For many people in Wales struggling to pay their council tax, the announcement that council tax benefits will be paid beyond the 2016 assembly election will be very welcome news indeed.
This commitment from the Welsh Assembly is an acknowledgement of the difficulties that many in poorer households are facing when it comes to meeting council tax repayments and a sign of their continued support.
Council tax benefit was devolved to Wales two years ago but it was accompanied by a budget cut of £22 million, which shrouded its future in uncertainty.
In 2012, ministers initially felt they would not be able to bridge such a costly gap and plans were approved for new rules regarding the benefit.
However, a month later the decision was reversed and more than 300,000 households still got their benefits as a result.
After being extended to cover the 2014-15 financial year, Welsh ministers have now confirmed that the benefit, now called council tax support, would continue in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Local Government Minister Lesley Griffiths said: “Whilst the Welsh government has provided an additional £22m to fund the scheme in 2013-14 and 2014-15, it has protected around 320,000 households across Wales.
“I am pleased it will continue for at least two more years. This will help to offset some of the impacts of welfare reform in Wales.
Minister Griffiths contrasted this with the situation in England, where she claims the abolition of council tax benefit has left over two million low-income households paying more of their council tax bill.
Opposition parties have welcomed the move to extend support in Wales, but they were quick to qualify their praise with an assertion that a longer-term solution was required.
Liberal Democrat spokesman said of the arrangement: “With the amount to be spent on council tax support projected to increase dramatically under this system, it’s crucial that we plan for the future and create a long-term solution.”
This is a view that is shared by Plaid Cymru, with spokesman Rhodri Glyn Thomas saying: “Having lead the campaign on council tax support, Plaid Cymru will continue to work with the government to introduce a long-term support package for Wales’ most vulnerable residents so that those residents don’t have to go from year to year wondering whether or not they’ll get the financial lifeline they need.
If you are struggling to pay your council tax arrears or feel you may be entitled to a reduction in your bill, contact Council Tax Advisors for free, independent advice.