A ruling by five judges of the Supreme Court could affect local authorities who attempt to place tenants out of their areas as a result of the government’s £500 per week benefit cap.
Five judges ruled in favour of Titina Nzolameso, a single mother, following a hearing that went against Westminster Council, which sought to move her family from London to accommodation 50 miles away, near Milton Keynes
The Supreme Court this week quashed the local authority’s decision that it had “properly discharged its duty to secure accommodation available for occupation by the appellant”.
Ms Nzolameso is a British citizen who has lived in London for 17 years and her children are settled at schools in Westminster.
She applied for cheaper housing in November 2012 and was offered the alternative accommodation out of the borough in Milton Keynes. After she turned it down, the council said it no longer had…
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The pain is set to continue for South Tyneside Council and the people it serves as a near £7m cut in government funding was announced.
It means the authority will need to find yet more savings from services.
The settlement for 2015/16 – the amount the council can expect from the Government – announced by Local Government and Communities Minister Kris Hopkins yesterday, is £161,662m – compared to £168,482m – in the current financial year.
That is a reduction of four per cent and means the local authority has £6.821m less to spend on everything from waste collection to road maintenance.
That is significantly higher than the national average grant allocation cut of just 1.8 per cent.
Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, said:
“The Government has published its provisional grant figures for local authorities.
“We are currently analysing the proposed settlement for South Tyneside in detail to look at how it impacts on the local authority’s finances.
“We have already had to deal with an unprecedented series of budget cuts and have made savings of more than £100m so far. Over recent years, we have redesigned our services for maximum efficiency, improved quality through new models of service delivery and strategically planned ahead for further funding reductions.”
Borough council leaders do at least have an incentive to freeze council tax – for the fifth consecutive year.
Since 2011, the local authority has not increased the levy to its taxpayers by utilising a financial incentive from central government.
The Government has confirmed that incentive will remain in place in 2015/16 – making another freeze more likely.
Merv Butler, branch secretary of the borough’s Unison trade union, who has seen hundreds of his members lose their council jobs over the last four years, accused the Government of targeting areas in the most need.
He said: “This announcement is desperately difficult news for council staff and services.”
The local authority has already made an estimated £90m of efficiency savings since 2010, shedding 1,200 jobs in the process and the latest settlement will have an impact on every home in the borough.
There are 70,329 households in South Tyneside and average council spending on each amounts to £2,395.63p in the current financial year.
Next year that will drop to £2,298.65p – a four per cent reduction of £96,98p per household.
Mr Butler added:
“I expected a difficult settlement and that’s what we got. The fact that the council’s spending power has been reduced compared to the English average shows again that the Government is not giving sufficient grants to areas of need such as South Tyneside.”
Mr Hopkins has insisted the funding grants settlement for 2015-16 was “fair for all parts of the country”.
“Councils facing the highest demand for services continue to substantially receive more funding and we continue to ensure that no council will face a loss of more than 6.4 per cent in spending power in 2015-16, the lowest level in this Parliament.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 19 Dec 2014
UP TO 350 council jobs are under threat as a local authority looks to make £22m of savings.
South Tyneside Council has made the announcement as officials look to begin formal discussions with the trade unions.
However, while the council say up to 350 jobs could be lost the final figure will not be known until later in the budgeting process.
The council is now informing the government of the number of jobs that could be affected and is in the process of submitting a HR1 form to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to enable consultations to take place with staff and trade unions over any potential redundancies.
The £22m of savings is in addition to over £100m that it has saved over the past four years.
Coun Ed Malcolm, lead member for resources and innovation said: “Let me start off by emphasising that we will do everything we can do to reduce the 350 figure and wherever possible avoid compulsory redundancies. We appreciate this is a tough time for our staff and we will work with them and the Trade Unions to lessen the impact wherever we can.
“The HR1 form is a legal requirement and a formal process we must undertake. Our estimate is that up to 350 council jobs could be affected in the budget-setting process and we have now informed the Government of that figure.
“We are still working on our budget for next year and we do not relish having to put a figure on the potential number of jobs that might be affected relatively early in our budget planning process. As everyone knows we continue to be subjected to unprecedented Government cuts and are doing all we can to minimise the impact on frontline services.
“We are not yet in a position to confirm a definite number, as this is obviously dependent on the decisions made by Councillors around the budget.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 08 Aug 2014
Newcastle is being held back by the Government’s tight hold on local authority purse strings, it has been claimed.
