A benefit cap was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2016. This means that your Housing Benefit can be reduced if your combined social security benefits each week total to an amount higher than the benefit cap.
The Northern Ireland Executive has set up a new supplementary payments fund to offset the reduction in certain people's Housing Benefit. This means that the government is essentially reducing the benefits of households in one way, but then boosting the benefits of certain households back up again with another fund. This fund will operate until 31 March 2020.
How much is the benefit cap?
The benefit cap is currently
- £384.62 per week for couples
- £384.62 per households with children
- £257.69 per week for single adults
If the total amount of benefits that you receive is higher than the benefit cap, your Housing Benefit will be reduced.
What benefits are counted?
The following benefits are counted in the benefit cap:
- Bereavement Allowance
- Child Benefit
- Child Tax Credit
- Employment and Support Allowance (unless the support component has been awarded)
- Guardian’s Allowance
- Housing Benefit
- Incapacity Benefit
- Income Support
- Jobseeker's Allowance
- Maternity Allowance
- Severe Disablement Allowance
- Widowed Parent's Allowance
- Widowed Mother's Allowance
- Widow's Pension
- Widow's Pension (age-related)
One-off benefit payments, like Winter Fuel Payments or discretionary support payments, won't be counted when working out if your total weekly benefits are more than the benefit cap.
If you live in a hostel or certain types of supported accommodation your Housing Benefit award will not be counted when working out your total weekly benefit.
Is anyone excluded from the cap?
You could be exempt from the cap if
- you are older than the qualifying age for pension credit
- you are eligible for Working Tax Credits
- you receive certain sickness, disability or caring benefits; such as DLA, PIP, the support component of ESA, Attendance Allowance, Carer's Allowance, Industrial Injuries Benefits
- you receive a War Pension or Armed Forces Compensation Scheme payments
- you or your partner has been made unemployed, but worked for at least 50 of the 52 weeks up to the date you lost your job. If this applies to you, you will be protected from the benefit cap for 39 weeks.
What happens to people affected by the benefit cap?
If you receive more in benefits than the amount set by the benefit cap, the government will reduce the amount of Housing Benefit that you receive. So if for example, your family receives a total of £400 each week in benefits, the government will reduce the amount of Housing Benefit that you receive by £15.38 to bring you back down to the cap level of £384.62 per week.
Households who are subject to the benefits cap will have their Housing Benefit cut back until either
- their total household benefits are brought down to the cap level or
- they are only receiving 50p per week in Housing Benefit.
You need to be receiving some Housing Benefit in order to get help from Supporting People funds or to get a Discretionary Housing Payment. This means that people who are affected by the benefit cap will continue to receive a minimum of 50p per week in Housing Benefit.
How will you know if you are affected by the benefit cap?
The Housing Executive will write to you to let you know that your Housing Benefit will be reduced. If you get a letter like this, don't panic. You should also receive a letter from the Department for Communities' Supplementary Payments Team.
What is a supplementary payment?
A supplementary payment will top up your Housing Benefit by the amount that has been deducted under the benefit cap. If you qualify for a supplementary payment, you should automatically receive a letter from the government. This letter will inform you that you will receive a mitigating payment to offset the cut in your Housing Benefit. The letter will explain that this money will be paid in exactly the same way that your Housing Benefit is paid and that you do not have to do anything or pay any additional money to your landlord. The extra payment will be made every four weeks. So, if your Housing Benefit was reduced by £30 each week, your landlord will receive a supplementary payment of £120 every four weeks to make up the difference.
If you are confused by anything in these letters, contact our advisers who will explain the system to you and help you to understand this change to the benefits system.
Will everyone affected get this extra payment?
You should get this extra payment automatically as long as
- there are dependant children in your household and
- you were receiving one of the benefits that is included in the benefits cap continuously from 31 May 2016 until the date that the benefit cap is applied to your claim.
If you aren't entitled to the supplementary payment, you may be able to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment to help to top up your benefits. These payments are usually reserved for private tenants, but social tenants can also apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment if they have been affected by the benefit cap or if they have children and do not get the family premium.
How long will the extra payments continue for?
The extra payments are only guaranteed until 31 March 2020. It's unclear what will happen after this date.