Which residents needed help and how much help they would be given was mostly left to the council to decide with a few exceptions:
1. The Government decided that no pensioner should lose out under these new schemes and issued regulations that kept pensioners entitlements to approximately the same levels of the old benefit scheme.
2. Councils had to consider whether any residents were vulnerable and whether their scheme provided an incentive to work, but they were not required by law to make any particular rules about those issues.
3. The amount of money the Government gave to councils to provide this help was around 10% lower than under the old benefit scheme meaning councils had to cut the amount of help they provided or finding the money for the scheme from elsewhere.
In many councils, including all of Wales and Scotland, the local scheme closely mirrored Council Tax Benefit and most people saw little change in the amount of Council Tax they had to pay. However, in around 80% of English councils the local scheme had new rules in place. These rules ranged from allowing people who are working to keep more of the money they earn, to increasing the amount of money that other adults in the home are expected to pay towards the council tax, to only paying support to those who had lived in the borough for a certain period of time.
The most common change was requiring everyone in the district to pay a proportion of their council tax, no matter what their income. This change was implemented by more two thirds of English local authorities. This ranged from some boroughs requiring everyone to pay at least 5% of their total council tax bill to others demanding at least 35%.
How things have changed in year two
Councils are required to review their local schemes every year. As long as they adequately consult their residents they can make as changes as they like each April. Pensioners’ entitlement is still protected by the Government and in Wales and Scotland there is still no change to the old scheme. In almost a third of English local authorities though, the scheme has been changed in its second year.
Of the approximately one in five councils that previously protected their residents from the cut in funding only one in seven do now. Most councils that changed their schemes in the second year have increased the amount that their residents have to pay. However, a very small minority have rolled back some of the cuts they previously put in place with more generous schemes than the first year.
What we can see from the developing schemes is that they are becoming more varied and more local. Councils are refining the scheme in their area, looking at the schemes put in place by their neighbours and others but adjusting new ideas to fit the needs of their residents and their own finances. Some councils are starting to develop radical ideas that reject the old system entirely, creating new local schemes from scratch rather than tinkering with the rules as they have stood for years.
What this shows is that, as councils settle into their new role as scheme designers, rather than simply administrators, they are growing more bold and decisive. Next year we may see more radical changes than we have seen yet which will affect local people in greater numbers.
To see how the changes council in your area has made affect you go to our benefit calculator and put in your post code or select your council. We cover all but 16 schemes in our calculator at www.entitledto.co.uk/benefits-calculator