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Council U-Turn on ‘Bedroom Tax’ policy

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Bedroom-Tax-WheelchairThe Herald has learnt that a high profile local and televised case has led to a change of heart in how Pembrokeshire County Council applies the Government’s policy on the Spare Room Subsidy, often referred to as the‘Bedroom Tax’.

The controversial policy was at the centre of Westminster politics this week when David Cameron was challenged, during Prime Minister’s Questions, in Parliament, by Labour MP Jim Cook to justify his position for what Mr Cook saw as ‘a policy that punishes the poor’. To which, The Prime Minister responded by stating that the policy is designed to apply the same rules to both the private and public sector housing markets alike. Mr Cameron also challenged Labour to state whether they would reverse the Coalition policy or not, to which he received no response.

The Spare Room Subsidy was introduced on April 1 of this year by the UK Government. principally, because they claim there are nearly one million spare bedrooms in the UK, with an estimated cost to the tax payer of up to half a billion pounds a year. Simon Hart, MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire told The Herald that,

“To ensure we protect those affected, we have trebled the Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). We have allocated £25 million to support disabled people living in heavily adapted accommodation”.

In the Welsh Assembly this week, Rebecca Evans AM, and member of the Health and Social Care Committee, commented on the policy, claiming that the Labour Welsh Government were ‘making efforts to mitigate the effects of the Bedroom Tax’. In a press release dated September 3, of the UK Government, she stated that,

“Amazingly, despite admitting that the Bedroom Tax could have a disproportionate effect on rural communities, the UK Government didn’t undertake a specific rural impact assessment to fully investigate the problems it may pose. It seems they are quite comfortable with pushing forward with metropolitan policies that have a harsh effect on rural communities”

Welsh Finance Minister, Jane Hutt, visited housing developments in both Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock and said that,

“We are determined to do all that we can to help mitigate against the UK Government welfare reforms. That’s why we’ve allocated £20 million to provide much needed one and two bedroom homes across Wales.”

However, one Pembrokeshire resident directly affected by this policy, whose story was featured on Channel 4 news this past week, does not feel the application of this tax is being applied in a fair and even handed way. Paul Rutherford, of Haverfordwest, spoke directly with The Herald to explain his experience.

“Our bungalow was purpose built and allocated to my wife and her grandson due to the profound nature of his disabilities and care requirements. It was built with various adaptations. We first became unsure if we would, in fact, be affected or not after I read the legislation in January of this year. There, it states that an exemption will be made for any household in which the claimant or the claimant’s partner requires an extra bedroom for an overnight carer who does not normally reside at the address.”

In correspondence with The Herald, Simon Hart MP re-iterated this aspect of policy.

Mr Rutherford, continued to explain that the spare bedroom for which the tax would be liable was occupied at least two to three nights a week by a non resident carer. Initially, he said that the Council had advised him to put in a claim for a Discretionary Housing Payment. After many problems with form filling and financial assessment, he went on to say that the Council had advised him that he was not eligible for a DHP and could therefore afford to pay the additional 14% of his rent. Eventually, however, he said that the Council agreed to award the DHP but informed Pembrokeshire County Council that, in fact, he was appealing against the original decision to have their housing benefit cut, as required by the Spare Room Subsidy policy. He stated that his concern was that this was merely a short term funding plan and that the real issue was that of the housing benefit cut itself. Mr Rutherford explained that he would be taking legal action saying that,

“This tax is pernicious. Of the 660,000 households said to be affected, almost two thirds contain disabled people, like us, who need the space in their homes to have carers stay overnight or for equipment storage. We will fight this all the way and we would have expected more support from Pembrokeshire County Council, but they don’t actually care.”

The Herald contacted County Councillor David Simpson, Cabinet Spokesperson for Housing, regarding Mr Rutherford’s case, who, speaking exclusively to The Herald, said,

“We will be reviewing the policy at Cabinet on Monday, which will stop him (Mr Rutherford)  from having to pay.”

