Welfare reforms will ‘cost Craigavon economy £31m’

THE Citizens Advice Bureau has warned that the proposed welfare reforms could cost the Craigavon economy up to £31 million annually.

The changes, some of which have already started and which are due to continue being rolled out across Northern Ireland in 2014 will have an impact for many.

The new Universal Credit will replace a number of other benefits including tax credits and this will have a significant impact for many low paid workers and self employed people. Housing benefit claimants could worse off under proposed under-occupancy penalties, also known as the ‘Bedroom Tax’.

In addition it is estimated that many of current Disability Living Allowance claimants may not be entitled to the new ‘Personal Independence Payment’ (PIP) which will replace DLA. Overall many individuals and families could be worse off by between £50-£100 a week.

The bureau highlighted the devastating impact which the loss of income could have on the local economy.

At a presentation to local councillors at Craigavon Borough Council on the subject of Welfare Reform Owen McCloskey, the CAB tribunal representative, explained how the local bureau which has offices in Lurgan and Portadown, has seen first hand how some of the changes are already affecting local people.

There has been an enormous increase in appeal cases for claimants who have been disallowed benefit after being migrated across from the old Incapacity Benefit to the new Employment Support Allowance. The bureau has an 82% success rate in representing clients at appeal tribunals to challenge decisions that they are fit to work and is also running a number of complaints against ATOS, the company contracted by government to carry out the medical assessments.

Mr McCloskey observed ‘the bureau feels that the quality of ATOS assessments, which appear to have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long term sick and disabled people are contributing to many of the most vulnerable in our community being excluded from entitlement to benefit.’

Bureau manager, Jennifer Fearon, commented that “more than ever local advice providers, like CAB, who can provide expert independent advice to those who may lose out, are needed to mitigate the impact on vulnerable individuals and on the local economy”.

She explained that Craigavon CAB had dealt with more than 13,000 people last year and for every pound invested in the bureau under grant aid from the council the bureau had generated an additional £8m.

Last year alone, £1.35 million had been maximised for clients with most of this being spent in the local economy.

Craigavon District CAB provides free impartial advice and information on welfare benefits, debt, housing, employment and consumer issues. They also work with partner organisations to deliver specialist projects. For advice or to arrange an appointment the contact number is 028 38361181. The bureau also holds an Investing in Volunteers quality standard and Jennifer is happy to hear from anyone interested in volunteering with the bureau. Accredited adviser training will be provided.