Benefits payments scheme to be axed
A SCHEME giving deprived Huntingdonshire people almost £1.5million over the past two years is set to be ditched by Cambridgeshire County Council. The scheme, run by the county s Citizens Advice Bureaux, was costing the council about £270,000 a year. It im
A SCHEME giving deprived Huntingdonshire people almost £1.5million over the past two years is set to be ditched by Cambridgeshire County Council.
The scheme, run by the county's Citizens Advice Bureaux, was costing the council about £270,000 a year. It improved the take-up of benefits to which people in the county were entitled but not claiming.
The attraction to the county council was that, because part of its central government grant was based on the number of benefit claimants, the council received more money from Whitehall than it paid the CAB to run the scheme.
But, with changes to the funding rules, the benefit to CCC has diminished and it has decided to withdraw funding from October.
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The decision to axe funding was taken last week - on the very day the Joseph Rowntree Trust published a report showing that the gap between the richest and poorest in society was getting wider.
"The scheme has been amazingly successful, with 752 people in Hunt-ingdonshire being enabled to claim what they are entitled to and benefiting by an average of £38 per week," Liberal Democrat county councillor for Brampton, Peter Downes, said.
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"The cost of the project to local taxpayers was 10p per month for a Band D household. The beneficiaries are the most vulnerable people in our society and to axe this on the very day when the Rowntree Foundation produced statistics about the growing gap between wealthy and poor seems perverse."
Across the whole county, the scheme yielded £7million in additional benefit claims over the first two years.
Cllr Fred Yeulett, the county's cabinet member responsible for the decision, said: "It was a win-win situation. People made claims they were entitled to and it also helped increase the grant the council got from central government.
"But the Government has changed the way funding is worked out and we are no longer getting any tangible benefit. We still fund the CAB through the trading standards and mental health budgets."
Cllr Yeulett said people would still have access to benefits information through the Department for Work and Pensions and the council's village benefit team.
"We feel a duty to the most disadvantaged people in the county, but the money will be spent on other things," he added.
Cllr Downes said he thought a lot of other local authorities had now "cottoned on" to the potential for such a scheme, diluting the benefit to Cambridgeshire.
"It was very much an outreach activity for CAB, and its effect has been phenomenal. Although the county might not have got back as much money as it put in if it had extended funding for another two years, it's still massively cost-effective as far as the people are concerned.