Bournemouth Council response to open email about Bedroom Tax

BPACC recently sent an open email to Bournemouth Borough Council about the Bedroom Tax following an article in the council’s Spring edition of Home News that stated some people were ‘protected’ and we asked for clarification.

We also expressed our concerns that Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) were not a viable long term solution as they fail to give people with disabilities the assurance that their housing needs are secure and asked the council several questions.

Shown below are BPACC’s questions and the council’s response received this week:

1) Question: Is Bournemouth Borough Council exempting all people stipulated in the Home News article from the ‘Bedroom Tax’?
Council response: No. Unfortunately, the article gave the impression that disabled people are not affected whereas, in fact, they are not exempt from the under-occupation rules.

2) Question: Where it is determined that people are entitled to DHP, will funds be made available for all cases irrespective of whether the money allocated by central government is exhausted?
Council response: The DHP fund is being carefully managed so that funds are available for all cases where it is determined that help should be given. The Council has the option to top up the fund to a “prescribed limit” if the central government funding should become exhausted but cannot go beyond that limit.

3) Question: Will DLA income be taken into account when assessing a family’s income?
Council response: Not for assessing entitlement to Housing Benefit but would be taken into account when deciding whether to award DHP.

4) Question: Where parents or guardians of children receiving DLA no longer live together, will both households will receive DHPs?
Council response: DHP can only be awarded if someone is receiving HB. So if no parent received HB no DHP would be considered. If only one parent received HB, DHP could only be considered for the parent who received HB. However, if both parents received HB each DHP application is judged on its own merits so there might be circumstances where both parents could get a DHP.
The child will normally be taken into consideration in the household where child benefit is payable and that is the household where the DHP would be normally be considered for if a disabled child was the reason for the application.

Following these responses we have asked follow up questions, below are the council’s replies:

1) What steps are Bournemouth Borough Council planning to take to make this clear to residents?
Council response: The under-occupation rules only affect those in local authority properties and housing associations. All affected residents have been written to at least twice by Housing Benefit staff. The Council’s Housing Management Team has been proactive by contacting their tenants to discuss the options open to them. It is understood that housing associations have done the same.

2) What are the criteria for making an application for DHP and determining whether help should be given; and what is the level of the “prescribed limit”?
Council response: Please see the relevant page on the Council’s website. The prescribed limit is 2.5 times the Government contribution which for Bournemouth equates to a limit of £1,256, 630

The Bedroom Tax is a cynical attack on the poorest in our society. Questions have been submitted to both Bournemouth and Poole Councils asking for assurances that no residents will be evicted due to rent arrears accrued through the Bedroom Tax. These assurances were not given click here for Bournemouth’s response and click here for Poole’s response.

Open Email to Bournemouth Borough Council about the Bedroom Tax

The following email has today been sent to Bournemouth Borough Council:

On page 39 of the Spring 2013 issue of the Bournemouth Borough Council “Home News” it states:

“And now for something completely different! As mentioned elsewhere in this edition of HOME NEWS, April sees a radical overhaul of Housing Benefit. To clear up any concerns by disabled tenants, here’s a list of those tenants protected from the ‘bedroom tax’

Pensioners (those of state pension credit age).

People who are in receipt of high rate of the mobility or care element of disability living allowance

People who have a severely disabled child – parents or guardians who have a child that receives Disability Living Allowance.

People who are disabled and need a non-resident over-night carer”

We welcome any move by the Council to alleviate the burden of the unjust ‘bedroom tax’ which is a blatant attack on the poorest in our society. It states that the above people are ‘protected’. However it is unclear whether Bournemouth Borough Council are ‘exempting’ the above people or following government guidelines relating to Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs).

We are extremely concerned that DHP’s are made from a budget-limited, non ring fenced discretionary fund and often limited to just a few months to provide temporary help. We feel they are not a viable long-term solution as they fail to give people with disabilities the assurance that their housing needs are secure. DHPs will also be needed as a result of other aspects of welfare reform (such as the benefit cap and the changes to council tax benefit).

In the long term, it is likely there will be insufficient resources to help all disabled people who need to remain in their current home. We feel DHPs are not suitable to mitigate the effects of the policy on disabled people. Their discretionary nature means claimants cannot appeal against apparently unreasonable or irrational allocations.

More than three-quarters (77%) of people claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) choose to live in the social sector as it provides the additional space and security with many properties having been significantly adapted for their needs. The Government has exempted DLA recipients from the household benefit cap, ‘in recognition of the additional financial costs that can arise from disability and that disabled people will have less scope to alter their spending patterns or reduce their housing costs.’ However, the same principle has not been applied to DLA claimants who are expected to be hit by the Bedroom Tax.

Please could you provide clarification on the following:

Is Bournemouth Borough Council exempting all people stipulated in the Home News article from the ‘Bedroom Tax’?

