SDLP MLA for Mid Ulster, Patsy McGlone, has met with the Auditor General, Kieran Donnelly, to raise concerns over ongoing changes to the welfare system in Northern Ireland. The Mid Ulster MLA accompanied SDLP MLAs, Nichola Mallon and Claire Hanna, at the meeting on Wednesday.
Mr McGlone said, “Yesterday Nichola Mallon, Claire Hanna and I met with the Comptroller and Auditor General, Kieran Donnelly, following the publication of the Audit Office Report into Welfare Reform. During the meeting we raised a number of issues that are, increasingly, being brought to our attention by constituents.
“We highlighted the need for the Department for the Communities to take a more active role overseeing the quality of the assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP). Those assessments are currently outsourced to the private company Capita and too often the points scorings have been inconsistent and questionable to say the least. There appears to be a serious lack of communication within Capita itself and we will be meeting with them in the next week to seek to address these problems directly.
“There have been a number of cases where, in the switchover from DLA to PIP, people have lost their Enhanced Mobility Allowance and, as a result, access to affordable transport. For those with severe disabilities, the car provided under the Motability scheme can be a lifeline.
“We spent some time discussing the roll-out of Universal Credit and the difficulties we’re already seeing, including some caused by the software in payment of Housing Benefit to landlords. We also agreed that we, in conjunction with the Audit Office, would monitor the recent announcement by Amber Rudd on the period of assessment for people in employment. Irregular benefit payments during this period was causing hardship for claimants where the new system had been introduced.
“Another major issue, again announced by Amber Rudd in recent days, was changes to entitlement to the Severe Disability Premium – it was due to go under Universal Credit which would have caused a serious drop in income to people with disabilities. That too we will monitor with the Audit Office and Advice sectors.
“Discretionary Support can be of help to people, both on benefits and in work on low income. However, at a time when, through the worst pressures of this Welfare “Reform”, you would expect more being spent, the Auditor’s Report has revealed there has been a significant drop in Departmental expenditure. We asked the Audit Office to do further work and encourage the Department to make the Support more accessible to people in need.
“We were with the Audit Office staff for an hour and a half yesterday and many other issues were discussed. It is a continually moving agenda. But, in the absence of a functioning Executive, we need to look after people’s interests, particularly those most vulnerable who need a voice.”