Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Cuts to Sports and Leisure Discounts - Confusion Reigns

Cllr Trimble has delivered a portfolio holder decision to reduce the range of concessions available for use of the City's sports and leisure facilities. Unfortunately, it's a case study of what happens if you don't get someone who knows what they're talking about in to help.

According to the decision and its accompanying report the following city residents could get a 50% discount under the old scheme-

Over 60 or under 16
In receipt of Jobseekers Allowance
in receipt of Working Tax Credit, Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit
In receipt of Income Support
In receipt of 'disability allowance'

Already this differs to what is said on the website because that includes students and also includes Disability Living Allowance, Severe Disablement Allowance (an obsolete benefit almost entirely phased out) and Incapacity Benefit. There is actually no such benefit as 'disability allowance' and Incapacity Benefit is being phased out in favour of Employment Support Allowance, which isn't mentioned.  The website also makes clear that only the Income Based version of JSA counts and not the National Insurance based version which isn't means tested. So it's already a bit mixed up.

The proposed new rules, which council officials will no doubt be told MUST be followed strictly and to the letter in these 'difficult times', say the following city residents are entitled to concessions -

Those who have reached pension age or aged under 17
In receipt of Jobseekers Allowance
In receipt of 'disability allowance' or 'registered disabled' depending on which part of the decision you look at

Now as we've already said, 'disability allowance' doesn't exist so we have no way of knowing whether this includes people getting DLA, Incapacity Benefit, Employment Support Allowance or whatever. And there's no such thing as being 'registered disabled' anymore. Just to make things even more confusing there is also a benefit called Disablement Benefit in the Industrial Injuries scheme, is that included too? This might sound pedantic but you wait until you try and get your concessionary pass and they won't give it to you because you're on ESA. And if the policy intention is in fact to exclude ESA or other illness/disability related benefits then there is a real possibility of a disability discrimination case.

Also, the decision doesn't specify whether all JSA claimants are entitled to concessions. I suspect that the intention is that only Income Based claimants are like the previous scheme, I only hope that someone decides to make that clear. Otherwise, while you're stood there fuming because the council officer won't accept that your ESA is the same as a 'disability allowance', the millionaire's wife who has just been made redundant will be waltzing past you for her half price go in the sauna.

Interestingly they have appended an Equality Impact Assessment to the decision. It says that there is absolutely no gender discrimination in the new concessionary scheme, clearly failing to realise that men and women still retire at different ages for the time being. Therefore tying the concessions scheme to reaching pension age will be potentially discriminatory for the next 8 years.

What's more, the decision may not be constitutional. According to NCC's constitution (see p22), a decision is a 'key decision' if it will cost more than £500k in revenue and/or will affect two or more wards in the city. I put and/or because the constitution doesn't specify which it is. If it's 'or' then this change will be a key decision and should only be made by the executive board. If it's 'and' then, presumably, as long as the effect of the decision is restricted to a single ward there's no financial limit to a portfolio decision. To be honest this lack of clarity pops up fairly regularly and I suspect it suits certain people to look the other way.

I'd always presumed that it was an either/or situation i.e. if either the financial limit or the two or more wards condition applied then it was a key decision. If that's right then this change to the concessions scheme should have been put before the Executive Board.

So, all in all, this one's a bit of a dog's dinner. We sort of know that there are cuts but we have no real idea who is to be affected. Really the decision should be subject to call-in to get it clarified but I doubt anybody will bother. After all, what's a bit of sex and potential disability discrimination among friends?

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