Benefit Processing Concerns Raised During Committee Visit

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 18 March 2010

Reference: SD 13/09/10

The Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Social Development today visited the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) processing centre in Belfast. The Committee has heard evidence that the transition from incapacity Benefit and Income Support to ESA has for many claimants been unnecessarily lengthy and complex. It has also been suggested that not enough is being done to facilitate claims from people with autism.

Committee Chairperson, Simon Hamilton, MLA said: “The Committee recognises that UK-wide changes to benefits, including the introduction of ESA, are beyond the control of the Department for Social Development. Nonetheless, the Committee expects the Department to put necessary measures in place to ensure that vulnerable claimants can manage the transition from the old benefits to the new.

The Committee wants people with autism to be identified at the application stage; to be provided with Plain English information and given access to a third party advocate if this is required. The Committee welcomes some recent changes made by the Social Security Agency in this regard.”

“ Mr. Hamilton continued: “The Committee believes that visits like this serve to remind the Department and the public that the Committee is dealing with the issues that matter and making sure that government agencies deliver the front-line services necessary.”

The Social Development Committee expects to seek formal written and oral feedback from stakeholders on further reforms to benefits during its consideration of important primary legislation after Easter.

Further information on the Social Development Committee can be found at: http://archive.niassembly.gov.uk/social/2007mandate/socialhome_07.htm

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