Sunday 28 November 2010

Housing benefit changes to be delayed ... to after May's local elections

The Sunday Mirror and Sunday Telegraph report a small concession to Coalition Liberal Democrats - with the news that Iain Duncan Smith is to this week announce a delay by nine months the implementation of cuts in housing benefit for current recipients, from April 2011 to January 2012.

The policy goal behind the rethink would appear to be ensuring that those who do have to leave their homes should have enough time to do so after the May 2011 local elections, rather than just before them.

This should protect one of society's most vulnerable groups: Liberal Democrat councillors seeking re-election next May.

It is now felt in the higher echelons of government that the earlier date could have appeared rather unfortunate, not only for those directly affected by the policy, but also for local councillors who would be seeking votes just a few weeks later. This coincidence of interests has led the government to now see considerably more merit in a "more sensitive" approach to those affected by the policy. Government insiders told the Sunday Telegraph that there were many advantages for the families affected if they were to be given more time than initially proposed.

As The Telegraph reports:

A senior government insider said: "This will give families more time to make their arrangements. If they have children at schools in the local area, for example, they will have more time to find another school. It will also give councils more time to look for accommodation for the families they have to move."


It is understood senior Liberal Democrat members of the Coalition demanded the concessions to avoid the possibility of protests next April, which could have fuelled a damaging political row just before the May local elections


The decision to stagger the changes reflects a growing realisation by ministers that Labour could exploit the changes to attack Tory and Lib Dem councillors in local elections next year.

There is no report as yet of Boris Johnson suggesting a further "London transition period" though a Mayor seeking re-election in May 2012 might well think that the new timing remains somewhat inconvenient from his parochial perspective.

But I wonder whether the Mayor might find a sympathetic ear from Tory colleagues were he to suggest that June or September 2012 could be adopted, so that the capital could learn from experience elsewhere in how to manage the housing transition smoothly, with the side-benefit of increasing hopes of avoiding a political transition in City Hall too.

The Mirror report says that the new rules for new claims - including the 30th percentile limit - will come in earlier than planned, in April 2011 rather than October. That will enable some earlier savings in this less electorally sensitive area, so helping to offset some of the costs of the delay caused by the commendable desire to be more sensitive to the impact on current claimants.

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