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Guidance issued to Social Workers concerning Universal Credit ‘rape clause’ applications

The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) has published guidance for its members, urging them to use professional judgement when deciding whether to assist service users applying for Universal Credit under the controversial ‘rape clause’.

Since April 2017, applications for Universal Credit have been capped at two children per family. There are a number of exemptions to the cap, including for children conceived as a result of a non-consensual sexual act – commonly referred to as the ‘rape clause’. NIASW has called for the removal of the cap which will drive more families into poverty and expose vulnerable women and children to further risk of harm.

Speaking following publication of the guidance, Carolyn Ewart, NIASW Country Manager said: “It is unethical and degrading to subject a woman to disclose an incident of rape to a social worker to access benefits. NIASW and our parent Association, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), have committed to support any of our members who are challenged by their employer, or face disciplinary proceedings, for refusing to engage with the policy on ethical grounds.

The guidance, which has been made available to BASW members across the UK, highlights the legal obligation for social workers in Northern Ireland to report to the police, any information regarding a rape disclosed by a service user, even if this goes against the service user’s wishes.

Commenting on this requirement, Ms Ewart explained: “Social workers who are informed of a rape as part of a Universal Credit application which the woman doesn’t want reported to the police, will face a troubling ethical dilemma. However, they must report the crime to the PSNI if they are to avoid the risk of prosecution”.

Carolyn concluded by saying: “NIASW will continue to campaign for the removal of the two-child cap. It’s implementation has created a socially damaging scenario which could have been avoided if the Government’s commitment to addressing the needs of the vulnerable was afforded higher standing than its desire to pursue an agenda of economic austerity”.


Notes for editors

  • Carolyn Ewart, NIASW Country Manager, will be available for interview.
  • The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) is part of the British Association Social Workers (BASW), the largest professional body for social workers in the UK. The Association has 21,000 members employed in frontline, management, academic and research positions in all care settings.
  • The two-child cap for Child Tax Credit came into force on 6 April 2017. The same cap applies to the ‘child element’ of Universal Credit, which began implementation in Northern Ireland on a phased geographical basis in September 2017.
  • The Department for Work and Pensions notes exemptions to the two-child cap include payment of Child Tax Credit / Universal Credit for a third or additional child resulting from a multiple birth, adoption, or a child conceived as a result of a non-consensual sexual act.
  • A woman seeking to claim Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit for a third or additional child under the rape clause exemption is required to have her application verified by an ‘approved’ third party. The Government’s list of approved third parties includes social workers, healthcare workers, and specialist support workers from approved organisations.
  • Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 requires an individual with knowledge of a criminal offence to report the incident to the police.


Andy McClenaghan, Campaigns Officer

Phone: 028 9064 8873

Mobile: 07702 517560