Where it is determined that people are entitled to DHP, will funds be made available for all cases irrespective of whether the money allocated by central government is exhausted?

Will DLA income be taken into account when assessing a family’s income?

Where parents or guardians of children receiving DLA no longer live together, will both households will receive DHPs?

Thank-you for your time in considering these issues and we look forward to receiving your response.

Regards
Mike Cracknell
BPACC Chair
Bournemouth & Poole Anti Cuts Coalition

Bournemouth Council supporting the ‘sell off’ of public services

At a time when local authorities’ budgets are being savagely cut by central govt leading to the loss of public sector jobs and services; it seems reasonable to expect that our local councils would be doing everything in their power to use all their available resources to support and retain public services. However that does not seem to be the case with Bournemouth Borough Council.

An event is being advertised on the website of Business Events in Dorset under the heading “Winning Public Sector Business – an introduction to bid writing/tendering”. It has the full backing of the Bournemouth Borough Council and similar events have been held for several years which were presumably funded by them.

The half day free workshop session is aimed at small & medium sized enterprises “looking for any Public Sector Contract” and encourages them to “book NOW on a ‘Winning public sector business’ workshop so you can avoid the typical mistakes and pick up tips and best practice when completing a PQQ, ITT or tender document” to give them the best chance of winning. The workshop is described as a “mixture of presentation, case study, group work and most importantly for you working on a tender that you could bid for.”

Even if we put aside the fact it is highly questionable whether the council should be tendering out our public services to the highest bidder; what mandate do they have to use local taxpayer’s money to encourage and support businesses in that very act?

Locally Bournemouth Council is shedding hundreds of jobs through ‘efficiency savings’ – yes that means cuts – and many employees who were employed by the council are being transferred to private sector employers. This very often leads to the employees having to take a cut in pay, changes to shift allowances and lose out on annual leave and sick pay entitlement.

It could be said that the jury is out whether these private sector companies will provide the same level of service to the public. However, most will already have heard stories in the media where it is simply not the case and when a service is moved from the non-profit public sector to a profit making private company, it would seem blindingly obvious that the amount of money made available for the quality of the service offered will severely diminish.

It is also unclear whether services that were constantly audited within the public sector have these rigid checks maintained within the private sector; and it is also unclear who monitors the quality of services being offered. Private companies are also not liable to release information under Freedom of Information requests even though they are providing a public service. Added to this, there is the question of accountability whereby several changes of service providers may lead to any faults / complaints being passed between them whilst they argue who is liable to correct the situation.

Serious questions need to be asked of Bournemouth Borough Council why they make such radical decisions to not only sell off our public’s services but also pay for the training of private companies to assist them in ‘winning’ the contracts.<

The list of contact details for Bournemouth Councillors can be found by clicking here

Should Bournemouth Borough Council release more of its mountain of financial reserves?

Bournemouth Borough Council has announced that it will release £23M of its financial reserves to “safeguard services and invest in a variety of schemes” and also “lower council tax by 0.7 per cent to ensure residents will not have to pay any extra this year”. Only time will tell whether the funds being released will actually help the people who are directly suffering under the savage austerity measures being implemented by the government.

Of course any help that the council can offer to relieve the pressure being felt by hard pressed residents within our area is welcome. However, BPACC calls on the council to look at using the abundance of their reserves still left – around £70M – to plug the hole in government funding for charities and support groups, art and community services, road maintenance, subsidised bus routes and services, renovation of school buildings, legal aid, short break or respite care services, disability services such as mobility shops, stopping increases to car parking charges, social care / community transport etc etc etc….

The Council also needs to answer the question why council tax reserves were not made available for the many cuts we have already seen such as the closures of Darracott Day, Malvern, Horizons day care centres or staff cuts at Boscombe day care centre and more recently the proposed closure of Dorset Enterprise.

And lest we forget the cuts / freezes to the wages of many workers employed directly by the council. It can reasonably be argued that as Bournemouth Borough Council is a major employer in the town, cutting or freezing wages or giving below inflation pay increases will have a direct negative effect on the local economy simply because people will be forced to spend less of their earnings within the local community. On top of this, the council has chosen to make hundreds of their employees redundant which has the same effect to the local economy and additionally, due to the unemployment crisis, many of these people will now be in receipt of state benefits and of course no longer paying taxes. A double whammy false economy which although may have a short term positive effect on the council budget sheets, will have long term negative effects upon the local and national economy.

