News Roundup: Benefits and Welfare

The latest headlines in benefits and welfare this week.

Coalition Government Divided over Affordable Homes Bill

The coalition government suffered a troubling divide this week after a affordable-housing-billmajority vote from Lib Dem and Labour MPs to pass the Affordable Homes Bill left conservatives defeated.

The bill, which proposes to exempt certain tenants from the widely criticised cuts in housing benefit known as ‘bedroom tax’, was introduced by Lib Dem MP Andrew George and given the go-ahead in a recent House of Commons vote. Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour MPs and ministers joined forces to pass the bill, leaving the Tories out in the cold.

The bill was passed at second reading by 306 votes to 231. All but three Liberal Democrat MPs backed the bill, and Nick Clegg who is currently attending the Nato summit in Wales, did not vote.

Conservative MP Philip Davies called the Lib Dems “devious and untrustworthy” and suggested there would now be a “free for all” for the remainder of the parliament.

[quote]The coalition government has officially come to an end,”[/quote]

he said.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband said that the divided vote is further evidence that David Cameron’s authority is ‘dwindling’.

[quote]He is losing his MPs, he is losing votes in the House of Commons and it is Labour that is is setting the agenda for fairness,”[/quote]

Mr. Miliband said.

Parents Earning over £50,000 a Year are Urged to Repay Child Benefits

More than 30,000 parents earning £50,000 or more per year are being urged to repay backdated child benefits they are no longer entitled to via letters from HM Revenue & Customs.

child-benefit-capThe controversial child benefit changes made last year by the HMRC meant that parents earning more than 50,000 per year are no longer eligible to claim full child benefit. Those that fell into this criteria were urged to either opt out of receiving child benefit altogether or agree to repay what they owed in their end-of-year self assessment tax return.

Following a negative response to the new rule, however, a sliding scale was introduced, allowing parents earning between £50,000 and £60, 000 to still claim some child benefit. The more up to £60,000 that they earn, the less child benefit they will be able to claim, with those earning £60,000 or more unable to claim any child benefit at all.

The deadline for filling out one’s self assessment was January 31, but HMRC says there are still 30,000 parents who have failed to repay what they owe.

They are not being pursued by the taxman via letter to repay if their partner has not done so already, it is reported. The letters are not issuing late payment penalties just yet, but that will be the next step if people fail to act, HMRC said.

Local Councillor Guilty of Benefit Fraud Receives Suspended Sentence

An independent councillor of Wokingham Borough has been given a suspended sentence after she pleaded guilty to claiming £44,600 illegally.

Cllr Lesley Hayward admitted to receiving benefits under false claims over a period of two to three years, across three separate counts. She must now do 200 hours of unpaid council work and pay the remainder of the HM Revenue and Customs failuresamount she had claimed overall.

It was reported that Ms. Hayward had already paid a large portion of the money back before she was taken to court. Judge Lacchar, prosecuting, took both this and the guilty plea into account when making his decision.

Ms. Hayward’s defence told the court that she had had a ‘volatile’ relationship with her partner, which led to them living apart for long periods of time. Ms. Hayward explained that she thought her benefits would be disrupted severely if she kept reporting frequent changes in her circumstances.

Instead she proceeded to claim £35,511 in income support and £511 in pension credit over the entire period, which has all since been repaid with the help of her friends and family.

Her defence assured the court that Ms. Hayward did not set out to intently commit benefit fraud.

Lib Dems Admit Problems in the Welfare System as Claims Backlog Builds Up

The Liberal Democrats have launched a full criticism of the coalition’s welfare policies by admitting the current system is not working, a Guardian report has annoemployment-disability-allowanceunced.

The new criticisms come shortly after the Lib Dems stood against the Conservatives in a Commons vote regarding the passing of the Affordable Housing Bill, proposed by MP Andrew George.

The party had originally rejected the policy but have now welcomed its presence, creating an undeniable divide within the coalition government. Now, the Lib Dems are calling for changes to be made after admitting that benefit sanctions are hitting those most in need of support and acknowledging the growing backlog of assessments for Employment and Support allowance.

The party’s pre-manifesto programme is said to read:

[quote]There  is growing backlog of assessments for ESA claims and migrations from previous disability benefits, alongside long-standing concerns over the quality of such assessments.

Benefit sanctions are also hitting those most in need of support, with the 14-day rule leaving people penniless and having to visit food banks.”[/quote]

It goes on to suggest that a “system of discretionary hardship payments” may be what is required to assist those in crisis and “prevent them from falling into abject poverty”.

Scotland ‘Yes Camp’ Promises Bigger Allowance for Carers

Holyrood Public Health Minister Michael Matheson has announced there will be a higher rate of allowance in store for carers if Scotland should become independent.

A new group, Carers for Yes, which recently launched in the build-up to scotland-carers-allowancethe September 18 referendum, is campaigning for independence after the SNP pledged to increase the rate of carer’s allowance if Scotland should end up leaving the UK.

Mr. Matheson said it would help some of the “hardest working people in society” and would ensure carers are no longer “seen as second class by a Westminster welfare system that doesn’t recognise their hard work.”

An independent Scotland could help bring the rate of carer’s allowance up to at least the same level as Jobseekers Allowance, meaning carers could receive £575 a year more in financial support.

So far a total of 120 carers are reported to have signed a declaration that backs independence and condemns Westminster’s treatment of people with disabilities.

They said:

[quote]We want to pay a full part in developing a new social security system which protects our families and those we care for; a system which values and pays carers and enables them to take part in the labour market or prepare for work in the future.”[/quote]

Mr. Matheson also added:

[quote]Scotland’s carers do a fantastic job and deserve the right support.

It simply doesn’t make sense that the Westminster system gives carers providing full time care to ill or disabled relatives less support than those who are hunting for work.”[/quote]