Council tax benefits shake-up
Last updated at 11:48, Thursday, 12 July 2012
COPELAND Council is having to find the money to fund council tax benefit for the borough’s neediest residents.
The government is changing the way the tax benefits are paid, leaving local authorities with less cash – and painful decisions.
Copeland is set to back the option of a new local support scheme designed to protect pensioners and the more vulnerable with money clawed back from owners of second homes and properties standing empty.
Otherwise it would have to design a different scheme passing a share of the extra costs directly on to claimants.
The Welfare Reform Act will abolish council tax benefit from April and replace it with a discount called Localised Support for Council Tax.
Copeland’s ruling Executive group of Labour councillors decided on Tuesday to opt for the discount scheme.
The reforms will leave local authorities with much less money to pay out in tax benefits. For Copeland Council this will add £140,000 a year to costs at a time when it has to save up to £2.5million over the next three years.
Copeland pays out £5.4 million in council tax benefits to nearly 7,000 claimants but under the present scheme it gets most of the money back from government.
Copeland’s proportion of elderly claimants is higher than the national average.
The Executive councillors were warned on Tuesday: “Not passing on the cost to existing claimants will mean the council will need to find savings from other areas to meet the cost.”
Coun Gillian Troughton (finances and resources) said: “These imposed changes have the potential to have a huge impact on Copeland residents, especially those who need support the most.
“We don’t think it’s fair to pass this on to people who might be struggling. Government hasn’t been transparent about the scale of the changes, its implications for residents and the very challenging timescales. Coming on top of drastic cuts to our funding, it means we have a number of hard choices to make about the services we provide for residents.
“We will work hard to ensure the new system we put in place is the fairest possible and doesn’t place undue difficulty on those in need of support.”
In Copeland, passing the burden on to working age claimants would see benefit drop on average from £795.46 to £649.39 – and if the funding cut turned out to be as high as 12.5 per cent then the impact would amount to 24.39 per cent.
If the recession worsens, the council would expect an increase in benefit claims along with other costs. But Copeland Council is mindful that most impact of trying to claw back the grant loss from claimants would fall on the poorest families as well as being against local anti-poverty and child poverty policies.
Copeland’s Labour group of councillors yesterday condemned the government’s plans to change the way the tax benefit is paid.
Spokesman Coun Karl Connor said: “The government is slashing benefits to the most vulnerable people and shamelessly trying to pass the blame on to local councils. These proposals mean there will be a cut in the amount of benefit available but, cleverly, government is leaving it to local authorities to determine who misses out or who has benefit reduced.
“There is a sting in the tail – as the number of people out of work and claiming benefit increases as it does during recession, the amount of money given to local authorities is frozen, meaning we have to share the pot among a bigger number of people.”
Tory group leader Coun David Moore said: “Government believes there are efficiency savings to be made in the way councils deliver the benefits service and are looking to councils to make a 10 per cent saving. I will be driving the council to make savings in its own administration but I also think it’s right that people who can afford second homes should be the first to be looked at to reclaim some of the extra costs. It is also right that the people in Copeland who most need council tax benefit continue to receive it.”
Copeland will have to consult with the county council and Cumbria Police Authority before introducing a localised scheme.
First published at 11:10, Thursday, 12 July 2012
Published by http://www.whitehavennews.co.uk
Have your say
Be Interested to know how many of our labour Exec benefit from this?
Wow. If you work, have a business, own property or generally pay taxes you are penalised. Is Copeland really, "open for business"? I think we have a bit too much government.
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