Northern Ireland news

Clarity needed from ministers so people not 'left penniless at Christmas'

At the end of furlough many thousands of people may find their jobs at risk and face into a redundancy situation

FAMILIES `will be left penniless at Christmas' unless there is clarity from Westminster and the Executive on Universal Credit entitlement for those facing job losses caused by a double financial blow for businesses and workers.

Advice NI said, despite the Chancellor's announcement on Friday of a Job Support Scheme when furlough provisions expire, it remains concerned "thousands of employees across Northern Ireland... face the daunting prospect of claiming Universal Credit".

The body which helps people with their benefits warns "the reinstatement of `Minimum Income Floor' for self-employed claimants in November is likely to deprive many of much needed financial support".

It is calling on officials and ministers "both in the Department for Communities, and the Department for Work & Pensions to clarify when people (who unfortunately are not assisted by the government's new scheme and so lose their job) should claim Universal Credit in order to receive a payment for their first assessment period and so not be left penniless at Christmas".

Advice NI are also pressing for an extension to the suspension of the Minimum Income Floor until the end of the 2020/21 financial year inline with other Covid-19 measures within Universal Credit, such as the £20 uplift.

Head of Policy, Kevin Higgins said he is "deeply concerned about the poverty and destitution that could potentially face many people this Christmas".

"(At) the end of furlough many thousands of people may find their jobs at risk and face into a redundancy situation.

"They will have to turn to the social security system for support, and for many, this will mean having to claim Universal Credit which is based on a monthly assessment period, hence the much-publicised concerns about the five-week wait for the first payment."

He warned that if they receive their final furlough payment after claiming Universal Credit it will be counted as income and "likely mean that they will receive little or no Universal Credit payment for the first assessment period".

He explained the `Minimum Income Floor' measure allowed self-employed people to claim and get paid Universal Credit during the Covid-19 pandemic and when it ends "regardless of their actual income, (they) will be treated as having an assumed level of earnings equivalent to the national minimum wage."

He said "clarity on both the timing for a Universal Credit claim and an extension to the suspension of the Minimum Income Floor" is essential so people "are not left penniless during the holiday period".

More information from Advice NI at 0800 915 4604 or adviceni.net.

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