Changes to council tax benefit on the way

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Thousands of residents in the county could be faced with a reduction in their council tax benefit next year following changes in Government funding that could leave councils facing up to a £2.6m shortfall.

From April next year, central government is replacing council tax benefit with council tax support, with the funding available being cut by 10 per cent.

It has left local authorities to decide how they will make up the deficit, with all four councils in the north and east of the county launching consultations on a variety of ideas to save money.

The majority of each pound of council tax goes towards county council services.

If authorities fail to make up the shortfall, Northamptonshire County Council will be out of pocket by £4.7m.

Bill Parker, the councillor responsible for setting the authority’s budget, has admitted the scheme has left officers with ‘difficult decisions’ when outlining funding for 2013-14.

Don Cairns, 30, of Charles Street, Kettering, said: “I receive benefit being that my partner can’t find a job for love nor money. All other benefits are being revised, so how exactly do they expect people in our position, and worse even, to pay for their incompetence?”

Kettering

Kettering Council has urged its residents to have their say on its proposals to make up a funding shortfall of about £880,000.

The council has 8,300 claimants this year, but 6,900 are protected as they are either vunerable or elderly.

Claimant counts have increased by at least three per cent in the past five years, including a 14 per cent rise 2009-10.

The council say its preferred scheme, which includes removing the 12-month council tax exemption on uninhabitable properties, and taking away the six-month exemption on empty and unfurnished homes, as well as asking people to pay full council tax on second homes, will make up the funding shortfall by three quarters.

The council is also consdering a five per cent cut in council tax benefit for those not protected, which will save £179,000, and could stop support to residents who receive child benefit and maintenance.

The council could also restrict support for Band D residents or lower. To have your say, visit www.kettering.gov.uk.

Corby

Council leader Tom Beattie has attacked the Government over the scheme, saying it has left the authority ‘economically handcuffed’ after facing up to a shortfall of about £600,000.

The council has about 6,000 claimants this year, about 4,000 of whom are protected.

The council’s proposals include removing the 12-month council tax exemption on uninhabitable properties, which would reduce the funding shortfall by £96,790, and removing the six-month exemption on empty and unfurnished properties, which would save £256,522.

The council also proposed a five per cent cut in council tax support, except for pensioners, resulting in a saving of £112,780.

People who receive council tax benefit are currently allowed to have capital up to £16,000 but Corby Council proposes to slash this figure to £6,000, reducing the shortfall in funding by a further £9,750.

Cllr Beattie said: “We haven’t made this decision – the Government has. Local authorities will be blamed.” To have your say, visit www.corby.gov.uk.

East Northamptonshire

East Northamptonshire Council is currently running an eight-week consultation for residents. The amount the council receives from the Government will be cut by 10 per cent, which represents a reduction of £523,000 a year.

The 2,926 people of working age currently receiving council tax benefit will be contacted individually about the proposed new scheme. A further 2,534 people receive council tax benefit, but they are pensioners and will not be affected.

The council will also be arranging to meet representatives from local organisations with an interest, such as voluntary sector groups and registered social landlords.

Council leader Steven North said: “The reduction in funding means we have to make some difficult decisions about who gets financial support and how much. We know that whatever we do many people on low incomes will be forced to either pay some council tax, perhaps for the first time, or pay more towards their council tax.”
To have your say visit www.east-northamptonshire.gov.uk.

Wellingborough

Wellingborough Council’s proposals to cover its £603,000 shortfall include changes to exemptions and discounts, such as removing the 10 per cent discount for second homes, reducing the amount of time an unoccupied home undergoing repairs can be exempt, and charging an extra amount for homes that have been empty for longer than two years.

About 8,000 people in the borough claim council tax benefits. The biggest change proposed is that only people of pension age would receive a benefit to cover the whole cost of their council tax bill. For working age people, discounts up to 80 per cent would be available, meaning people in a band A home could receive a bill for £183.25. Those in a band B home could have to pay a minimum of £213.80 a year.

A full list of proposals will be available as part of the consultation, which will run from October 15 to November 30.

Council leader Paul Bell said: “These very big changes could affect everyone in the borough.”
To have your say visit www.wellingborough.gov.uk.