Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane has ensured those who are unable to work due to illness or disability in Northern Ireland have been given financial parity to similar people in Britain after highlighting a discrepancy between the two.
The East Belfast representative wrote to Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland about people from Britain on contributions-based employment and support allowance (ESA) having to make a fresh claim when they move to Northern Ireland. With party colleague Naomi Long MP also writing to Westminster Minster for Welfare Reform Lord Freud on this subject, the decision has now been taken by the Department for Work and Pensions to work with officials here to remove the disparity.
Judith Cochrane said the pressure from herself and Naomi Long MP on the Ministers had led to good news to those affected by the issue. “Despite people being qualified for the contribution-based ESA in Britain, they are effectively being treated as fresh claimants when they come here. Due to this loophole, not only will a claimant suffer a loss of income for the first 13 weeks after moving to Northern Ireland but they will also have to go through the assessment stage for a second time.
“The result is they will receive between £25-£31 per week less than they were receiving when they were in Britain. Even when claimants are deemed eligible for higher payments, there is a further cost, as no backdating is awarded. On a wider issue, receipt of ESA in Britain does not satisfy the requirements for contributions in Northern Ireland, so some claimants will ultimately lose their entitlement entirely if they move here.
“This has led to a significant impact on claimants and cannot be ignored. One woman who contacted my office had cancer and had been on ESA while living in Wales for the past two years. Her time living there disqualified her from claiming it when she moved here. Others affected include a number of spouses of military personnel who have been relocated to Northern Ireland.”
Naomi Long MP said Lord Freud’s pledge to work with his counterparts in Northern Ireland to ensure contributory ESA was a welcome one,: “This flaw was easily fixable with a fairly straightforward legislative change to bring ESA claims in Northern Ireland onto a par with Britain. This move will now mean, among other things, that contributions paid in one jurisdiction count towards entitlement to benefits in the other.
“People will now be able to claim relevant benefits without making a fresh claim and is great news for scores of people previously discriminated against.”