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20 May, 2020 Open access

Communities Minister announces changes to universal credit in Northern Ireland in response to coronavirus outbreak

New measures include 'further amendments' to assist the self-employed, and changes to ensure that claimants who lose entitlement due to excess income are treated as reclaiming for up to five assessment periods

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has announced changes to universal credit in Northern Ireland in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

In a statement to the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday on work being carried out by the Department for Communities 'to support and protect those most in need during this public health emergency', Ms Hargey confirmed that the minimum income floor for self-employed universal credit claimants has been suspended for the duration of the outbreak, and announced that -

'I will make further amendments to assist the self-employed by ensuring that the treatment of payments, made under the job retention scheme to fund payments to the self-employed person’s employee, are applied appropriately and not taken into account in the self-employed person’s universal credit award. In addition, any other loan or grant to meet the losses of their expenses of the claimant’s business, in relation to the coronavirus outbreak, is to be disregarded in the calculations of the person’s capital.'

In addition, Ms Hargey told the Assembly that changes have been made to ensure that if a person loses entitlement to universal credit on account of their income -

'... the Department will treat the person as reclaiming universal credit for up to five assessment periods, rather than closing their claim, meaning that a person does not need to make a new claim if earnings reduce.'

NB - Ms Hargey also confirmed that, since 16 March 2020, there has been a 294 per cent increase in claims for universal credit - equal to around 71,000 applicants, with an average of 7,900 claims a week - and a 110 per cent increase in claims for jobseeker's allowance.

Ms Hargey's statement to the Northern Ireland Assembly is available from niassembly.gov.uk

Stop press: see also the Universal Credit (Coronavirus) (Self-employed Claimants and Reclaims) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 (SR.No.85/2020) that were laid before Parliament today and will come into force from 21 May 2020.