The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Northern Ireland Secretary over legal issues arising from Universal Credit implementation.
In a letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke MP (pictured) and the Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire MP, BASW have raised two matters of concern for UK social workers, particularly in Northern Ireland.
Benefits paid under Universal Credit have been capped at two children unless there are ‘specific circumstances’. These circumstances include adoption, multi-baby births and children conceived as the result of a ‘non-consensual sexual act’. Universal Credit will be introduced in Northern Ireland on a phased geographical basis from September 2017. Currently the payment of Child Tax Credit in the region is capped at two children.
In line with BASW’s position statement on austerity, the organisation does not endorse the capping of Universal Credit at two children, nor the criteria for exemption.
They say the problem arises out of the duty on claimants to produce evidence to support these 'specific circumstances'. Evidence of a ‘non-consensual sexual act’ needs to be accredited, and this accreditation can be undertaken by a range of groups, including ‘registered social workers’.
BASW say the inclusion of ‘registered social workers’ within the category of approved groups is problematic for the profession, suggesting there was only very late and minor consultation, and BASW themselves were contacted very shortly before implementation.
Secondly, in Northern Ireland there is a specific requirement to report crime (Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967) or face prosecution, which is not the case in the rest of the UK. Thus a social worker in Northern Ireland approached by a person seeking to establish a claim for a further child under Child Tax Credit / Universal Credit, may well be the recipient of a disclosure of ‘a non-consensual sexual act’, in which case, unless this matter was reported to the police, that social worker would be liable to criminal prosecution.
BASW has asked the relevant ministers to provide assurance to professionals that no social worker in Northern Ireland will be prosecuted under this legislation.
Picture (c) PA Wire.