News from parliament ending 30 April 2012

News from parliament ending 30 May 2012

Council Tax Benefit and take-up

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether he is taking steps to increase the take-up of council tax benefit. [102502]

Steve Webb:Council tax benefit will be abolished from April 2013 and replaced in England with localised schemes of support. The Department for Communities and Local Government are taking forward legislation to allow local authorities to apply reductions in council tax liability to those on low income.

Local authorities will be responsible for the design and administration of local schemes, including the approach with respect to take-up.

Bed and breakfast in each borough

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport what estimate he has made of the number of (a) bed and breakfast establishments, (b) bed and breakfast rooms, (c) paid lodging establishments and (d) paid lodging rooms in each parliamentary constituency or local authority area.

John Penrose:This Department is not able to provide the information in the precise categories requested. However, VisitEngland's "England Accommodation Stock Audit" which was published in 2010 includes data at regional and county levels and is available at:

Payment direct to landlords and Universal Credit

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what recent discussions he has had with the (a) National Landlords Association and (b) Residential Landlords Association on direct payment of housing benefit to tenants under universal credit; and if he will make a statement. [103676]

Steve Webb:Under the local housing allowance (LHA) arrangements which were introduced from April 2008, housing benefit is paid directly to tenants in most circumstances. The Government are considering how these arrangements will work under universal credit, including appropriate safeguards to pay the landlord direct where the claimant is unable to manage their rental payments themself.

The Department regularly attends meetings and other events involving landlords. Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, met with a number of landlord representatives in October 2011.

Supported accommodation and housing benefit

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what proposals the Government is considering on the use of housing benefit to help contribute towards the rental costs of those living in supported housing within the social and voluntary sectors; and if he will make a statement.

Steve Webb:We are grateful to all those who took time to provide nearly 450 responses to last year's consultation, many of which were comprehensive and detailed. These are informing our considerations as we look to take these reforms forward.

The housing benefit rules already recognise the extra costs of providing supported housing. As we said in the consultation paper, these reforms are not a cost cutting exercise but look to target help better at where it is needed most.

CTB in Scotland

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people residing in Scotland were in receipt of council tax benefit during financial year 2011-12; and what the average award was for such people.

Chris Grayling:The latest available data are at January 2012. HB/CTB caseload statistics are published approximately three months after the reference date. The available information is provided in the following table:


Council tax benefit recipients and average weekly award in Scotland: April 2011 to January 2012


Number in receipt of council tax benefit

Average weekly award









































SAR and under occupation

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions with reference to his Department's impact assessment entitled Under-occupation of social housing, whether the application of private rented sector size criteria to the social rented sector will include the criterion that an individual under 35 years should live in a property with shared facilities; what discussions he has had on the extension of this aspect of private rented sector size criteria to the social rented sector; and if he will make a statement. [106053]

Steve Webb:The local housing allowance size criteria will be applied to the social rented sector in establishing under-occupancy. The shared accommodation rate is not part of the size criteria and so will not apply to the under-occupation measure for claimants in the social rented sector.

Council Tax Benefit Localisation (debate)

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab):What assessment he has made of the potential effect of council tax benefit localisation on low-income families. [105715]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell):An impact assessment is on my Department’s website. These reforms will give councils a greater stake in getting people back into work and will help to reduce the budget deficit. The Government are committed to supporting the most vulnerable in society and have been clear that pensioners should be protected and changes should support work incentives.

Mr Skinner:At a meeting on Friday local authorities from areas of high need, such as Chesterfield, Bolsover and North East Derbyshire, were still bemoaning the fact that they have just suffered a 19% cut in the money they receive from central Government. This proposal will mean another £500 million cut in areas of high need, which is equivalent to 10% for all those local authorities. It is high time the Government started listening less to press barons like Murdoch and more to the democratically elected voices in local government.

Andrew Stunell:I think that the hon. Gentleman is letting his phobias get the better of him. No local authority has faced a reduction in its spending power of more than 8.7%, and the figures he talks about are not real at all. I know that he did not always support the Labour Government’s policies, but he was right behind them on building up the deficit. He now needs to get behind this Government in tackling that deficit.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con):What impact has the two-year council tax freeze had on low-income households?

Andrew Stunell:Of course, it has been very beneficial to those on low incomes who are paying council tax and those who rely on council tax benefit support. I think that the Government should be commended for the action they have taken, and it is astonishing that some Members on the Labour Front Bench condemned the introduction of this proposal.

Mr Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab):May I draw attention to my interest as declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests?

I remind the Minister that we are talking about cuts in council tax benefit, that the Government’s own proposal is for a 10% cut, not 8%, and that that will translate into a 16% cut for those who will bear the burden because of the protection of those over pension age, but extraordinarily, if the Government believe in what they are doing, why have they been so embarrassed as to have done nothing for the past three months? We have been waiting for Report stage of the Bill leading to the introduction of those changes, but it has been parked. Where has it been?

Andrew Stunell:The right hon. Gentleman is of course a doughty fighter on these matters, and I assure him that the Bill will be back in the House within a week or two.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con):Is not the best way to help those on low incomes to freeze council tax, and is the Minister aware that Harlow’s Conservative district council has frozen council tax not just for one or two years, but for three years?

Andrew Stunell:Clearly, a good way of reducing the cost to the state of the council tax benefit system, and the cost to the householder, is to freeze council tax, and I commend the hon. Gentleman’s local council on the work that it has done.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab):The Government’s own figures show that a cut of 16% in council tax benefit will cost the poorest families more than £161 a year, but does the Minister accept that, in fact, the cuts are likely to be far higher than that, up to 25%, depending on the number of pensioners in a local authority area? Does he think that this postcode lottery for the poorest families is fair? How can the Government justify cutting the incomes of 1 million struggling families while increasing the incomes of millionaires?

Andrew Stunell:The hon. Lady of course is completely off track. In reality, local authorities will have choices about how they manage the reduction and be able to choose, through the design of their scheme, whether some awards should be reduced. They can manage the reduction by reconfiguring the funding of other services, through efficiency savings, by using reserves or with flexibility over the council tax, which the same Bill before Parliament gives to local authorities.