In April 2013, due to the Welfare Reform Act, people will see radical changes to some state benefits:

Bedroom Tax – anyone of working age in receipt of Housing Benefit (HB) who live in Council housing with “spare” bedrooms, will not receive HB for these rooms. This will mean these people will see their HB reduced as shown below and they will be expected to cover the shortfall in their rent out of their JSA – Jobseekers Allowance, ESA – Employment Support Allowance, Working Tax Credits or Child Tax Credits:

  • 14% reduction in Housing Benefit for under-occupancy by one bedroom
  • 25% reduction in Housing benefit for under-occupancy by two bedrooms or more

Council Tax Benefit (CTB) – the government has cut the funding to Local Authorities for the provision of CTB by 10%. It has been left entirely up to local Councils how they cover this budget cut. Bournemouth Council has decided that people of working age, except those on DLA – Disability Living Allowance and some Carers, who receive CTB will pay up 20% of their total bill.

Crisis / Social Fund Loans and Community Care Grants – the govt has localised these loans / grants and the decision making process of delivering them to some of the most vulnerable people in our community is being handed over to the Council. The funding Local Authorities receive from government will not be ring-fenced, nor will there be a ‘statutory duty’ on local authorities to provide a minimum level of service, nor will there be any ‘sanctions’ if a local authority uses the money to plough into other services. Due to cuts they have already faced, Council staff are already under severe workload pressure and it is highly debatable whether more staff will be employed, so it is very likely that this service will be outsourced. Most people are now becoming aware of the problems this can cause with likes of Mouchel, A4E, G4S, ATOS, Working Links who are happy to take taxpayers money but either unwilling or unable to provide sufficient quality of service or value for money. And as with many other things that are happening, if this service is outsourced, it can be legitimately viewed as back-door privatisation of Jobcentres.

Many local public services have already seen their funding from the Council cut and it will be difficult to gauge the effects of these cuts for several years. In most cases, thorough impact assessments have not taken place. As with most policies of this government a hurried swinging axe has fallen down without taking into account the long term hardship and misery it will cause members of our community and the effects it will have on the local / national economy. The govt has set the precedent and unfortunately most Councils are following suit in the way the cuts are being delivered. In most cases the cuts will not ‘help the economy’, in fact they will have the opposite effect and stifle growth causing the country’s economy to continue to flat-line and even that might be considered optimistic. Triple dip recession just around the corner?

It could be argued that the Council are caught between a rock and a hard place, as on the one hand they are having their funding cut by central government who conveniently devolve responsible to local authorities as to how the cuts are implemented and have also removed most of the ring-fencing of budgets which gives local authorities free reign regarding services they choose to cut. On the other hand, of course, the Council will not be able to please all the people all the time. However the question begs, how vociferously are our Councils relaying their frustration and anger about the savage nature of these cuts back to central govt or is it more the case that once you scratch the surface of any rhetoric of objection they are happy to go along with the tory ideology of systematically destroying the safety /support network of many within our community.

Over the last couple of years, prior to the Council announcing which services will be facing the axe, residents have been asked ‘which services would you like to see cut’. However at a time when they were sitting on around £100M of local taxpayers money (now £70M), perhaps the question the Council should have, and should now be asking, is ‘which services that have already faced budgets cut would you like to see have their funding re-instated’.

If you live within Bournemouth Borough and would like to raise any of these issues with your local Councillors, all wards and contact details are shown here. Remember Councillors are elected by you, to serve you; not to blindly follow the decisions or ideology of whichever politically party they have chosen to align themselves with.

Specific information about budgets (and funding cuts) allocated to individual organisations is difficult to come by; even via FOIs (Freedom of Information requests). If you are aware of charities or support groups whose budgets have been cut over the last 3 years, please email us at info@bpacc.co.uk and we will look into the matter further. All information received will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Sources for this post:
Bournemouth freezing council tax by releasing £23m of reserves – Bournemouth Echo
Local Cuts and Closures – BPACC
New council tax reduction scheme aims to protect Bournemouth’s most needy – Bournemouth Echo
Social Housing Size Restriction – Bournemouth Council
Local Council Tax Support Scheme FAQ – Bournemouth Council
Is this the end of the Social Fund in local communities? – Community Links

Bournemouth Council to increase social care charges

Plans to increase how much people pay per week for council funded adult social care have been approved at a Cabinet Meeting of Bournemouth Borough Council on 17th October. From April next year, 234 people will have to pay more for non-residential services such as day centre visits, transport and home visits and in some cases individuals will be paying over £200 each week. The breakdown of the 234 people affected is as follows:

  • 86 people will pay up to £30 per week more
  • 57 people will pay between £20-£49 per week more
  • 43 people will pay between £50-£99 per week more
  • 43 people will pay between £100-£199 per week more
  • Five people will pay more than £200 per week more

For more information why social care charges should be opposed, please visit our page “Time to end the older and disabled person’s poll tax: Stop charging for care services” and sign the e-petition – Service charges for social care to be abolished in England and Wales

Source: Bournemouth Echo: Hundreds in Bournemouth will lose out in adult social care benefits shake up