Published Monday, 22 October 2012
Mr McCausland updated the Assembly. (© Getty)
Nelson McCausland said a number of concessions to the controversial benefits shake-up have been secured following negotiations with Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud.
He said the housings costs element of the new universal credit will now be paid automatically to the landlord, rather than to the tenant.
Also it will be possible to split the payment between two parties in a household, and to have two smaller payments per month than a single full monthly one.
Mr McCausland said the new scheme will arrive locally in April 2014, six months after it is rolled out in other UK regions.
The DUP minister said the changes reflect NI's unique circumstances and will help some of the most vulnerable members of society.
"I can now report that I have secured the agreement of Lord Freud to these changes so that when Universal Credit goes live in Northern Ireland, the housing cost element of Universal Credit will automatically be paid directly to landlords rather than the claimant," he said.
"This is an important change as it will help to avoid rent arrears, with all the implications that can have for claimants and their families.
"I am also pleased to advise that in special circumstances, where necessary, we will be able to split the Universal Credit payment between the two parties in a household and make the Universal Credit payment twice every month rather than monthly.
"I will begin to consult with representative groups and stakeholders to develop the criteria and guidance for when it is appropriate to apply these alternative payment arrangements."
A motion on the controversial reforms - which have already been passed in England and Wales - cleared a crucial Assembly hurdle earlier this month.
Sinn Féin tabled an amendment which would have halted the bill but it failed.
Key features of the new bill include a universal credit to cover a range of benefits, a personal independence payment reassessed every three years to replace Disability Living Allowance, and housing benefit reforms.
It is now through to the committee stage for more detailed consideration.
Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey welcomed the new changes outlined by the minister on Monday, however he believes there is still a lot of work to be done.
Joe Byrne of the SDLP said there must be respect and sensitivity surrounding the appeals process surrounding appeal hearings over benefits.
"I have heard of disturbing instances in recent times, whereby claimants, especially those suffering mental health problems, are being badly treated at appeal hearings," he said.
"This has the potential to further exacerbate mental health problems and add undue worry and stress. Many of these claimants are being hindered and humiliated at these hearings. This is unacceptable and should not happen."
Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA) has praised the Department for Social Development Minister for winning the flexibilities.
Cameron Watt, chief executive of NIFHA said: "These changes will greatly help limit the impact of welfare reforms on low-income households. Without them, many tenants in Northern Ireland would have been set up to fail under the new system."