Protests over changes to disability benefits were staged in London
A Stormont department has announced a review of Personal Independent Payment (PIP) cases after a court ruling that said the system was “discriminatory”.
PIP is gradually replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA), as part of a wider reform of UK social welfare.
In December, the High Court in London ruled changes to PIP were unfair to people with mental health conditions.
The NI review will “mirror” one in Great Britain, announced last week by the Department of Work and Pensions.
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DWP decided not to challenge the High Court ruling and agreed to review the claims of every person in receipt of PIP.
It meant that a total of 1.6m disability benefit claims will be reviewed in GB, with about 220,000 people expected to receive more money.
PIP reassessments have been controversial across the UK
Political parties lobbied the Department for Communities to extend the review to Northern Ireland.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the department said that following the outcome of December’s court ruling, the relevant legislation in Northern Ireland “will be amended”.
It added that the Department for Communities “will mirror the approach being taken by the Department of Work and Pensions to revisit all PIP cases that may be impacted by this judgment”.
“Those affected will be contacted in due course.”
SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said: “This is a victory for those thousands of PIP applicants suffering from mental health conditions.
“While this news is welcome, it is frustrating that people had to wait weeks for any clarity on this issue and that so many questions remain unanswered. Meanwhile, claimants are left living in fear and confusion.
“I will be meeting with the department urgently to find out how this legislation will be progressed without an executive, how many claimants will be assessed and when, and what assurances the department will give that no one will be left worse off as a result of this review.”
Nichola Mallon said changes caused “fear and confusion” for PIP cliamants
The Westminster government made changes to PIP last year which limited the amount of support people with mental health conditions could receive.
As a result, people who were unable to travel independently on the grounds of psychological distress – as opposed to other conditions – were not entitled to the enhanced mobility rate of the benefit.
In December, a High Court judge ruled the alterations “blatantly discriminate” against people with psychiatric problems and were a breach of their human rights.
The Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey, later confirmed the government would not appeal against the judgement, despite not agreeing with certain aspects of it.
More than a third of DLA claimants in Northern Ireland had their benefit stopped after being reassessed for PIP, a BBC Spotlight investigation revealed in November.
It said that just over 21,000 reassessments had been completed by the end of July 2017 and 7,704 claims were ‘disallowed’ after the initial PIP decision.