another four years beyond its 2020 end date to avoid a significant income fall for claimants.

It has also been announced that the Minister of Finance will introduce the normal Budget Bills as part of the annual financial cycle.

These include:

  • Criminal Justice Bill – to reform the Committal process
  • Domestic Abuse Bill – to create a new domestic-abuse offence and therefore close a gap in the law to ensure that protection is not limited to cases of physically violent behaviour, as at present

The legislative package is said to implemented commitments given in the New Decade, New Approach Deal.

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