The following statement will be sent to Peers considering the Welfare Reform Bill. Please sign it below no later than the 7th of January. Alternatively if you are an NGO and would like to add your name, inform us at email@example.com.
To Peers considering the Welfare Reform Bill.
A statement opposing benefit caps in London.
Our Chairman, Rev Paul Nicolson, had this letter on Welfare Reform published in yesterday’s Observer:
This week peers will discuss two amendments to the welfare reform bill tabled by Baroness Hollins and Lord Ramsotham, related to the coalition’s careless imposition of damaging debt on our poorest fellow citizens. They are supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Mind and 20 other NGOs. Officials of job centres and local authorities are currently legally prohibited from enforcing recovery of overpayment of benefits against claimants who could not have known they were being overpaid; that sensible bar has been removed by the Commons. Peers will try to retain it.
They will also endeavour to ensure that officials will make themselves formally aware of the facts and circumstances of claimants, including their health, before they decide to reduce their poverty incomes by imposing sanctions and penalties, and therefore debts. This is the normal legal procedure, but ministers have expressed their disdain for the law by saying they prefer officials to use “common sense” and that appeals to tribunals don’t need legal aid.
The Communities and Local Government Select Committee today expressed their concerns over plans to localise Council Tax Benefit (CTB) under welfare reform. For some time now localisation of this assistance has been identified as a potential cliff edge for Universal Credit. Cliff edges occur in instances where a decision to take on more work results in a withdrawal of benefits which offset any extra earnings. This goes against the stated aims of the Welfare Reform Bill that extra work should always pay.
In the Select Committee’s report they identify further risks. Firstly the 10% squeeze on funding for the support will likely mean that vulnerable working age recipients lose out as Councils fulfil obligations, such as support to pensioners. This limits their choices over how, and to whom, to deliver CTB; making the localisation ‘illusory’.
Second, council tax already has one of the lowest rates of take up of any means tested benefit. These moves are unlikely to encourage them to improve this.
Third, CTB is currently paid out of a flexible ‘annually managed expenditure’ pot while councils have no extra funds to call upon. If councils wish to support continue supporting people with Council Tax at the current levels they will have to cut other services. Or even, as the Select Committee and London Councils point out, put themselves “into a perilous and unsustainable financial position”. It is assumed that Councils will make up the short fall in funding because of policies designed to encourage Councils to boost economic growth locally. But as Clive Betts, chair of the Committee, points out, this ignores a lot of good work many councils are already doing in this area. For them there is not much scope to do more.
Z2K believes the failure to deliver CTB through Universal Credit is one of the reasons why it and the Welfare Reform Bill will prove detrimental.