SOCIAL Development Minister, Nelson McCausland has called on those in Ballymena with an interest to air their views on a new system of grants and loans for those most in need.
The new Discretionary Support system is unique to Northern Ireland and will offer assistance to those facing the most exceptional, extreme or crisis situations who have no other means of support.
It will replace some elements of the current Social Fund scheme following the introduction of the Welfare Reform Bill.
Previously, grant payments could only be accessed by those on certain benefits; the new system opens grants up to everyone as long as they meet qualifying criteria.
Mr McCausland said: “It is estimated that approximately 275,000 claimants may be eligible for the new Discretionary Support system, that’s an increase of 49,000 on the old Social Fund system.
“We are living in difficult and rapidly changing social and economic times and I believe that the most vulnerable in our communities need to be able to access, quickly and easily, the right type of help in times of emergency or crisis. This new system has been designed with the specific needs of people in Northern Ireland in mind and I would call on all those with a view on its future to make these known by responding to this consultation.”
The new system is made up of non-repayable grants and interest-free repayable loans with clear eligibility for each.
To obtain a copy of the consultation go to www.dsdni.gov.uk/index/consultations.htm or phone 028 9082 9559.
You can also write to Social Fund Reform Consultation, 1st Floor Lighthouse Building, Gasworks Business Park, Belfast, BT7 2JB.
The consultation period will end on April 23.