This bulletin will be distributed bi-monthly.

Law Centre NI Social Security Bulletin

No. 25. 9 July 2019

Social Security Updates

Ombudsman's Investigation into PIP- 
The Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman has informed the Department for Communities that she is launching an investigation into the way the Department administers Personal Independence Payment. The investigation will look in particular at the availability and application of further evidence (such as GP records, Occupational Therapist assessments, carer’s reports etc.) in the decision making, mandatory re-consideration and complaints processes. The full Terms of Reference are available here

Current legal definition for terminal illness is unfit for purpose- 

In its report Six months to Live?, the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group for Terminal Illness put forward three key recommendations - 

  • that the government amends the definition of terminal illness in UK law so that a person is determined as having a terminal illness if it is the clinical judgment of a registered medical practitioner or clinical nurse specialist that they have a progressive disease that can reasonably be expected to cause the individual’s death;
  • that the government adopts a light-touch review of benefit awards under the special rules for terminal illness only after 10 years; and
  • that the government ends the practice of non-specialist assessors challenging and rejecting the medical evidence provided by clinicians in a DS1500 form to support a benefit claim under the special rules.
Law Centre NI submitted evidence to the APPG's consultation, recommending that the six month rule, which is also used in NI, should be removed. You can read our response here

Update: Audio Recording Pilot for PIP-
Capita is currently undertaking a 'Proof of Concept' exercise for audio recording during PIP assessments. This exercise follows the Recommendation 13 in the 2018 Independent Review of the PIP Assessment Process by Walter Rader. It is being trialled in the Belfast assessment centre in Linenhall Street but with mobile audio equipment available for assessments carried out in customer homes. The 'Proof of Concept' began in April and was initially to run for 4 weeks but has been extended.  A key focus of the exercise is to get an understanding of uptake / volumes to inform future roll out. 

New Legislation

The Personal Independence Payment (Transitional Provisions) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019

These Regulations amend the Personal Independence Payment (Transitional Provisions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (S.R. 2016 No. 227) ('the Transitional Regulations') which make provision for DLA claimants to transfer to PIP, including those who claim PIP after reaching the relevant age (age 65 or state pension age, whichever is the higher).

Regulation 2 inserts a new provision, regulation 27A, into the Transitional Regulations to correct an unintended gap in the legislation. This provides former DLA claimants, who are now in receipt of PIP and who transferred to PIP when they reached the relevant age or over, with an exemption to the upper age restriction in Article 88(1) of the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 (S.I. 2015/2006 (N.I. 1)) where their PIP award is revised or superseded for a change of circumstances. It also means that a PIP award which is superseded for such claimants will be subject to the restrictions that apply to the mobility component for those of the relevant age or over under regulation 27(2) and (3) of the Personal Independence Payment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (S.R. 2016 No. 217).

These provisions also apply to those in receipt of concessionary payments made in lieu of an award of the daily living component, mobility component or both components of PIP (Regulation 2).

The Healthy Start Scheme and Day Care Food Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019

These Regulations amend the Healthy Start Scheme and Day Care Food Scheme Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 (S.R. 2006 No. 478) ('the principal Regulations') to establish a scheme to improve nutrition in pregnant women, mothers and young children by providing vouchers for certain basic foods and vitamins. read about the full details of the scheme here

The Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments No. 2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019

These Regulations amend child support regulations. Regulation 2 inserts a new regulation 68A into the Child Support Maintenance Calculation Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012. The new regulation makes provision for specified assets to be calculated as having a weekly value which is taken into account in order to vary a maintenance calculation. The weekly value of the asset is treated as additional income of the non-resident parent. 

Regulation 3 makes amendments to the Child Support (Collection and Enforcement) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1992 and provides for the application of regular deduction orders and lump sum deduction orders to joint accounts. Such provision also extends the application of lump sum deduction orders to sole trader accounts and applies both orders to partnership accounts. In each of these cases, the person against whom one of these orders may be made will be an account-holder of the relevant account.

Regulation 4 makes amendments to the Child Support (Management of Payments and Arrears) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009. It provides additional circumstances in which the Department may exercise the power to write off arrears in section 38E of the Child Support (Northern Ireland) Order 1991.

Regulation 5 revokes the Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2018 (S.R. 2018 No. 210).

Universal Credit

UC Overpayments and Discretionary Waivers- 
Fewer than one in ten UC claimants with a benefit overpayment have successfully applied to have the recovery rate reduced in GB, according to the Minister for Employment Alok Sharma. In 2018/19, 10 overpayments were waived, either in full or in part, as a result of applications made by claimants or their representatives. In the same period, 20 applications were unsuccessful. This information was provided in response to a written question posed by Frank Field, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, regarding the number of UC overpayment cases which had not been pursued on the grounds of hardship. Read the full answer here. Law Centre NI is currently in contact with DfC to try to obtain the equivalent figures for NI.

Northern Ireland Childcare Survey 2019-
The cost of a week’s holiday childcare for school-aged children has soared by £52 (56%) over the last ten years, and now costs £145 on average. These figures are revealed as Employers For Childcare launches its 10th Annual Northern Ireland Childcare Survey. Further, several childcare providers referred directly to the UC system as generating difficulties for them and parents using their service. They highlighted the time it can take for parents to receive payment, and the difficulty parents then have in securing and paying for childcare. Read the full report here.

Law Centre NI on the Frontline

Law Centre NI is a member of the Cliff Edge NI Coalition. This group comprises over 90 organisations concerned about the impending cessation of the current welfare reform mitigations in Northern Ireland (NI).  Want to get involved? Join us! Email for more details. You can also follow us on Twitter at @CliffEdgeNI.
Tell us about your experience of claiming PIP- 
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Learning Disability, supported by Mencap NI and Law Centre NI, is working to make the Personal Independence Payment process better for people with disabilities. If you have claimed PIP, or supported someone who has, we want to hear from you. What went well? What didn't go well? How would you improve the process? Complete our anonymous survey at

*CAN YOU HELP?* Inflexibility of the Universal Credit assessment period-
We are interested in cases in which advisers have experienced the inflexibility of the UC assessment period. The rigidity of the assessment period regime in UC means that some people are being treated as receiving two monthly wages in one assessment period, in turn affecting the amount of their UC award. If you are aware of clients that have received two monthly wages in the same assessment period please get in touch with the Social Security Hub (T: 028 9024 4401).

You're Invited

Training Event-
OCN NI Level 3 Certificate in Generalist Advice starting on 19 September 2019. This OCN NI Level 3 Certificate in Generalist Advice qualification has been designed to develop learners’ skills to equip them to effectively provide advice to the public. Email for a booking form. Find more details here.

July's Tip

The first update to the PIP assessment guide since November 2018 includes new guidance on the circumstances where extra help with the requirements of a special diet can constitute therapy (referring to decision made back in 2016 - SSWP v LB [2016] UKUT 530 (AAC). In a meeting attended by Law Centre NI with DfC, the Department confirmed that from Monday 17 June 2019, this decision will be taken into account when a decision is made about entitlement to PIP in relation to Activity 3. For those decisions made prior to 17 June statistics show that approximately 1,500 cases may be impacted and the Department confirmed that these cases will be reviewed to see if these claimants can benefit from the judgment. Read the full guidance here.

For guidance or assistance with these queries please call Law Centre NI's Social Security Advice Line. (T:  028 9024 4401).

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