The argument was made by Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes at its annual ‘State of the City’ event.
He called on the Coalition to adopt a much more radical approach to local authority finances to enable the city to become more economically viable and compete “on a level playing field”.
Coun Forbes said: “In England 95% of all taxes raised in the city go back to the Government, and most of the funding that comes back to us does so with strings attached.
“This is stifling local innovation and hampering the ability of local decision makers to purse local priorities.”
He was joined at the event by a panel of experts in a public debate on the matter including representatives of the Thinking Cities campaign, an independent body calling for more power to be devolved to local authorities.
They say unemployment, poverty, housing and economic growth can all be helped positively in this way.
Coun Forbes acknowledged there had been some movement in this direction by the Government through its Local Growth Fund and City Deals initiatives.
But he added: “While these are welcome developments, we should remember that local growth pot of around £2bn is a drop in the ocean compared to Lord Heseltine’s original recommendation of £70bn be devolved from Whitehall to local areas to get the economy moving.”
The City Deal allows Newcastle to borrow to fund development and use the additional business rates by the investment to pay the loan back.
“This releases £92m to invest in our city’s future, generating a massive £1bn return and 13,000 jobs over the nest 25 years,” he said.
Coun Forbes cited the work on the Stephenson Quarter, Science City and the Central Station, as examples of the city deal’s benefit. It has also led to transport improvements around Newcastle including improvements to key junctions on the A1.
However, compared to other cities around the globe, Government policy is still “centralist”, Coun Forbes said, with German cities controlling six times more of the taxes raised than the UK, while in the US and Canada it is seven times and 10 times the amount respectively.
Coun Forbes: “Greater freedom to decide how to spend the money generated in cities, such as property taxes, would help the Core Cities meet their target of outperforming the national economy and becoming financially self sustaining.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 July 2014
Councils should be punished if their schemes to improve the behaviour of ‘troubled families‘ flop, MPs say..
Their report calls for “sanctions” against councils that fail to change the lives of people with social problems ranging from poverty to low skills and bad housing.
It follows criticism that fewer than 100 people across the region have found work through the scheme, launched after the 2011 summer riots.
Latest figures show councils in the North-East and North Yorkshire have started work with more than 5,000 families identified as “troubled” – up to three-quarters of the total.
But only 1,697 successes have been chalked up, including in County Durham (312), Darlington (37), Middlesbrough (126), Stockton-on-Tees (173) and North Yorkshire (238).
And the figures also show that only 93 people in those 1,697 families – just 5.5 per cent – have found permanent work.
Not a single person has found a job in Darlington or Hartlepool and very small numbers in Middlesbrough (6), Sunderland (3) and County Durham (14).
Now the Commons public accounts committee (PAC) has warned the scheme, announced by David Cameron himself, is on course to “miss its targets”.
And a parallel project, run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), has put only four per cent of the expected number of people into jobs.
Margaret Hodge, the PAC’s Labour chairwoman, condemned the “baffling decision” to run two separate programmes, leading to “confusion and unnecessary duplication”.
And she said: “There have been big variations in performance, which put achieving the programmes’ objectives at risk.
“The departments must ensure that performance in each local authority, and by each contractor, is scrutinised, giving appropriate support where appropriate – but also imposing sanctions where necessary.”
The PAC report did not identify any worst offenders and its call for councils to face sanctions – for a Government scheme – is likely to be controversial.
Families are classed as ‘troubled’ if members are judged to have at least five characteristics from a seven-strong list.
- no work, poor quality housing, no qualifications, mental health problems, long-standing disability, low income and in ability to afford food or clothing.
Councils are paid up to £4,000 for each family they help. At the start, 80 per cent – or £3,200 – was paid upfront, reducing to 40 per cent in 2014-15.
Ministers have insisted the scheme is “on track” to meet the prime minister’s pledge to transform the lives of 120,000 problem families by 2015.
> Ministers have insisted the scheme is “on track” to meet the prime minister’s pledge to transform the lives of 120,000 problem families by 2015 – to be fair, this government is transforming the lives of millions of people.
Only problem is, we were kind of hoping it’d be a transformation for the better, not the worse.
Source – Northern Echo, 04 April 2014
Unemployed lone parents could to be forced into mandatory unpaid work placements as part of fresh changes to benefits coming into force from the 28th April 2014.
