Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan has challenged a claim that the Department for Communities is powerless to extend benefit-top-up payments beyond March next year.
She was commenting after the department’s permanent secretary told a Westminster committee that she has no power to amend or introduce legislation that would be required to continue payments past the scheduled end date.
Karen Mullan said: “The £585 million welfare mitigation package secured as part of the Fresh Start Agreement has made a huge impact in terms of protecting the most vulnerable in this society so the department should be exploring all possible measures to ensure it continues.
“Of course it would be better if the institutions were back in place and local ministers could get on with making these decisions, and that is where we are determined to get to.
“In the interim, we do not accept that the department is powerless to act. After all, the department’s own review published in March underlined the importance of the mitigations and the need to continue key elements of them, particularly the payments to protect people from the Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap.
“Crucially, the review also concluded that the department would ‘in principle be able to make the necessary amendments to existing legislation’ to facilitate the continuation of these payments beyond 2020, even in the absence of the Assembly.
“Obviously, agreement on all other issues including budget would need to be reached but that is the position Sinn Féin has been working towards in our discussions with the department and the other parties.
“We will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Department for Communities to discuss the permanent secretary’s reported comments and to reiterate the need for work to continue on extending the mitigations in line with the departmental review.”