Welcome to Law Centre NI's quarterly Bulletin on Social Security Law and Practice in Northern Ireland.
It's been an exciting few months at Law Centre NI. Not only have we successfully renewed our Lexcel accreditation for another year, we have been nominated for a Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year award!
What's inside...
In our Summer edition:
  • A summary of recent Social Security Commissioner decisions
  • An update on CG v. Department for Communities - Law Centre NI's case before the Court of Justice of the European Union
  • The latest Social Security legislation and guidance
  • Our policy and campaigning work
  • Our recent publications
  • Training at Law Centre NI
To join our mailing list, click here. To access past editions of our Social Security Law and Practice Bulletin, click here.
Social Security Commissioner Decisions
Jan - Mar 2021

Click on the links to access case summaries
Personal Independence Payment

Mobility Activity 1: Planning and following journeys and visual impairment         
Tribunals must consider the nature and extent of a visual impairment, when assessing safety under Mobility Activity 1.
GM v. Department for Communities (PIP) [2021] NI Com 15 (C46/20-21)
Failure to attend health assessment and Reg 9 PIP Regulations
Guidance on the evidence a Tribunal must consider before upholding a decision to refuse benefit due to claimant’s failure to attend a health assessment.
RS v. Department for Communities (PIP) [2021] NI Com 4 (C40/20-21)
Appeal Tribunal procedure
Exclusion of post decision evidence
Tribunals should only take into account evidence relating to circumstances that apply at date of decision.
OC v. Department for Communities (PIP) [2021] NI Com 1 (C39/20-21)
Procedural fairness
There is no procedural rule limiting the number of postponements or adjournments a Tribunal can make.
PMcG v. Department for Communities (PIP) [2021] NI Com 3 (C36/20-21)
Error of law due to inadequacy of reasons
Tribunals must address evidence relating to a claimant’s ESA award, if it is raised by the claimant.
SM v. Department for Communities (PIP) [2021] NI Com 6 (C41/20-21)
While Tribunals need not comment on every piece of evidence, its reasons must adequately explain its decision.
PH v. Department for Communities (PIP) [2021] NI Com 7 (C30/20-21)
EJMcC v. Department for Communities (II) [2021] NI Com 12 (C1/20-21)
CG v. Department for Communities
Advocate General opinion on preliminary reference to Court of Justice of the European Union
On 24 June 2021, Advocate General De La Tour, of the Court of Justice of the European Union ('CJEU'), delivered his opinion on CG v. Department for Communities. Law Centre NI represents CG is this preliminary reference to the CJEU from an appeal tribunal in Northern Ireland in December 2020. CG is an EU national who moved to Northern Ireland in January 2019. She is the mother of two small children. You can read more about CG's circumstances in our press release published on 23 June 2021.

In June 2020, CG was granted pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. She made a claim for Universal Credit (UC), but was refused on the basis that she does not meet the basic qualifying conditions. As a person whose right of residence in the UK is based solely on pre-settled status, she does not satisfy the residence requirements under Regulation 9 of the Universal Credit (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2016 ('UC Regulations'). The appeal tribunal's preliminary reference to the CJEU asked whether the UC Regulations, in excluding CG from eligibility for UC, are contrary to EU law.

The CJEU heard the request for a preliminary ruling in May 2021. You can read about the legal arguments made by each party in Law Centre NI's case note.

In his opinion, the Advocate General stated that the UC Regulations are potentially indirectly discriminatory against CG on the grounds of nationality ​and cannot be justified if ​they exclude her from eligibility for UC without requiring an examination of her particular circumstances, i.e. an enquiry into her level of poverty, her family life and the best interests of her children. 

The Advocate General’s opinion is not binding on the CJEU. While the Court follows the opinion of the Advocate General in most cases, it is possible that the CJEU will decide the case differently. It could be months before we receive the final decision of the CJEU. Law Centre NI will continue to provide updates as the case progresses.
Social Security Legislation and Guidance
Benefit Up-rating rates
2021/22 benefit rates were made law by the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order (NI) 2021 and the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Regulations (NI) 2021. For a quick reference guide of the 2021/22 rates, Rightsnet produce a handy poster of applicable benefit rates, which you can print off and put on your office wall. 

