Pilots airborne

The government has not run out of steam as far as welfare reform is concerned. It can be hard to keep track of what is happening and where, especially as there is often very little local consultation when pilot schemes are introduced.

One change where consultation has had to take place is in the introduction of local housing allowances (LHAs) to replace housing benefit.

LHAs will be introduced in Blackpool on 17 November, followed by Lewisham (December), Coventry and Teignbridge (January 2004), and Brighton, Edinburgh, North East Lincolnshire, Conwy and Leeds (February 2004). LHAs will only apply to private sector rents during these pilots.

Other pilots currently under way include a return to work credit (RTWC). This was introduced as part of the incapacity benefit reforms in three pilot districts from 27 October 2003.

These districts are Derbyshire; Bridgend and Rhondda Cynon Taf; and the area of Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, Argyll and Bute. From 5 April 2004, the pilot will be extended to Essex, Somerset, East Lancashire, Gateshead and South Tyneside.

RTWC will be available to claimants in the pilot areas who have been getting a disability-related benefit such as incapacity benefit or income support because of ill-health for 13 weeks or more.

It is a non-taxable payment of £40 a week, payable for a maximum of 52 weeks, to people who return to work after a period off sick.

To get it, the claimant must be starting a job or be self-employed for 16 hours or more a week, and expect it to last at least five weeks.

The expected earnings must not exceed £15,000 and applications must be made within five weeks of starting work.

RTWC will not be treated as income for working tax credit, housing benefit, council tax benefit, income support, jobseeker’s allowance (income based) and carer’s allowance purposes. Some lone parents will also be getting extra cash in other pilot areas.

Already under way nationally is the Care to Learn scheme, which helps to fund child care for young parents in learning or training. From 1 August 2003 to 31 July 2004, it will support young parents who are:

  • 16-19 years of age.
  • A continuing student in school sixth form or sixth form college or who started learning after 1 August 2003.
  • New students attending further education college.
  • Work-based learning trainees with non-employed status (E2E, MA, NVQs).

Care to Learn will fund up to £5,000 per child per year for registered child care (including during private study time). This funding support will be extended further and from 1 August 2004 to 31 July 2005, a universal scheme will operate to include all young parents under 19 years.

There will be four pilot areas operating this universal scheme during 2003-4: Lambeth, Brighton and Hove, North East Lincolnshire and Rotherham.

– For further information, visit www.dfes.gov.uk/caretolearn or call the helpline numbers: for providers and advisers, 0161 234 7269; for young parents, 0845 600 2809

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a question to be answered, please write to him c/o Community Care.

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