Northern Ireland

Universal credit: ID issues with Irish passport

A computer screen showing the benefits website
Image caption Some types of ID commonly used in Northern Ireland are not recognised by the new system

Irish passports and the Northern Ireland driving licence have been posing problems for the computer system processing a new benefits system.

Universal credits merges six benefits into one and will be rolled out in Northern Ireland in about six weeks.

But the online system has problems recognising some forms of ID.

A department spokesperson said European passports, including Irish passports, are recognised and can be used as part of the verify process."

Both Irish passports and the Northern Ireland driving licence can be used in face-to-face conversations with staff at benefits offices.

The BBC asked several claimants to go through the computer verification system but they were all rejected.

A leading charity has called on the government to sort the glitch in the system as soon as possible.

Kevin Higgins from Advice NI said there are worries that the issues could cause delays in payments to some claimants.

Image caption The issues over identification recognition for benefits are unacceptable, says Kevin Higgins

"To think that we're having Universal Credit rolled out from 27 September and such an important means of identification for many people across Northern Ireland not to be acceptable to the verification system is very, very concerning at this stage," he said.

"We have been told that there is an alternative available and people can bring means of identification to the frontline office.

"But to Advice NI that's very much a plan B - plan A must be that there's robust, efficient and effective verification system online."

'Should be equal'

Angela Smith, an Irish passport holder and single mum to her 11-year-old daughter, is one of those who had their identification rejected.

She has been employed as a childcare worker since she was 16, working part-time and receiving working tax credits.

"I don't think it's fair that I'm being classed as different - I think it should be equal," she said.

Image caption Angela Smith says her benefits are crucial to her and her daughter

"I found the system stressful, too - it asked a lot of questions that I wasn't expecting.

"I usually do all of mine on the phone so I found the computer system very confusing."

Ms Smith receives £104 a week in tax credits and she said that as her daughter is moving schools next month that money is crucial.

"I have to budget very carefully and she'll need bus fares and lunches during the week."

'Claim form confusing'

Another claimant who was also rejected by the online system is Paul Doyle from north Belfast.

A former all-Ireland Irish dancing champion, he has faced a tough few years as he recovers from skin cancer.

"I think it's a disgrace that it won't recognise my passport," he said.

Image caption Paul Doyle says he cannot afford to have his benefit payments delayed

"I have no money in my pocket, in the bank, in the post office.

"I barely have a cooker that works so I couldn't afford it if there's a delay to my benefits."

Mr Doyle receives £250 every two weeks on Employment Support Allowance as he tries to find a job and is on a scheme to help him get back into work.

"I'd be happier to do the claim online but it's very confusing - the questions were long and detailed yet I was rejected," he added.

Stormont's Department for Communities, which oversees the benefits system in Northern Ireland, has said that all European passports can be used as proof of identity.

In a statement, it added: "It should also be noted that the Department of Finance is working closely with Great Britain colleagues to include NI driving licence data as an additional verification tool within the verify process.

"That facility [is] fully expected to be available in time for the launch of Universal Credit in Northern Ireland."

Advice NI has a helpline - 0808 802 0020 - for claimants who are having issues with identification to receive their benefits.

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