When asked why the County Council had not applied the discretion for disabled tenants as per Government policy, Mr Simpson said of this apparent U-turn in Council policy towards implementing the Spare Room Subsidy,

“In the original assessment it was not felt they (Mr Rutherford and his wife) were in dire need. This is the Government’s fault. It is a policy imposed upon councils and has put all councils in a very difficult position. I heard about it (Mr Rutherford’s case) and acted as quickly as I could.”

On the actual figure of those affected in Pembrokeshire, and the claim by the Labour Welsh Government that only fourteen one bedroom properties were currently available, he went on to say that,

“The County Council currently has 947 one bedroom, or smaller, properties. The fourteen figure quoted relates to the number of one bedroom, or smaller, properties available at a point in time in August – this will change over time. Since April 1st there have been a total of fifty-seven one bedroom properties that have become available. “

Paul Davies, Am for Preseli Pembrokeshire, speaking with The Herald, said of the policy,

“Welfare bills, including housing benefit, spiralled out of control under the last Labour Government, costing over £100 billion every year, paid for with the taxes of hardworking people. I am surprised that Labour politicians continue to support the reckless sort of spending which got this country into the economic mess in the first place. Most families in Wales have to pay extra in rent or mortgage payments if they want to have a guest bedroom so why should it be any different for people on housing benefit?”

This was a sentiment echoed by Simon Hart MP who said that the policy aimed to make better use of housing stock, support those in overcrowded accommodation and on waiting lists, encourage mobility within the social rented sector, and strengthen work incentives.

He finished by stating that,

“The Spare Room Subsidy is not a penalty and it is not a tax. It is a reduction in housing benefit for those who are being subsidised for spare bedrooms. This policy is founded on the principles of fairness; fairness to those in overcrowded homes, fairness to those in the private sector and fairness to the taxpayer”.

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Simon’s Hart to Hart with Pembroke constituent

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SIMON HART has got into a heated doorstep discussion with a Pembroke pensioner whilst canvasing for next week’s general election.

Michael Hart, 70, who is no relation to Simon Hart, contacted The Herald at lunchtime today (5 December) to say that he had been in a heated discussion with the Tory incumbent, who was out door-knocking on his street.

The argument was sparked by the swastika saga – as exclusively reported in last week’s Herald – in which Simon Hart REFUSES to account for the appearance of offensive Nazi graffiti on one of his election placards, two years after it was taken down from public display.

Simon Hart photographed the placard in question in 2017 – at which point the only evidence of graffiti it bore was written text. But he posted a new photograph of the same placard to kickstart his re-election campaign last month, in which two swastikas are visible where none appeared before.

The MP is still refusing to give any public explanation, and has threatened legal action against those speculating over what he says is “demonstrably untrue.”
Since being reported by his favourite local weekly, Michael Hart tells us that he noticed how Simon Hart was still keeping quiet on the swastikas’ appearance – despite being approached by journalists reporting on the matter for the Independent, Daily Mirror, iNews and Western Mail titles.

Earlier this week WalesOnline reported that, when approached, Simon Hart failed to offer “an explanation as to how the swastika signs ended up on the election board, or who might be responsible”, but he told them: “Any suggestion that I had anything to do with this is malicious, false and defamatory and lawyers have been instructed”.

Michael Hart tells the Herald that he became aware Simon Hart was out campaigning on Kingsbridge Drive at lunchtime, when the candidate’s poster landed on his doormat.

The retiree says that the swastika issue led to the disagreement – in which words were exchanged and threats of legal action were inferred made towards him by the government minister.

Michael Hart, a retired teacher and mechanical engineer, said that he tackled Simon Hart to explain how the swastikas came about. He says his prodding produced what he calls a “tentative explanation” from the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire incumbent, which he finds “hard to believe”.

“I opened my door and went out to the drive, and politely said I did not want the poster. A few moments later, Simon Hart came up the road and onto my drive.

“I complained to him about two things – the Conservatives’ illegal proroguing of Parliament, and all that I’ve read about his publishing of the photo on his Facebook page of his defaced election board with the swastikas on.

