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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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Cllr Beynon suspended as school governor at Pembroke’s Ysgol Harri Tudur

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL said that they are unable to comment on the suspension of a Pembroke Dock councillor as a school governor.

Cllr Beynon confirmed that he has been suspended as a school governor at Pembroke’s Ysgol Harri Tudur.

“I’m looking forward until when the ombudsman throws out the complaints,” Cllr Beynon said.

Paul Dowson, a fellow Pembroke Dock councillor, recently resigned from the board of school governors of Ysgol Harri Tudur.

Cllr Dowson said after he resigned: “I feel a recent smear campaign reflects badly on the school even though its untrue.”

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Pembrokeshire man admits catalogue of sexual offences against children

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A HAVERFORDWEST man has pleaded guilty to a huge catalogue of sexual offences against children, including possession of more than 9,000 indecent images.

Kevin David John has admitted 20 offences in total – including the rape of a girl under 16 – following a three-month investigation by Dyfed-Powys Police.

The 49-year-old, who appeared at Swansea Crown Court on June 23, came to police attention in April when he was arrested and a search carried out at his Prendergast home.

In total 111 different storage devices were seized – including tablets, laptops and mobile phones – along with almost 1,000 disks.

Specialist officers spent hours combing through huge amounts of data, uncovering substantial evidence of further offending, and John was charged and remanded into custody.

John initially appeared at Swansea Magistrates Court on April 24 where he pleaded guilty to five counts: recording a person doing a private act, sexual assault, causing a girl under 16 to engage in sexual activity, and two of taking an indecent photograph of a child.

He later admitted a further 15, which comprised sexual assault, sexual assault by touching, four sexual assaults of a child, rape, possession of Category A, B and C indecent photographs, making Category A, B and C pseudo-photographs of a child, possession of a prohibited image of a child, and possession of extreme pornographic images.

Detective Inspector Richard Lewis said: “This has been a detailed and harrowing investigation from the outset, involving a number of vulnerable victims and witnesses.

“Their courage in speaking out has been humbling, and the information they shared with us was invaluable in getting John to court,” he said.

Darren Mutter, Head of Children’s Services at Pembrokeshire County Council, said the council’s social services department had also worked closely with police to support the victims and their families, and ensure all safeguarding was addressed.

Added DI Lewis: “Police officers throughout Pembrokeshire played a role in this enquiry, and I would like to convey my sincere thanks to all staff involved for their professionalism and dedication in what has been a challenging and sensitive enquiry.

“Thanks also to Dyfed-Powys Police’s digital cybercrime unit, whose rigorous interrogation of a mammoth amount of potential evidence enabled us to build a robust case that demonstrated the severity of John’s offending.”

John will appear for sentencing at Swansea Crown Court on July 17.

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Jail for sleight of hand fraudster

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A MAN has been jailed for four fraud offences after purposely confusing post office and bank staff with sleight of hand techniques.

Costel Ventel visited four post offices and a bank in Pembrokeshire in one day, tricking staff into handing over a total of £930.

Just hours later, the 20-year-old from Birmingham was reported to Dyfed-Powys Police for trying to use the same technique in Llanelli.

PC Olivia Jones said: “We were called to post offices in Tenby, Saundersfoot and Kilgetty, as well as HSBC in Tenby, on May 17, 2019, where Ventel had committed or attempted to commit fraud.

“He’d asked staff to exchange bank notes, then purposely confused them by using sleight of hand techniques. Ventel passed notes back and fore, managing to pocket £450 from one and £480 from another without the member of staff noticing.

“We believed he had travelled from Birmingham for the purpose of carrying out these acts of fraud, and enquiries immediately started to locate him.”

Later that day, Ventel travelled to Llanelli, where he tried to commit further offences at HSBC.

PC Jones said: “Thankfully, staff at the bank were alerted to their unusual behaviour and recognised them from descriptions circulated following the incident at the Tenby branch, and called police.

“Both men were arrested on suspicion of fraud offences.”

Initially Ventel was released under investigation, but following extensive enquiries over a number of months, four charges of fraud by false representations were secured against him.

He was summonsed to appear at court June 30, where he was sentenced to 24 weeks in prison.

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