Universal Credit for the Self Employed – A Burden or a Benefit?

On Friday 9th December, Advice NI, Rural Support and The Ulster Farmers Union launched a Report entitled ‘Universal Credit in Northern Ireland: Punishing the Self-Employed’ expressing their collective concern over the impact that Universal Credit will have on self-employed people.

Click here to read the Universal Credit Report

The Report outlines the gravity of potential issues within the system and proposes several changes to the way that Universal Credit should treat self-employed people.

When Universal Credit replaces a broad range of working-age means tested benefits and tax credits it will implement a system of treating self-employed people as earning a ‘Minimum Income Floor’ (set at 35 hours per week at the appropriate National Living Wage – currently £1,092 per month – or National Minimum Wage depending on the person’s age) even if they are not actually earning this amount. The direct consequence of this will be to reduce or even erode entirely entitlement to a benefit intended to be “better off for those in work”. The Universal Credit system will also require the self-employed to report their cash-in and cash-out figures on a monthly basis. This system will have a profound impact on the 112,000 self-employed people in Northern Ireland, just under half of whom work in either industry or agriculture.

Speaking at the launch of the report at their Annual General Meeting, Advice NI’s Chief Executive Bob Stronge said:
“Just this week it was confirmed that Universal Credit will start to roll out in September 2017 and is expected to be completed by September 2018. Whilst there have been well documented issues flagged in GB relating to the complexity of this new benefit and the IT problems; what has been less well documented are the potential problems that Universal Credit will bring for the self-employed. We want the launch of this Report to be the beginning of an engagement with the NI Assembly and with Westminster on addressing the issues which we believe are unfair and will place an undue burden on the self-employed.”

The Report proposes that self-employed people should receive a fairer and more equitable assessment under Universal Credit to encourage a more dynamic and entrepreneurial economy and calls for:

  • Actual earnings to be used in the Universal Credit assessment as opposed to the artificial assumed ‘Minimum Income Floor’;
  • The administration of Universal Credit for the self-employed in line with the tax year as opposed to the requirement for monthly reporting of cash-in and cash-out;
  • The creation of a dedicated independent support service for the self-employed to assist them to navigate Universal Credit;

The Report was launched at the Advice NI AGM on Friday the 9th of December 2016 at Riddel Hall, Stranmillis, Belfast.

Click here to read the Universal Credit Report.

For further information contact Kevin Higgins, Head of Policy: Advice NI 02890645919 kevin@adviceni.net

  1. Universal Credit will be introduced in Northern Ireland in Autumn 2017 under the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Act 2015. The changes will affect working-age claimants aged 18 to 64 years old.
  2. The following benefits will not be replaced by Universal Credit and will continue:
    – Jobseeker’s Allowance (Contribution- based)
    – Employment and Support Allowance (Contribution- based)
    – Child Benefit
    – Pension Credit
    – Carer’s Allowance
    – Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit
  3. Advice NI and members – the independent advice network – dealt with 263,325 enquiries last year, the majority of which were social security related.
  4. For further information please visit www.adviceni.net