The £20 per week uplift for Universal Credit was extended until October 2021 by the Universal Credit (Extension of Coronavirus Measures) Regulations (NI) 2021.

Also in response to the pandemic, the Government published guidance on how households in receipt of working tax credit will be credited with a £500 support payment in the next financial year. 

Extension of telephone and video medical examinations
The Social Security (Claims and Payments, ESA, PIP and UC) (Telephone and Video Assessment) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2021 extend the benefits for which medical examinations and consultations can be conducted by telephone or by video to include Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, ESA, UC and PIP. You can access Departmental Guidance on the changes here.

Housing Benefit changes
State pension age claimants
The Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for state pension credit) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2021 introduce new personal allowance rates for assessing entitlement to Housing Benefit for people who reach state pension age on or after 1 April 2021.The Department has published guidance on how the changes will work.

The new personal allowance rates do not include a Savings Credit element. This will mean that people affected by the change will receive less Housing Benefit than if the rules hadn't changed. If you have a client affected by this change, who face a shortfall in meeting their housing costs, they may be able to claim a Discretionary Housing Payment

Care leavers and the homeless
The Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Care Leavers and Homeless) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2021 extend the age bands within which exemptions to the shared accommodation rate apply.

The care leavers exemption is extended so that it applies up to the age of 25 instead of 22, while the existing lower age limit of 25 has effectively been removed from the homeless hostel exemption. These changes should mean that more vulnerable people are exempted from the shared accommodation rate and can claim the higher, one bedroom rate. The changes came into effect on 31 May 2021.

According to guidance from the Department for Work and Pensions, people who qualify under the changes will have to alert the Department that they are eligible. For housing help and advice, contact Housing Rights.

PIP Daily Living Activity 4 - washing and bathing and removing hearing aids
In our Winter 2020 edition, we reported on the Commissioner's decision in AR v. Department for Communities (PIP) [2020] NI Com 048 (C017/19-20 PIP), in which Law Centre NI argued that a claimant could not carry out the activity of washing and bathing safely if they have to remove their hearing aids while doing so. This issue was also addressed in the Upper Tribunal decision in KT and SH v. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (PIP) [2020] UKUT 252 (AAC).

The Department has now issued guidance to decision makers on this very point. The guidance states that decision makers must consider whether on removing their hearing aids, a hearing impaired claimant can hear a standard fire alarm when washing or bathing. If the claimant cannot, the decision maker must then consider if the claimant needs an aid or appliance to wash and bathe safely or if they cannot use an aid or appliance, whether they require supervision.

Sure Start Maternity Grants for Refugees
The Department has published new guidance on eligibility for Sure Start Maternity Grants. The new guidance confirms that eligible refugee claimants who have an existing member of the family under 16, that they were responsible for before their flight, will be entitled to a Sure Start Maternity Grant. The guidance implements the decision of the Great Britain Upper Tribunal in SK & LL v. SSWP [2020] UKUT 145 (AAC).
Welcome news...

Non-repayable grants for childcare costs
In May 2021, the Minister for Communities announced her intention to introduce non-repayable grants to Universal Credit claimants of up to £1,500 to cover the upfront cost of childcare. This follows a High Court decision in Salvato [2021] EWHC 102 (Admin) which ruled that the requirement for universal credit claimants to pay childcare costs upfront before receiving the childcare costs element is unlawful. Law Centre NI welcomes the Minister's proposal and we look forward to it becoming law in October 2021.

