Benefit cap exceptions being considered, minister says
George Osborne's plan to put an upper limit on the amount of benefits families can claim in a year will not apply to all, a minister has indicated.
When he announced the £26,000 cap last year, the chancellor said it would cover all households "unless they have disabilities to cope with".
But welfare reform minister Lord Freud told the BBC the government was looking at other "protections" for people in "exceptional circumstances".
No 10 said the policy was unchanged.
About 50,000 families were expected to be affected by the cap, planned for 2013, and were likely to lose an average of £93 a week.
At the 2010 Conservative Party conference, Mr Osborne told delegates that "no family should get more from living on benefits than the average family gets from going out to work".
The government said the cap would apply to the total received from jobseekers' allowance, income support, employment support allowance, housing benefit, council tax benefit, child benefit and child tax credit, as well as carer's allowance and industrial injuries disablement benefit.
But Mr Osborne said all households with a disability living allowance claimant would be exempt.
A number of charities criticised the plan, as did London Mayor Boris Johnson, who warned it could lead to the "Kosovo-style social cleansing" by forcing poorer families out of the capital.
Speaking to the BBC's Politics Show on Sunday, Conservative peer Lord Freud indicated that the government was investigating ways of reducing the impact of the policy on certain families.
"We have got quite a lot of protections in this cap," he said.
"Firstly of course, if you are in work, you are not affected. Secondly if you're a disabled person or there's a disabled person in the household, you're not affected. If you're a war widow or a widower, you're not affected.
"We're also looking currently at exceptional circumstances which some people may find themselves in and we're going to be putting out arrangements for that later in the year."
Asked what form the arrangements could take, Lord Freud replied: "Wherever we think that there's something happening that is undesirable and we're looking very carefully at how to draw up those protections."
The government insisted the cap would encourage "responsibility" about the number of children people choose to have, but a number of Liberal Democrats were known to oppose the policy.
Jenny Willott, co-chair of the Lib Dem backbench committee on welfare reform, told the BBC: "We do need to make sure that those larger families where there are exceptional circumstances, they get the benefits that they need, rather than it being capped too low so they don't have enough to be able to pay for the daily costs of living, or even to pay the costs of their housing."
The Centre for Social Justice, a think tank set up by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, has also criticised the cap, warning that it could bring hardship to families.
But asked about a possible watering down, Mr Duncan Smith said: "The policy is unchanged. The £26,000 benefits cap remains."
He added: "The benefit cap will restore fairness to the taxpayer and fairness to those who do the right thing on benefits."
Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said there were "some exceptions" to the cap, namely households receiving working tax credit or those on disability living allowance.
"But that is in the proposals as published and already being discussed by the Commons," he said. "There is no change to the policy. We have got no plans to change the policy."
He also said there were no plans to add exemptions for groups such as families in expensive accommodation in London, or families with large numbers of children.