Politics: U-turn over council tax benefit cut

Click to follow
The Independent Online
HARRIET HARMAN last night announced a U-turn over council tax benefit for poor people in large homes which would have cost an average pounds 350 a year for 65,000 claimants.

The Government climbed down after a sustained campaign against the cuts in council tax benefit, led by the Liberal Democrats, to protect existing claimants living in larger homes included in the council tax bands F, G and H.

The Government had planned to adopt Tory cuts to restrict the council tax benefit for those properties up to band E. It was estimated that this would lead to losses of up pounds 16 a week in benefit for around 65,000 claimants, including 5,000 disabled, 30,000 elderly people and 10,000 one-parent families. It went through the Commons last December in spite of Liberal Democrat opposition and the Prime Minister defended the move when he was challenged on Wednesday by David Rendel, the Liberal Democrat spokesman.

But the Secretary of State for Social Security decided existing claimants should be protected against the cuts so that there were no losers when the new regulations take effect on 1 April. Underlining the hurried nature of the Government's U-turn, ministers are having to lay regulations on Monday to take effect from Tuesday. Bruce Calderwood, the senior official for housing benefit and council tax benefit policy, yesterday wrote to local authorities saying "this is the only way to protect cases from day one. I appreciate that local authorities will have difficulty in ensuring prompt protection but in time, cases can be reassessed so that people do not lose out."

Claimants will be protected as long as they continue to live in their present home and do not have a break in council tax benefit entitlement which exceeds 12 weeks. People in larger houses who make a claim for CTB after 31 March will face a cut in benefit.

Mr Rendel welcomed the Government's change of heart but condemned the cut because it would hit people who were poor and could not easily move house. He said: "The Liberal Democrats have successfully shamed the Government into reversing two out of three of the cuts in council tax benefits and Job Seekers Allowance."

The incredible shrinking meeting

So it's true - the Liberal Democrats really could hold their meetings in a telephone box.

Less than a dozen people turned up to hear a discussion about Scottish agriculture on the first day of the party's annual gathering in Inverness. After waiting in vain for more delegates to arrive, the agriculture spokesman Charles Kennedy moved the seminar out of the hall, which has a capacity for 800, into a smaller room.

Leading article, page 20