Review of Discretionary Support
The Department has appointed an expert panel to undertake a review of Discretionary Support Payments. Discretionary support payments provide financial assistance to people in crisis situations. The expert panel will be led by Professor Grainne McKeever, with input from Ursula O'Hare, Law Centre NI, Dr Ciara Fitzpatrick, Ulster University, Kevin Higgins, Advice NI, Gerry McConville, Falls Community Council and Jonny Currie, the Trussell Trust. Law Centre NI is delighted to be involved in this important work. 
Our policy and campaigning work
A busy time for the Cliff Edge Coalition 
With welfare mitigations once again due to expire in March 2021, our activities increased at pace to press upon all political representatives the urgency of addressing, extending and strengthening the mitigations and closing benefit loopholes.

In January 2021, the Coalition briefed the Committee for Communities at an online stakeholder event. In April 2021, we wrote to Deirdre Hargey MLA, Minister for Communities and met with Conor Murphy MLA, Finance Minister. We also brought our campaign to Westminster, meeting virtually with Louise Haigh MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland), SDLP, Sinn Féin and DUP MPs.

While the mitigations were temporarily extended in April 2021, the Coalition continues to press for legislation to avoid further ‘cliff edges’ and to close Benefit Cap and Bedroom Tax loopholes.
Changes to bereavement benefits needed now
There is urgent need for reform of Bereavement Benefits. In our last Bulletin, we reported on two key decisions of the Supreme Court and the High Court in England and Wales (In the matter of an application by Siobhan McLaughlin for Judicial Review (Northern Ireland) [2018] UKSC 48  and R(Jackson and Simpson) v. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2020] EWHC 183 (Admin) which held that the Government's current policy of excluding unmarried parents from eligibility for bereavement benefits is contrary to human rights law.

We were dismayed to read that the Government did not include reform of bereavement benefit entitlement in the Queen's Speech. While an amendment to include reform of bereavement benefits was proposed by Stella Creasy MP, it was defeated by Parliament.

At Law Centre NI, we see the unfairness of the Government's policy on the ground. Children, who have already been through the trauma of losing a parent, are being disadvantaged by a policy which is against human rights law and has no place in the 21st century.

We will continue to campaign for a change in the law to make bereavement benefits available to the parents of all bereaved children. For guidance on assisting a client to apply for bereavement benefits, see Law Centre NI's briefing on Bereavement Support Payment and Cohabitees.
Law Centre NI hosts Dr. Stephen Brien, Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee 
In September 2020, Dr. Stephen Brien was appointed as the new Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC). SSAC is the independent advisory body that provides impartial advice on social security to the UK Government.

On 24 March 2021, Law Centre NI convened an online meeting with Dr. Brien, SSAC colleagues and representatives of the social security system in Northern Ireland. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the work and current priorities of the SSAC and to give stakeholders in Northern Ireland an opportunity to share their experiences of the unique features and challenges of the Northern Ireland social security system.
UC:Us – Online guide to Universal Credit
Law Centre NI is working with UC:Us to develop an online guide for Universal Credit claimants. UC:Us is group of Universal Credit claimants in Northern Ireland, who are working together to share experiences of claiming Universal Credit and to make recommendations for change.

Now in its second phase, the UC:Us project aims to develop an online guide, created by those who have lived experience of applying for and living on UC. The online guide will help new UC claimants to navigate the entire UC process. The project is facilitated by the University of Ulster and the University of York, with input from Law Centre NI and Housing Rights.
Law Centre NI welcomes NIPSO Report, 'Personal Independence Payment and the Value of Further Evidence'
The findings in this important report (published 24th June 2021) closely mirror concerns that have been consistently raised over a number of years by Law Centre NI on the challenges faced by claimants in navigating the PIP process.

Welcoming the report, Ursula O’Hare Director Law Centre NI, highlighted the need for urgent action: 'The recommendations in this timely report put people at the heart of the decision-making and we urgently call for the recommendations to be implemented in full.' You can read the full report here.
Recent Publications
Part 1 of our adviser practice guide on appealing to the Social Security Commissioner provides guidance to Social Security Advisors on identifying errors of law in Appeal Tribunal Decisions.
Part 2 of our adviser practice guide on appealing to the Social Security Commissioner outlines the procedure that applies to appeals from an Appeal Tribunal.
If you are interested in learning more about appeals to the Social Security Commissioner, Law Centre NI is holding a webinar entitled Appeals to the Social Security Commissioner on 29 June 2021. See our Training section below for more information.
What we're reading...

