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NIASW welcomes Attorney General’s assurances that social workers are “highly unlikely” to fall foul of Universal Credit’s ‘rape clause’

The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) welcomes the publication of guidance by the Attorney General which provides assurance—that in the vast majority of cases—a social worker in Northern Ireland who does not report to police information concerning a rape disclosed as part of a Universal Credit application, will not have committed an offence.

NIASW strongly opposes the UK Government’s requirement that women seeking Universal Credit for a third or additional child conceived as a result of rape must have their application verified by an approved third-party. The Government’s list of approved third-parties includes social workers.

Since the introduction of the Universal Credit two-child cap and the associated “rape clause” exemption, NIASW members have been alarmed by the potential implications arising from the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967. Section 5 of the Act requires an individual with knowledge of a relevant offence to report it to the police, unless they have a reasonable excuse for not doing so.

This created concern that a social worker, who receives information regarding a rape from a service user seeking the verification of a Universal Credit application, would have to report the information to police, regardless of whether this was wanted by the service user.

The Attorney General’s document—Human Rights Guidance for the Public Prosecution Service in Relation to the Application of Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (NI) 1967 to Rape Victims and Those to Whom They Make Disclosures in Connection With a Claim for Social Security, Child Tax Credit or Anonymous Registration on the Electoral Roll—clarifies that in the vast majority of cases in which disclosures are not brought to the attention of police, no offence will have been committed either by the victim, or the third-party assisting them.

The guidance explains a woman who has been raped will “almost certainly” have a reasonable excuse for not reporting given the traumatising experience she has endured. It goes on to clarify that a third-party verifying a Universal Credit application will “almost invariably” have a reasonable excuse when the disclosure of rape is made only for the purpose of obtaining benefit, and the person making the disclosure has not reported the matter to police.

The guidance also notes it is “highly unlikely that it will be in the public interest to prosecute a person for failure to report information received about a rape to the police where that disclosure of rape is made in the context of the operation of social security and tax credit”. However, the Attorney General explains the situation may be different where the victim of the rape is a child or vulnerable adult, or where failure to report the offence to police is likely to put others at serious risk of harm.

NIASW has highlighted the need to protect social workers in the context of the rape clause and Section 5 with elected representatives, locally and nationally, including ministers in the Department of Work and Pensions and the Northern Ireland Office. We are pleased the Attorney General has taken decisive steps to provide assurance to social workers.

Nonetheless, NIASW members remain opposed to the Universal Credit two-child cap which is causing untold hardship and anxiety for many families throughout the UK. It is estimated that by the time Universal Credit is fully implemented, the two-child cap will have pushed an additional 200,000 children into poverty.

NIASW remains committed to the removal of the two-child cap and will continue to pressure the Government to reform its policy.