North's DLA bill is totalling nearly £1 billion per year
THE bill for DLA payments in Northern Ireland has risen to almost £1 billion a year.
More than 200,000 people - around one in nine of the population - are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance.
In response to a written question from DUP North Down MLA Alex Easton, social development minister Mervyn Storey confirmed that expenditure for the 2014-15 tax year totalled £956 million.
The figure was up almost £20m on 2013-14, but has almost doubled in the space of a decade.
The cost of DLA payments is equivalent to almost half the entire annual budget of the Department of Education.
Earlier this year, it was speculated that expenditure could soon top £1 billion.
DLA is funded directly from the Treasury in London and like other social security benefits, sits outside the block grant given to the Executive by Westminster.
However, after a long-running dispute at Stormont over implementing welfare reform, the DUP and Sinn Fein last month agreed a package to compensate people who will lose out under changes introduced by the British government.
DLA benefits are set to be replaced by a Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
There will be no automatic transfer and people already in receipt of the benefit will be asked to make a new claim for PIP.
Entitlement will be based on the effect a long term health condition or disability has on a claimant's daily life.
Most people will be asked to attend a consultation with a healthcare worker.