Council asks for public view’s on council tax support shortfall

Leader of the council Paul Bell.
Leader of the council Paul Bell.
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Wellingborough Council is asking for people’s views on proposals that have the potential to affect every resident in the borough.

A reduction in government funding means the council will have less money available next year for council tax support, a scheme that helps people on low incomes pay their council tax.

The shortfall in funding will have to be met by either reducing the amount of support working-age people can receive, or by increasing council tax, or by finding the money from other council budgets which could affect services for everyone.

The implications of the potential changes were discussed by members of the council’s resources committee on Wednesday night (September 18), and it was agreed to begin an eight-week public consultation in order to hear people’s views before a decision is made.

Wellingborough Council leader Cllr Paul Bell said: “We are facing very difficult decisions, and they have the potential to affect every resident in the borough.

“Last year, when the changes to council tax support first came into effect, our consultation showed that the majority of people agreed with working-age people paying at least 20 per cent of their bill.

“We were able to take the government’s extra funding and reduce that amount to 8.5 per cent, but that was only for the first year. Now there is no extra grant, and in fact funding has been cut even more, meaning we have to find a way to cover an even more significant shortfall.”

Council tax support was introduced last April as a replacement for council tax benefit, and it changed the way that claimants received financial help. The council had to introduce its own support scheme, and it had to meet the cost of this itself rather than having benefit payments reimbursed by the government.

Funding was made available to help cover the cost, but it was around 10 per cent less than had been previously paid out in council tax benefit.

When introducing the new scheme, the council was told that the benefit entitlement of pensioners must remain the same, meaning that any changes made to cover the shortfall in funding could only affect working age people.

An extra transitional grant was given by the government for the first year to reduce the impact and allow up to 91.5 per cent of a claimant’s bill to be met by the new scheme. This meant that around 3,100 working-age claimants in the borough have, since last April, had to pay up to 8.5 per cent of their bill, or around £78 a year for those living in a band A property.

From next April, the funding the council receives from the government to help meet the cost of the support scheme will be cut even more, and there will be no further transitional grant.

The council has come up with three possible ways to cover the additional shortfall, which could see claimants expected to pay up to 25 per cent or 20 per cent of their bill, or for there to be no change to the current scheme and contributions to remain at 8.5 per cent. It is likely that only contributions of 25 per cent would cover the entire shortfall, with anything less needing to be met from other council budgets.

Cllr Bell added: “We’re very keen to hear people’s views before any decisions are made, which is why we’re going to start an eight-week consultation.

“We’ve proposed three possible ways to make up the shortfall and we’re simply asking people which of the three options they would prefer. We’ll look at the results of the consultation in December, before a final decision is made in January.”

The consultation will run from October 1 to November 26. Information will be available on the council’s website - www.wellingborough.gov.uk - and leaflets can be picked up in council receptions or by calling 01933 229 777.

Councillors and council employees will also be out and about during the consultation to explain the proposals and ask for people’s views.