Northern Ireland news

Plans for Stormont to retain Universal Credit uplift will cost 'at least £200m a year'

The weekly £20 Universal Credit uplift was officially cut from Wednesday

It will cost Northern Ireland £200 million a year to maintain the Universal Credit £20 a week boost which has been cut by the London government.

Civil servants from the Department for Communities told a Stormont scrutiny committee yesterday that they had applied to the Department of Finance for the £55 million needed to keep the weekly £20 uplift until the end of this financial year.

If the Executive agrees to fund the benefit increase, which was officially withdrawn by Westminster on Wednesday, it will initially cost at least £108m a year.

That figure will rise to £200m as claimants are moved to Universal Credit from other benefits.

But the bill could be even higher if more people start to claim Universal Credit following the end of furlough.

The overall total also does not include the cost of administering the uplift.

The British Government's decision to end the covid bonus will see more than 130,000 people in Northern Ireland lose £1,040 a year.

The Communities Committee heard yesterday that officials were still calculating administration costs.

A request to cover these costs will not be submitted to the Department of Finance until the January monitoring round.

SDLP MLA Mark Durkan said the Executive needed to push through legislation to retain the uplift as soon as possible

"We have seen emergency legislation used here in the not-too-distant past. In my view this constitutes an emergency for 134,000 claimants, or at least a good proportion of them," he said.

DUP MLA Paul Givan questioned how the department will actually get money to claimants.

"We still do not know how much the Executive is going to have to pay to deliver the £55m," he said.

However, Sinn Féin MLA Fra McCann said Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey "is to be congratulated for moving quickly to get the £55m as a start".

Officials from the Department for Communities are due to come before the committee next week to clarify plans to retain the uplift.

The meeting came after a homeless support worker warned that the removal of the uplift "seems like we are replacing one pandemic with another".

Cahal MacGafraidh, who is based in Armagh, told The Irish News families on low incomes are already struggling.

"I am currently seeing a lot of clients worried and stressed as the £20 a week cut is leaving them with a significant drop in affordability of items such a as groceries, clothing and not to mention Christmas being just around the corner," he said.

"I also regularly visit local food banks for clients as they are just unable to afford groceries and I have heard from some that they have chosen not to eat themselves because it meant choosing that over heating, electricity or feeding their children."

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