Councils are planning to pioneer pooling of benefit

31 Jan 12
A group of local authorities in England have confirmed they are devising plans to pool Council Tax Benefit when it is localised in 2013/14.
By Richard Johnstone | 1 February 2012

A group of local authorities in England have confirmed they are devising plans to pool Council Tax Benefit when it is localised in 2013/14.Cash

Local Government Yorkshire and Humber, which represents local authorities in the region, told Public Finance that councils are considering running joint schemes, where neighbouring authorities pool the funds and share eligibility terms.

They are the first group to confirm they are examining such joint approaches ahead of the benefit being localised.

From April 2013, central government will cut the total amount paid out in Council Tax Benefit by 10%.

Councils have to continue to provide the benefit to pensioners, but will set their own local eligibility criteria for other claimants.

LGYH confirmed that its members were looking at the possible merger of funds as they prepare the terms for the localised benefit, which have to be in place by January 2013.

Peter Simpson, chief executive of Hambleton and Richmondshire district councils in north Yorkshire, speaks for the group. He said it ‘may be possible to plan benefits around a travel-to-work area in some places’.

Pooling would avoid the possibility of ‘people in two streets, next to each other but separated by a council boundary, getting different benefits’, he said.

‘It’s quite a complex area, but it’s something that’s worth looking at. For travel-to-work areas, it’s something that’s to be looked at, to support the economic geography.’

A LGYH source added that it was likely the arrangement would be examined along established areas, such as north Yorkshire, south Yorkshire or around the Humber.

A meeting with the Department for Communities and Local Government to discuss the plans took place in January. A further meeting is scheduled to take place in March.

A DCLG spokesman confirmed councils were free to develop schemes together, based on their existing powers under the Local Government Act (1972).

This allows a local authority ‘to arrange for the discharge of any of their functions… by any other local authority’.

A spokesman for Manchester City Council also told PF that they see the potential of working with others, as part of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, but first require more details on the localisation of Council Tax Benefit.

Jonathan Carr-West, director of policy at the Local Government Information Unit, welcomed councils taking the initiative.

‘There’s a realisation that we need to work with the geography and take these decisions locally. Rather than the government saying that [it will happen], it’s driven by local needs and motivations,’ he said.

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