Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Social Development Committee part two

Plans for benefits applications to be made online could cause problems for homeless people, MLAs were told, on 31 October 2012.

Ricky Rowledge of the Council for the Homeless Northern Ireland was giving evidence to the Social development Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill.

Ms Rowledge said many homeless people had, "no numeracy and literacy skills, and no access to IT".

Cameron Watt of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations said most people would accept that online applications were the way to go, but "I think there has to be a fallback for face-to-face".

Nicola McCrudden of the Housing Rights Service said "the devil will be in the detail" when the regulations for the bill were published.

"We have genuine concerns that there will be further cuts," she added.

Ricky Rowledge also saw a problem with the default method of benefit payment into a bank account

She said; "Banks and building societies are very loath to give accounts to people in temporary accommodation."

The committee also heard from representatives of disability groups.

Karen Hall of Disability Action said they were concerned about the removal of the severe disability premium.

Ms Hall said there would be a big reduction in benefits for a lot of people, especially those living alone.

The Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM) told the committee it was "highly likely" there would be a legal challenge against the Welfare bill.

Patrick Yu of NICEM said the bill, which would bring about the biggest overhaul of the benefits system since the 1940s, might infringe a number of European Union laws.

Mr Yu responded to questions posed by Sinn Fein's Fra McCann over whether NICEM would consider supporting legal action.

"A legal challenge is one of the many options we should consider," he said.

"I think in this case we are highly likely because we are really not happy about the whole benefits system," he added.

His colleague, Karen McLaughlin, said they had concerns over the Welfare Reform Bill's compatibility with EU law.

She explained that some of the provisions within the bill allowed for the differential treatment of EU migrant workers.

"Some parts of the bill are inherently discriminatory," she said.

Ms McLaughlin said she was was also concerned by suggestions in draft Great Britain regulations that EU migrant workers would possibly be paid at lower rates as "this would constitute direct discrimination".

The NICEM representative said that the Westminster Department for Work and Pensions had also indicated that a new residents test would be introduced which would require the worker to have been in the UK for two out of the last three years.

She explained that such a test had previously been seen to be in breach of EU law.

You can see the first part of the meeting here.

Social development committee membership

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