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stand-off NI ministers to consider extension of welfare mitigation payments

There has been a long-running stand off between Sinn Fein and the DUP on the proposed continuation of top-up payments.

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Ministers are to discuss top-ups for benefit claimants (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Ministers are to discuss top-ups for benefit claimants (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Ministers are to discuss top-ups for benefit claimants (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Executive ministers are set to meet later to consider the extension of welfare mitigation payments for Northern Ireland.

The matter has been listed for a meeting on Monday morning after an apparent breakthrough in a long-running stand off between Sinn Fein and the DUP on the proposed continuation of top-up payments for those claimants who lost out as a consequence of UK Government welfare reforms.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey had proposed the permanent extension of top-up mitigation payments for those affected by the so-called bedroom tax.

She also wants to seal off loopholes that currently see more than 1,000 households missing out on certain mitigations.

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Minister Deirdre Hargey has been seeking to get agreement from the DUP (Liam McBurney/PA)

Minister Deirdre Hargey has been seeking to get agreement from the DUP (Liam McBurney/PA)

Minister Deirdre Hargey has been seeking to get agreement from the DUP (Liam McBurney/PA)

The DUP had wanted the measures to be time limited and subject to a review in a number of years.

Around 40 previous attempts by Ms Hargey to get her proposed legislation on the Executive agenda for decision were blocked by the DUP.

It is understood her draft regulations now include an end date of March 31 2025 with a statutory obligation to review the measures ahead of that point in the 2024/25 financial year.

In 2015, Stormont ministers committed to a £500 million package of mitigations to supplement the benefits of claimants losing out as a consequence of UK Government welfare reforms.

The measures were temporarily extended in March 2020, at a cost of £23 million per year, after Stormont parties committed to the move in the New Decade, New Approach deal that restored powersharing.

The bedroom tax, known as the spare room subsidy, results in a reduction in housing benefit for claimants who have one or more spare rooms in their social homes.

As well as extending the bedroom tax mitigation, Ms Hargey also wants to close loopholes that see claimants losing mitigation payments when they move to a similarly sized home and also the rule that limits benefits cap top-ups to those who were claimants in 2016.

It has been estimated that around 1,200 households miss out on payments as a result of those loopholes.

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Ms Hargey has secured funds to cover the cost of closing the loopholes but cannot release the money until her proposals are signed off by the Executive, enabling her to bring the legislation through the Assembly.

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