Hundreds of Antrim and Newtownabbey people in benefits appeals backlog, council told

Eight hundred welfare benefits appeals for clients in Antrim and Newtownabbey remain outstanding with some dating back as far as 2017, councillors have been told.

Speaking at a meeting of the borough council’s Community Planning Committee, on Monday evening, Lorraine Adamson, area manager, of Community Advice Antrim and Newtownabbey told councillors that  in Northern Ireland, a backlog of 9,000 appeals is pending.

She reported that among clients in the borough, 40 per cent have reported reduced income as a direct result of the Covid pandemic with a “high level of poverty” in some households.

“Another major factor is Universal Credit”, she said.

“It is a concerning time for the advice sector across Northern Ireland.”

Community Advice has reported that during a 12-month period, the organisation can receive as many as 8,000 welfare benefit and appeal inquiries from clients in Antrim and Newtownabbey which has resulted in the return of £1.3m.

The organisation fears that a proposed reduction in funding by the Department for Communities could mean a loss of £1.5m funding for the advice sector.

Lorraine told the meeting that the Department for Communities has been funding the advice sector since 2016 “in recognition of the complexity of welfare changes”.

These include DLA to PIP payments, bedroom tax and Housing Benefit and others.

She stated that any cut in funding would “reduce service when we are expecting demand to increase”.

Community Advice says that a feared cut of £1.5m would impact on local frontline advice services within each council area and also to the regional Advice NI Welfare Changes helpline.

“A cut of this magnitude  at this time would be unimaginable for vulnerable clients in need of expert advice provision,” the organisation has stated.

In Antrim and Newtownabbey, this would mean a loss of £76,000 per annum.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter


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