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. You can read about payment flexibilities in Northern Ireland in our payments section.

Welfare Reform Act 2012 coverage

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:

Welfare Reform Bill Northern Ireland

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 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.

Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Act 2015 and secondary legislation

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 (SI.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.

Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 (Commencement No. 1) Order 2016 (SR.No.46/2016)

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.

Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 (Commencement No. 3) Order 2016 (SR.215/2016)

Universal Credit

In May 2016, regulations were published supporting the introduction of UC in Northern Ireland:

Other regulations

List of Relevant Districts

Last reviewed/updated 10 May 2024