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Council Tax Benefit

Volume 563: debated on Monday 3 June 2013

3. What assessment he has made of the average change in income of working families as a result of changes to council tax benefit. (157160)

The impact assessment for the Government’s policy framework for localising council tax support is available on the Department’s website, but it is very important to note that the design of local schemes, and the assessment of their impact, is the responsibility of the local authorities.

The changes to council tax benefit and the subsequent cuts have come in at the same time as the freezing of child benefit and working tax credit, the linking of benefits to CPI rather than RPI and, of course, the introduction of the bedroom tax. How can the Government justify this multiple attack on low-income working families on the same day as bringing in a tax cut for millionaires?

Unfortunately, we have to bear in mind the background to this, with spending on council tax benefit doubling under Labour and currently costing taxpayers £4 billion a year—around £180 per household. Welfare reform is vital to tackle the deficit left by the last Labour Government. Under the last Administration, more was being spent on this than on defence, education and health combined. That simply has to stop. The reforms we have put in place to localise council tax support give local authorities the power and the incentive to deliver local growth and get people back into work.

Does the Minister accept that many of the families who have to pay extra council tax are the very same families who have to pay the bedroom tax? Many of those families will simply not be able to meet the extra demands placed on them. Given the limits faced by local authorities on the amount of the discretionary housing benefit they can award, does the Minister accept that local authorities and housing associations will eventually be placed in the inevitable position of having to take enforcement action against families whose only crime is that they simply cannot afford to pay?

Actually, I do not accept that. With the greatest respect to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, I think that the important point of these changes is that they incentivise local authorities to see economic growth and get more people into work. It is against the local authorities’ interests to penalise people. They should be wanting people to get into work to drive economic growth. This change gives them the incentive to do that, and through the Localism Act 2011we have given them the freedom to do just that.