Wales politics

Council tax benefit cuts avoided with £22m 'U-turn'

Pound coins
Image caption About 330,000 Welsh homes get council tax benefit

Cuts to council tax benefit which would have meant bills for 230,000 people for the first time will not go ahead as the Welsh government finds another £22m.

Ministers in Cardiff had previously said they could not afford to do so.

Opposition parties welcomed the "U-turn", but said the Welsh government's handling of the issue was "shambolic".

The UK government has put devolved administrations and local councils in charge of the benefit, while also cutting the funding.

Opponents had called on the Welsh government to shield benefit recipients from a 10% cut.

AMs were recalled to the assembly during the Christmas recess to rush through regulations on the benefit changes.

It would have left claimants £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.

The extra money announced on Thursday means the cut will not happen when the next financial year starts in April. People who were entitled to full benefit will continue to get it.

The means-tested benefit is claimed by 330,000 households.

Welsh government officials said the matter had been kept under review and that there had been mounting evidence about how benefit cuts will impact on people.

The £22m, available for the 2013-14 financial year, has been found thanks to some budget "flexibility".

Fresh regulations are expected to be tabled for AMs to vote upon next week.

'Responsible government'

Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant said: "This not a U-turn - this is protecting the most vulnerable people in our communities.

"As a responsible government, we have held back an element of our reserves as a contingency for unforeseen pressures such as extreme winter weather, pandemics and other emergencies.

"However, as these pressures pass, and as we approach the end of the financial year, we are now able to safely utilise some of this money to provide this much needed additional support for those eligible for help with their council tax."

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said: "This U-turn from the government is a victory for all those who joined with Plaid Cymru to campaign against the cuts to council tax benefits.

"It is welcome news that the first minister has finally bowed to sustained pressure from Plaid Cymru and has agreed to fund the gap that would have caused the cuts."

Lib Dem AM Peter Black said: "I very much welcome the fact the government have found this extra money so that council tax benefit claimants will not have to meet any of the additional payments towards their council tax.

"But it does appear to me to be a bit shambolic.

"First of all the government produced the regulations at the last minute and failed to get it through the assembly.

"Then they had to recall the assembly, still arguing that they cannot afford to make up the extra 10%."

He added: "It's very welcome but the Welsh government has been all over the shop on this and they do need, I think, to start getting their act together."

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