Wales politics

Welsh ministers criticised over council tax benefit row

Carl Sargeant AM
Image caption The then local government minister was accused of 'a game of tit for tat'

Serious concerns over the handling of regulations to introduce a new system of council tax benefit in Wales have been raised by a cross-party committee.

The assembly was recalled over Christmas to rush through regulations which would have cut the benefit, but ministers later reversed the decision.

The committee said the Welsh government had confused the political process with the "proper legislative process".

Ministers said they would study the report carefully before responding.

The assembly constitutional and legislative affairs committee also criticised the "lack of communication" between UK and Welsh ministers as "disappointing".

The UK government put devolved administrations and English local councils in charge of council tax benefit from last month, while also cutting the funding that came with the scheme by 10%.

It would have left claimants in Wales £67 worse off on average and meant about 230,000 would have paid at least some of their council tax bills for the first time.

This was avoided when the Welsh government re-tabled its proposals in the New Year, making up the £22m shortfall.

Committee chairman David Melding said it had serious concerns about the handling of these regulations.

"It is imperative that the National Assembly has ample opportunity to scrutinise legislation as that is one of its core responsibilities, and we believe that the minister (then Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant) should have drawn our attention to his concerns about the making of these regulations much earlier in the process.

"In this case, the committee has concluded that the Welsh government confused the political process with the legislative process.

"In so doing we believe that the Welsh government may have at times lost sight of the assembly's role as a legislative body," Mr Melding added.

'Little significance'

Liberal Democrat committee member Eluned Parrott accused Welsh Labour ministers of being "far more interested in a having a spat with the UK government than it was in actually helping the people of Wales".

She added: "Rather than getting on with the job in hand, the then local government minister chose to enter into a game of tit for tat and point scoring with Westminster.

"He continually blamed the UK government for not producing figures he said he needed, but on closer examination we found that not only was this problem not encountered in Scotland and England, but the minister himself admitted that what happens in England was of 'little significance' to him."

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "We thank the committee for its time in producing this report.

"We will study it carefully and respond in due course."

Responding to Ms Parrott's criticism, a spokesman for the local government minister said: "This whole issue could have been avoided had the UK government, which her party is a member of, not abolished council tax benefit in the first place.

"Once again the Lib Dems' collective amnesia has come into play. Once again we are forced to remind people where the real blame lies."

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