Transition to universal credit: Northern Ireland
This section of the site includes UC legislation specific to Northern Ireland. You can find out more about the detail of roll-out of UC in Northern Ireland in our NI guidance section and you can read about future plans in our NI policy section.
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 broadly applies only to England, Wales and Scotland. There are a couple of exceptions to this set out in Section 149 Welfare Reform Act 2012:
- Sections 128 and 129 do not apply in Scotland
- Sections 32, 33, 76, 92, 126(1) to (13), 127 (1) to (9) and Part 7 (Excluding Schedule 14) apply to Northern Ireland. Sections 126 and 127 are explained further on the primary legislation page.
The Welfare Reform Bill was introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 1 October 2012. The Bill has progressed slowly and stalled several times due to disagreement between the various political parties. In December 2014, the Northern Ireland parties agreed a deal on welfare reform (The Stormont House Agreement) in order to get the Bill through the final stages of the Assembly process.
However, on 9 March 2015, Sinn Fein withdrew support for the Bill under the terms of the agreement meaning the Bill stalled once again. On 22 May 2015, a petition of concern was presented by Sinn Fein and SDLP. A petition of concern allows coalition members to block bills which do not have sufficient cross-community support. The Bill therefore stalled once again.
On 17 November 2015, the Northern Ireland Assembly agreed a set of actions on certain matters, which included steps towards the delivery of Welfare Reform. The details of the agreement can be found in the document, A Fresh Start – A Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan.
In relation to Welfare Reform, the agreement stated that:
- The Northern Ireland Assembly would be asked to agree a Legislative Consent Motion to allow the UK Government to legislate for welfare reform in Northern Ireland.
- A Bill would be introduced in Westminster under a fast track procedure, to enable effect to be given to welfare changes introduced in Great Britain by the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and other measures to be introduced under the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.
- Money will be allocated from Executive funds to top-up UK welfare arrangements over a four year period to include funding to top-up tax credits and to ensure tenants in Northern Ireland are not affected by social sector size criteria.
The agreement also set up the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group to report on a mitigation strategy to Welfare Reform specific to Northern Ireland.
Their report, published on 20 January 2016, highlights mitigation under 3 strands covering disability and carers; advice and sanctions; and mitigation for tax credits and Universal Credit. Strand 3, mitigation for tax credits and Universal Credit recommends aspects of additional discretionary support, for example supplementary payments which recognise the costs incurred by workers with a special weighting for lone parents taking account of childcare costs, discretionary support available for emergency payments in hardship cases as Universal Credit rolls out and an allocation of discretionary support for voluntary sector advice.
The text of the Bill can be found on the NI Assembly website, and links to each stage of the Bill can be found below:
- First stage (1 October 2012)
- Second stage (09 October 2012) Part 1 and Part 2
- Committee stage (14 February 2013)
- Consideration stage (10 and 11 February 2015)
- Further consideration stage (24 February 2015)
- Final Stage (not moved – 9 March 2015)
- Royal Assent
As explained above, under the Fresh Start agreement made in November 2015 it was agreed that the UK Government would legislate for welfare reform in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Act 2015 is an enabling measure providing power to legislate for welfare reform in Northern Ireland and confer powers on the Secretary of State or the Department of Communities (previously DSD) to make further provision by regulations and order.
You can read about the passage of the Act on the UK Parliament website.
The Bill was followed by an Order in Council and a commencement order to start the process of welfare reform in Northern Ireland.
Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 (SR.No.2006/2015)
This Order makes provision equivalent to the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and will implement the reforms contained in that Act in Northern Ireland, with some limited specific changes, including top up powers and a different sanctions regime, as agreed in the Stormont House Agreement and in previous discussions between the Government and the NI Executive. This order also allows Regulations to be brought forward to implement the various welfare reforms.
This Order brings into force provisions of the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 relating to: employment and support allowance; benefit cap; recovery of benefits; penalties; information sharing; discretionary payments.
In May 2016, regulations were published supporting the introduction of UC in Northern Ireland:
- Universal Credit Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (SR.No.216/2016)
- Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (Claims and Payments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (SR.No.220/2016)
- Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (SR.No.221/2016)
- Universal Credit Housing Costs (Executive Determinations) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (SR.No.222/2016)
- Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (SR.No.226/2016)
- Welfare Reform and Work (Northern Ireland) Order 2016 (Commencement No. 2) Order 2017 (SR.No.46/2017) - New regulations have been issued in relation to thje introduction of the two child limit in universal credit in Northern Ireland.
- Welfare Supplementary Payments Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (SR.No.178/2016) - New regulations have been issued in relation to Welfare Supplementary Payments to be paid to households with children in Northern Ireland who have their Housing Benefit reduced due to the benefit cap.
Updated 13 March 2017