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Tag Archives: Local authorities

Bedroom tax circular HB U7/2013: Duncan Smith’s vindictive, money-wasting ploy

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Could the bedroom tax saga get more bizarre? Try this: The Government has issued a circular asking (or demanding, in somewhat hysterical terms) that local authorities “urgently” set aside any other priorities and send details of bedroom tax tribunal decisions to Iain Duncan Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions.

The strong implication is that Duncan Smith now has at his disposal a crack team of top government lawyers ready to swoop whenever judges come up with the wrong decisions on these cases – ie those allowing people to stay in their homes without benefit cuts for “spare bedrooms”.

The document, HB U7/2013, says:

“The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) may opt to join an appeal or in some cases will take appeals forward where LAs [Local Authorities] have chosen not to do this … LAs are therefore asked to notify DWP of all FtT [First-tier Tribunal] decisions relating to this subject regardless of whether the decision is overturned or whether you intend to appeal adverse decisions.”

This highlights a rather tricky legal issue for Duncan Smith – that nobody has any interest in the success of his mad policy except him. As the circular (order? demand?) notes, if the First-tier Tribunal hearing a bedroom tax case finds for the tenant “generally local authorities initiate appeals to the Upper Tribunal in HB cases”.

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General Powers and Super Pickles: the new local heroes

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So, what is the “general power of competence” that, at the sweep of a minister’s pen, can banish the courts from interfering with local authority affairs and bring religious harmony to our land? UK Communities Secretary Eric Pickles brandished his pen to sign into law ahead of schedule provisions of the Localism Act 2011 to deal with the Bideford Town Council prayers row. They give councils in England “general powers of competence”, powers that allow them “the same power to act that an individual generally has”. The idea is to free them to offer services in innovative ways. But Pickles has a wider agenda: to keep “unaccountable judges” out of politics.

Hitherto local authority powers have been constrained by Acts of Parliament – they could do what was laid out in those Acts (particularly the Local Government Act 1972) and no more.

As a result, according to a Communities Department introduction to the new Act: “Sometimes councils are wary of doing something new – even if they think it might be a good idea – because they are not sure whether they are allowed to in law, and are concerned about the possibility of being challenged in the courts.The Government has turned this assumption upside down. Instead of being able to act only where the law says they can, local authorities will be freed to do anything – provided they do not break other laws.”

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