Discretionary Support Scheme

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 22 June 2021.

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Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin 2:15, 22 June 2021

6. Mr McGuigan asked the Minister for Communities when the expert panel to review the discretionary support scheme will begin its work. (AQO 2273/17-22)

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

Thank you, Philip. I hope that you are keeping well after being in hospital.

I am pleased to inform the Member that the expert panel has already commenced work on the review of discretionary support. The panel is made up of academics and people from the independent advice sector at both strategic and grassroots levels. I am glad that all those approached to be panel members accepted the invitation to be part of that important work.

The panel held its first virtual meeting on 14 June 2021, which was only one week after I announced the appointments to the panel. I am committed to ensuring that we provide the best possible support for people in financial crisis. The review will be an important opportunity to critically examine what works and what can be done better. I look forward to receiving the expert panel recommendations later in the year. Subsequent to receiving those recommendations, legislation about how discretionary support works will have to be changed. We will start that process as well.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I call Philip McGuigan to ask a quick supplementary question.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her answer and for her continued commitment and determination to assist those on low incomes — a commitment clearly demonstrated by the establishment of the discretionary support panel. Will she provide an update on her plans to extend the benefit mitigation package in light of the budget settlement?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

Yes. There is money in the budget to extend mitigations. The current mitigations continue to be paid under the auspices of the Budget Act 2021.

The paper that I submitted to the Executive is not only about extending those mitigations but about closing the loopholes associated with the benefit cap and the bedroom tax for those who have fallen through them. I told the Committee last week that the money is there to facilitate the closing of those loopholes. No additional finance is required. I hope that that can progress through the Executive as soon as possible. I have the legislation in place and am ready to go. I know that, once the Committee receives the information, it will be ready to go so that we make sure that we bring in those protections without further delay.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

That ends the period for listed questions. We move on to topical questions. Question 1 has been withdrawn.