Wales politics

Council tax benefit scheme: Labour loses assembly vote

council tax bill
Image caption Ministers tried to rush through regulations

Council tax benefits for 330,000 homes in Wales could be delayed after the Welsh government lost a crucial vote.

At their last full meeting of the year, Welsh assembly members declined to temporarily set aside rules so new regulations could be rushed through.

As a result, First Minister Carwyn Jones said he might try to get the assembly recalled during Christmas.

But opposition AMs accused his Labour government of treating the assembly and the public with "contempt".

The UK government is handing over responsibility for the benefit - the most widely claimed means-tested benefit or tax credit in Wales - to the devolved administrations and local councils.

Local authorities have to get their schemes in place before the start of the next financial year in April 2013 but cannot do so until AMs approve regulations.

Opposition AMs criticised ministers for tabling more than 300 pages of regulations late on Wednesday, just minutes before they were due to be debated in the Senedd chamber.

They said the tight schedules meant they would not have time to read the documents.

Ministers blamed the Treasury for the delay, saying they could not prepare regulations until they obtained figures from the chancellor's Autumn Statement.

The Treasury disputes the claim, pointing out that councils in other parts of the UK have got ready for the changes.

AMs were asked to suspend the assembly's standing orders so the regulations could be discussed at late notice.

However, Labour - which does not have a majority in the assembly - failed to get the support it needed from the opposition.

During a heated debate in the assembly chamber, Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant said the figures he needed from the Treasury only arrived at 17:15 GMT on Wednesday.

"We have unfortunately been forced into a position where we have no option but to ask you to consider these regulations here today," he said.

Confirming his members would vote against, Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies told Mr Sargeant: "You have been negligent in your duty."

Plaid Cymru AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas said: "In 13 years of being a member here I have seen some pretty poor practice in terms of governance - this is the worst example I have ever seen."

Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black said the government had treated the public and the assembly "with contempt", adding: "We are meant to be a legislature not the Carl Sargeant fan club."

After the vote the first minister said he would consider seeking a recall of AMs during the Christmas recess, which starts next week.

The decision on whether to bring AMs back to Cardiff Bay rests with the Presiding Officer.

Mr Sargeant said Tory AMs should "hang their heads in shame".

"Today they had the opportunity to step up to the plate and do the right thing for people and families all over Wales," he said.

"Instead, they have ensured that 330,000 households enter Christmas and the New Year with needless financial uncertainty."

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