The Second Independent Review of the Personal Independence Payment Assessment Process Department for Communities’ Response
In May 2021, the Department published its response to the Report of the Second Independent Assessment of PIP. We will be considering the contents of the Department's response, particularly in respect of the 'six month terminal illness' policy and the capacity of Departmental decision makers in PIP claims, which are issues on which we have raised concerns in past. 

Report by President of Appeal Tribunals on the standards of decision making by the Department for Communities 
Also in May 2021, the President of Appeals Tribunal published his Report for the period 2017/18. In our previous Bulletins, we have reported on the backlog of benefit appeals and the impact of Coronavirus measures on the appeal process.

Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on tribunals The experience of tribunal judges, the Legal Education Foundation
Many of our concerns about the impact of the pandemic on appeal tribunals are reflected in the Legal Education Foundation's report on Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on tribunals The experience of tribunal judges, which was published in June 2021. The report emphasises the importance of face to face tribunals and the limiting effect of remote hearings on vulnerable claimants.

We will continue to keep this issue under review, as our Tribunal Representatives represent claimants at social security appeals in coming months.
Accredited learning
LCNI Certificate in Generalist Advice
This nationally accredited qualification provides the required training for council funded advisers. It is aimed at individuals who wish to develop skills in the area of generalist advice and will focus on applied learning using case studies and active learning exercises. It is a blended learning programme with on line learning supported by weekly webinars. For a booking form or more information contact us on 
Enrolment online by 14 September 2021 | Weekly webinars from 21 September 2021 to 23 November 2021 
Cost: £525 for Law Centre members (which includes £75 accreditation fee)

Online training courses
For flexibility and ease of access, Law Centre NI has developed the following online courses. Once registered, you can complete the self-directed learning at your convenience, with tutor support just a click away. For further information, contact our training team on 

Introduction to Benefits
This training is designed for people who want an introduction to the benefits system or who work with clients impacted by benefits. It is also a useful introduction to benefits for non-benefits advisers. The course should take around six hours to complete, but sections can be revisited as necessary.
Cost: £55 (£45 concession for Law Centre NI Members, those working in the community/voluntary sector, the NHS or registered charities)

An Introduction to Universal Credit
This course is the ideal starter for those who are working with clients impacted by the changes to the social security benefits system; for those who wish to obtain a basic knowledge of UC to enable them to signpost and support their clients in an informed way as they attempt to navigate a complex and changing system. The course should take around four to six hours to complete, but sections can be revisited as necessary.
Cost: £45 (£40 concession for Law Centre NI Members, those working in the community/voluntary sector, the NHS or registered charities)

Appeals to the Social Security Commissioner
This webinar provides guidance to social security advisers on appeals from an appeal tribunal to the Social Security Commissioner. The webinar includes guidance on how to identify grounds of appeal and instruction on rules of procedure. Register for the event at eventbrite.
Online | 29 June 2021 at 10am | Free
We always welcome your feedback. Please send comments about our Social Security Law and Practice Bulletin to

Disclaimer: Although every effort is made to ensure the information in Law Centre (NI) publications is accurate, we cannot be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences. The information should not be treated as a complete and authoritative statement of the law. Law Centre (NI) only operates within Northern Ireland and the information in this document is only relevant to Northern Ireland law. When reading Law Centre documents, please pay attention to their date of publication as legislation may have changed since they were published.

Law Centre (NI) has included links to external websites throughout this Bulletin. Law Centre (NI) cannot take responsibility for pages maintained by external providers and bears no responsibility for the accuracy or legality of the content of the external website or subsequent links from an external website.
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