Reprieve for three towns as benefits offices set to remain

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Three government offices in towns across Northern Ireland will not close, as had been mooted.

Proposals to close social security offices in Cookstown, Ballynahinch and Newcastle were launched by the Department for Communities last autumn.

Last year the department assessed each of its offices to see if they were suitable to continue delivering benefits in the future, mentioning in particular the pending arrival of universal credit.

This is the new all-in-one benefit which is currently being extended across the Province, replacing the patchwork of benefits which people get such as jobseekers’ allowance and rental-based housing benefits.

It had said at the time the consultation was launched that it wanted modern accomodation, and had found that the three offices named above needed “significant investment or alternative premises”.

In an announcement via its Twitter account on Tuesday, the department said: “Having considered the responses to the consultation and various options, the department has concluded that current services should continue to be delivered in Ballynahinch, Cookstown and Newcastle.”

It said the offices would be “reconfigured,” and that the Cookstown one in particular would see services “consolidated” at its jobcentre, moving from the town’s social security office.

Tony McMullan, official for NIPSA, said the move followed “a very significant campaign lodged by this trade union”.

He said: “At a time when so many public services are being centralised it is essential that small local communities have the opportunity of getting proper social security advice and guidance on employment related matters in the heart of their community.”