A record £37.1m in additional benefits have been generated for people in Northern Ireland who had not previously been claiming them, a new report has revealed.
The huge boost in claims is the result of a government-led scheme which aims to reach people who have been missing out on the benefits they are entitled to, but have not been receiving.
The finding, contained in the annual benefit uptake report published today, represents the highest amount ever raised in a single year since this work began in 2005 and equates to a 74% increase from 2016/17.
And it means 7,765 across Northern Ireland are better off by an average of £92 a week.
Tens of thousands of people across NI, many of whom are vulnerable through age, disability, illness, or other factors, have been assisted by the ‘Make the Call’ team, run by the Department for Communities.
Among them was the mother of a vulnerable 17-year-old from Omagh, who had been unable to leave the house to seek help. Following a visit and assistance from a Make the Call community outreach officer, she was awarded Employment Support Allowance of £125.55, and Personal Independence Payment of £141.10 per week.
David Malcolm, director of Make the Call, said that – alongside encouraging people to call up and check their entitlements – the team also targets specific groups of people who they feel may be missing out.
While he acknowledged that there are many cases of fraudulent benefit claims in Northern Ireland, Mr Malcolm said his team deals with “the flip side of that coin”.
He told the News Letter: “While there are people who claim money they are not entitled to, we are trying to target people who are genuinely entitled to money and they are not claiming it, whether through ignorance or just not realising.”
Glynis Jones, head of the team, said major life changes like taking on caring responsibilities, illness or disability, retirement or bereavement can all mean people may become entitled to a range of different benefits and supports or services.
He added: “Through this work we are actively reaching thousands of people each year and every pound generated is improving someone’s life.”
For free and confidential advice on checking potential benefit entitlements, contact the ‘Make the Call’ team on 0800 232 1271, or visit www.nidirect.gov.uk/makethecall