Local council leaders welcome £22m to avoid benefit cut
- 19 January 2013
- From the section Wales politics
Council leaders have welcomed extra funding to avoid a cut in council tax benefit for thousands of households.
The Welsh government has pledged £22m to shield benefit recipients from an extra cost.
However, one council leader expressed concern about the timing of the announcement.
Councils must agree tax reduction schemes by a deadline of 31 January to make sure people get the benefit on time.
Around 330,000 households in Wales receive means-tested help with their council tax bills.
The UK government has put local councils and the devolved administrations in charge of the benefit, but it has also cut the budget by around 10%.
The cut would have meant claimants losing £67 on average. It would also have resulted in 230,000 homes paying at least some council tax for the first time.
Labour had previously insisted it could not afford to top up the budget.
However on Thursday, Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant announced £22m so councils could continue to provide the benefit in full when the next financial year starts in April. The funding is coming from budget "flexibility" at the end of current financial year.
Opponents welcomed the money, but said it represented a "U-turn" and attacked Labour's "shambolic" handling of the situation, which saw AMs recalled to the assembly for a vote during the Christmas recess.
Monmouthshire council's Conservative leader Peter Fox said: "Very clearly we have to welcome anything that comes forward.
"I am not sure what the plans will be in future years and I don't know where they have found £22m from, but I'm not going to worry too much about that."
He added: "It's not very helpful obviously when you have things changed at the last minute because you start planning how you're going to manage the difficulties that may be coming forward."
Welsh Local Government Association finance spokesman Aaron Shotton, the Labour leader of Flintshire council, said: "It's fantastic news for those claimants, particularly the most vulnerable in our society."
He said around half the people in Flintshire getting council tax benefit were pensioners, so it was "even more important the Welsh government have stepped in, even at the last minute".
Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black, a member of Swansea council, welcomed the money, but said: "Councils have been left in a very difficult situation with very little time to turn things around."