“When I asked him about the signs, he got agitated, angry, and threatened me with legal action, and said he would pursue anybody who made out that he had anything to do with it”.

“On pushing him further, he told me how he thinks they got there. He says when his signs were in storage in a shed, that the shed was broken into, and a large number of placards including the swastika placard were ‘damaged or defaced’ for a second time!

“It really is quite some theory – and if it is true now, then it was true last week when the issue was first exposed. So why didn’t he mention this before now, when the Herald and other papers started asking him questions, or why didn’t he contact the police?

“Why was it when he put the poster on Facebook did he not then explain how the swastikas got there?

“I’m not sure why but he was recording our conversation on his phone. At the end of the visit no one from Mr Hart’s party would accept the poster back – so I threw it in the road and then it was picked up.”

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Jeremy Corbyn 100% confirmed to visit Pembrokeshire this weekend

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LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn will be visiting Pembrokeshire this weekend to shore up support for Labour candidates in the area.

Although the exact itinerary has not yet been confirmed, Labour HQ in Cardiff has confirmed to The Pembrokeshire Herald that Mr Corbyn will definitely be in attendance.

Mr Corbyn will be keen to rally votes for Philippa Thompson, who is standing in the Preseli Pembrokeshire seat – the second most marginal in the UK.

At the 2017 election she lost to Stephen Crabb by just 314 votes.

An email sent out to Labour members states: “Jeremy Corbyn will be in Haverfordwest to talk about how we win a better society, and we hope you can join him.

“This election is a once in a generation chance for us. Together we can reverse a decade of austerity. Take power from the billionaires, the bad bosses and the big polluters and give it to workers, young people, communities and everyone the Tories have failed for so long.

“We’re coming together to make our voices heard in Haverfordwest this weekend. This is about getting together, being inspired, and making a difference in the final week.”

The exact location will be sent out to those who register to attend, the email ads. The indoor rally is expected to start at 5.30pm.

Corbyn’s supporters said they hope that their leader will also attend an outdoor rally taking place in Haverfordwest town centre, at a location to be confirmed, the same afternoon.

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Haverfordwest boy caught taking drugs by officers thirty miles away

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A TEENAGE boy was arrested in Haverfordwest last week, after he was caught smoking cannabis on CCTV cameras which are monitored in Carmarthen (on Nov 28).

As part of the ongoing effort to crack down on anti-social behaviour in the town centre, known as Operation Spitfire, Haverfordwest Inspector, Reuben Palin, was at police headquarters, where the cameras are monitored, when he spotted the boy on-screen.

He saw a group of teenagers known to police, and the camera operator was able to zoom in for a closer look at their activities. After a call to local officers, they quickly arrived at the scene. The group was searched and one of the youths was arrested for possessing the class B drug.

Insp. Palin said: “We’re doing all we can to address community concerns about anti-social behaviour in Haverfordwest, and this includes putting the town’s new CCTV system to best use.

“Seeing the capability of the cameras in live-time has shown that CCTV is not just useful when an incident has occurred, but can also help us monitor what’s happening in town, and will hopefully deter bad behaviour.

“Obviously this can’t replace good old fashioned foot patrols, and we have a plan that sees CCTV complementing a visible police presence.”

The teenage boy arrested on suspicion of possessing the small amount of cannabis admitted the offence, and will be dealt with by the Youth Offending Team to ensure he gets support for his drug use.

He continued: “We are also working with other agencies, in particular the council, which has recently opened a drop-in centre for young people at No 2 Old Bridge, with the aim of offering a wide range of activities and opportunities that reflect their interests.

“While we have a strategy to minimise anti-social behaviour in this area, we would like to remind parents that the actions of their children are not the responsibility of the police. We urge you to be aware of what your children are doing, and where they are spending their time.

“No one should have to put up with anti-social behaviour and I would encourage the community to contact Haverfordwest Police to report any issues or concerns.”

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