Poorest may have to pay council tax
9:10am Monday 3rd September 2012 in Latest News
THOUSANDS of the poorest people in Swindon could soon have to pay some council tax for the first time as part of a council bid to fill a £2million benefits gap.
The amount of money the Government gives Swindon Council to help needy people cover the charge will fall from £13m to £11m, when council tax benefit is replaced with council tax support from April.
Council tax benefit is administered locally according to national rules, but council tax support will see each council draw up and administer its own scheme for who gets what and how much, with the first challenge being to deal with the funding gap.
An estimated 6,100 of Swindon’s 18,500 claimants currently receive 100 per cent cover, but Swindon Council proposes to slash the maximum support anyone can receive to 80 per cent, leaving the householders to pick up the remaining 20 per cent.
The Conservative administration says the overall draft scheme, which is out to public consultation until November 9, is balanced but claimants and other critics say it further punishes some of the poorest people in society, pulling more people out of work.
Other changes include treating child benefit as a source of income in the support calculation, withdrawing the second adult rebate, and increasing the expected contribution from non-dependent household members by £5 per week.
However, the Government has decreed that pensioner claim-ants must not see any changes, protecting about 7,000 people in Swindon, and the council proposes to afford the same protection to 2,500 claimants in households with disabilities.
The council estimates the draft scheme would save around £1,150,000, after allowing for the £500,000 cost for protecting disabled households, which if added to an expected increase in council tax due to planned changes to empty home discounts, would cover £1,750,000 of the £2m gap.
The remaining £250,000 would come from savings elsewhere in the overall budget.
Coun Mark Edwards , cabinet member for finance, said: “I don’t believe we should pass the cost of this to all Swindon residents, either by reducing the levels of service we provide to them or increasing their tax, and it would also defeat the object of the changes.
“I also think it is right that everyone makes a contribution to council tax, even if that’s only 20 per cent of the full amount. Instead, the council is proposing to reduce the benefit payments themselves for people in certain circumstances, although we will fully protect pensioners and people with disabilities.”
Martin Wicks, the secretary of the Swindon Tenants’ Campaign Group, said: “We’re opposed to anybody having their council tax benefit cut.
“That’s why the message to the council is don’t just do the Government’s dirty work, press them to re-instate the cut so that the working poor and other people that are going to get caught by this aren’t under more pressure.”
Coun Des Moffatt , the Labour group’s finance lead, said: “There will be a huge element of can’t-pay-won’t-pay attitude at these small amounts that are demanded of them. In consequence, there will be more court orders against the poorest in our society.”
To take part in the consultation, visit www.swindon.gov.uk