Lone parents in receipt of Income Support who have a child between the age of 3-4 will be required to undertake ‘mandatory work related activity’ “to better prepare them for the full work-related requirements they will face when their child turns 5”.
The changes will also apply to lone parents in the ‘Work Related Activity Group’ (WRAG) of the sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Local authority childcare schemes will be made available to allow the changes to come into effect and help free up lone parents to partake in the new requirements. Up to fifteen hours of free childcare will be available for those affected.
Income Support claimants with a child between the age of 1-4 will also be required to take part in work focused interviews at their nearest Jobcentre. The time and duration ‘will be tailored to the needs of the lone parent’.
Failure to comply with the changes – without good cause – could result in lone parents having their benefits cut or stopped completely (sanctioned). The level of the cut will begin at 20% but could increase to 100% for ‘further failures’. However, only one Income Support cut will be permitted in a two-week period.
It has also been announced this week that jobseeker’s who have been out of work for over three years, and who have already taken part in the government’s controversial Work Programme, will be required to undertake community work placements for up to 30 hours per week. They will also be expected to spend 10 hours per week looking for work.
The DWP has given the example of “clearing up litter and graffiti in local areas” which has previously been reserved for community volunteers and criminal offenders.
> Which is a pretty good indication of how our betters regard the unemployed – criminals who need to be punished. For their own good, you understand…
My contention is that if you have to work for benefits, then they are no longer benefits – they’re wages, and wages below the National Minimum Wage at that.
In this instance, failure to comply will result in jobseeker’s having their benefits cut for four weeks which could extend to several months for repeat offenders.
New Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants will also have to wait 7 days before they become entitled for the unemployment benefit.
We have been informed that once a lone parent with a child over the age of 3 ‘volunteers’ for participation in the government’s ‘Work Programme’, that participation then becomes ‘mandatory’.
Source – Welfare News Service, 02 April 2014
Vulnerable children and adults with disabilities or high support needs may be forced to pay the Bedroom Tax, despite protestations to the contrary by Lord Freud, after it was revealed that creating more protections would cause ‘political embarrassment’.
Current rules mean some supported housing is protected from the Bedroom Tax, benefit cap and the effects of Universal Credit (if a working version ever arrives) – but this accommodation is not exempted if the landlord is not the care provider or when the landlord is a local authority.
This means that, for example, supported housing provider Habinteg has 1,200 wheelchair-accessible properties for the disabled – but only 516 of them are exempt from the benefit changes.
Lord Freud, who is minister for social security reform, said last April that the DWP was working to ensure all supported accommodation would be protected from what he called the “unintended consequences” of the government’s…
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A GOVERNMENT minister has been challenged to a face-to-face meeting with South Tyneside councillors concerned at the impact the ‘bedroom tax’ is having on borough citizens.
> Good luck with that. The Jarrow marchers in the 1930s walked the length of England to London, only to have government ministers refuse to meet them when they got there.
South Tyneside Council chief executive Martin Swales is to write to Tory MP Kris Hopkins, the current housing minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, calling for the meeting.
> Make him come here.
It comes after a motion expressing concern over the scheme was carried unanimously at a full council meeting last week.
The motion – signed by ten South Tyneside councillors – stated that the tax ‘discriminates unfairly against the poorest in our society’ and welcomed a commitment by Labour Leader Ed Miliband to ‘repeal this draconian legislation’ if the party returns to power at next year’s General Election.
> Given Labour’s other plans for the poor, I should wait a while before we all start cheering (and voting).
A total of 2,770 council tenants in South Tyneside have been affected by the tax, which has seen a cut in housing benefit for households with one or more bedrooms deemed to be spare.
Nationally, one in three council tenants affected by cuts to housing benefit have fallen behind on rent since the policy took effect in April, according to figures from the Trades Union Congress.
Since March there has been an £81,000 rise in South Tyneside council rent arrears, with the total amount owed to the local authority now standing at £1.8m.
The motion stated: “South Tyneside Council notes with concern that 2,770 council tenants have been affected by the bedroom tax.
“The council believes that the bedroom tax discriminates unfairly against the poorest in our society, and that by forcing residents to leave their homes can lead to instability of close-knit local communities and neighbourhoods.”
> Suprisingly ( or perhaps not…) they don’t seem to have connected the above with the rise in begging on the streets in South Shields, reported yesterday.
Source – Shields Gazette, 21 Jan 2014