NEW benefit arrangements are likely to hit claimants hard over Christmas due to the Government’s unwillingness to be flexible over payment dates, according to Alliance MLA Kieran McCarthy (Strangford).
Customer benefits, when paid by the old ‘book’ system at holiday time, are paid one week in advance. A book due on Monday, 20 December is paid as usual, plus customers receive benefits for the 27th too, it being a holiday. The same occurs for ‘book’ customers on Tuesday, 21 December, when they receive their benefit for the 28th as well.
However, card account payments due on 27 and 28 December will only be paid on Christmas Eve, the 24th.
Alliance Social Development Spokesperson Kieran McCarthy said: “This is simply not fair to those claiming benefits and who switched to the new system as the Government wished. Some customers are not yet aware of these new arrangements, as they are assuming that it operates the same as the old ‘book’ system.
“More than 90 percent of those claiming benefits are now using a bank or card account, so many people will be affected. I understand that the National Federation of Sub-postmasters has been working with the Government for weeks to ensure customers receive their benefits sooner than Christmas Eve, but so far it has refused.
“The end result of this is that customers will receive their benefits too late for them to be of any use before Christmas, when they are most needed. There is simply no way that the public can make use of their benefit in time, unless they stuck to the old system which the Government wanted them to leave.
“This seems an unfair arrangement, and is likely to cause inconvenience to people collecting incapacity benefit, pensions and other benefits. At a time of the year associated with giving and generosity, the Social Services Minister is doing a good impersonation of Scrooge.”