Food banks consulted as virgin soil of Limavady braces itself for first roll-out of controversial ‘Universal Credit’ payments in North

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Council officers in Limavady have been in touch with food banks over the imminent roll-out of ‘Universal Credit’ - the controversial catch-all benefit payment - which is being introduced as a result of welfare reform.

Limavady will be the first place in the North where the new benefit goes live on September 27, and the Causeway Coast and Glens council is bracing itself.

At a meeting of the local authority’s Health and Built Environment Committee this week members were advised that support and advice measures are being put in place.

Councillors were advised: “An independent helpline is available for anyone in Northern Ireland who wants help or advice about any of the changes to the welfare system.

“The helpline is operated by the Welfare Reform Advice Services Consortium (Citizens Advice, Advice NI and Call Centre NI). Telephone 0808 802 0020, 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.

“Additional advisors are available at our citizen advice offices to provide face to face help and support to anyone impacted by the changes to the Welfare Reform Scheme.”

And, remarkably, officers have been in touch with local food banks and charities in preparation for the changes.

“Officers anticipate that many of our constituents will be affected by these imminent welfare reform changes. We have been liaising with charitable organisations and food banks in preparation for possible increased demand of their services,” it was reported.

Universal Credit was introduced in the North under the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Act 2015, but the phased roll-out is hitting Limavady first.

Ballymoney (November 15), Magherafelt and Coleraine (December 13), Strabane and Lisnagelvin (January 17), and Foyle and Armagh (February 7) are next in line with other areas across the North being phased in throughout 2018.

Universal Credit can be claimed by both unemployed and in-work workers who, from September 27, will get a single payment twice monthly.

Housing costs form part of the payment but these will be paid directly to landlords and mortgage providers unless there is specific direct payment request from a benefit recipient.