Views sought on new Council Tax Support
3 August 2012
Residents are being asked to give their backing to proposals that will see a cut in the amount of Council Tax benefit available to people of working age and also see owners of empty or second homes pay more.
Along with all other district and unitary councils, Suffolk Coastal is preparing to take over from the Government the complete control of the benefits paid to those who cannot afford to pay their full Council Tax bill. The scheme will now be replaced by a new system of Localised Council Tax Support.
“The Government has always set the rules for Council Tax Benefits (CTB), and fully met its cost, but from April 2013 all the responsibility will be transferred to local councils, but with only a maximum of 90 per cent of its current funding,” said Cllr Ray Herring, Leader of Suffolk Coastal.
“This means that we can now make local decisions about how we operate the new Council Tax Support scheme and our immediate goal is to fill the large funding gap of over £700,000 in our district alone.
“We think that is only fair with these tough financial times that we end the 10 per cent discount for the owners of second homes and reduce or remove the 100 per cent discount for empty homes. We also intend to make those of working age who currently receive CTB pay a small part of their bill, whether they have a job or not,” added Cllr Herring.
Low income pensioners who currently receive CTB will not be affected by the change as they will continue to get the same level of support to which they are currently entitled, which means the majority of people will notice no change.
The Council has reviewed all the possible options to bridge the loss of funding. Its ongoing need to make savings has seen a review of all its services, and there is not the scope to meet the additional up to £100,000 cost to Suffolk Coastal alone of not changing the current rules.
The funding gap also impacts the other bodies that rely on Council Tax, with the police facing a similar shortfall in this district and the County Council seeing a £500,000 gap in Suffolk Coastal alone or nearly £6 million across all of Suffolk.
“An alternative would be to increase the level of Council Tax to everyone but we know our residents want their bills, particularly in these tough times, kept as low as possible so that is not a realistic option.
“Would it be right to put the full burden onto claimants? They would be faced with having to pay a quarter of their bill, £350 on a Band D home, which would cause severe hardship and increased arrears.
“We are looking to strike the right local balance. Making those of a working age pay something towards their Council Tax would meet the Government’s desire to incentivise the unemployed, and to make it more financially attractive to work rather than remain reliant on benefits,” added Cllr Herring.
The proposals for Suffolk Coastal are the same as those in Waveney and across the rest of the county. A consultation is underway from today asking for support for the approach and for people to rank the four preferred options that would bridge the funding gap.
Those options are to reduce the support to those who are of working age and are currently receiving CTB, removing the discounts available to owners of second homes and to owners of empty homes, and to end the second adult rebate paid to someone because they share a house with someone who has a low income.
“There can be no hiding the fact that is it is the severe national financial situation that is behind these important changes. Across the country, the Government will save a much-needed £500 million as a result as it seeks to balance the national books.
“That urgent national need to save money does have a local impact, but we believe our system will continue to ensure that those most in need of vital support to help pay their Council Tax bills will still receive it.
“At the same time, we want our changes to encourage people back into work, and also bring some much-needed empty homes more quickly back into use. We want to introduce a system that fit our local needs and priorities and hope that people will help shape our plans,” added Cllr Herring.
The consultation is on www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk/yourhome/benefits/counciltaxsupport and comments are wanted by October 25, while printed versions are available at Suffolk Coastal’s Melton Hill and Felixstowe offices.