Councillors voice fears over changes to council tax benefit

Corby councillors have voiced fears over council tax benefit changes and have set up a working party to look at ways of protecting those most in need.

From April next year the Government is abolishing council tax benefit and replacing it with a local council tax support scheme, to be controlled by local authorities.

Funding for the new scheme will be in the form of a grant based on the existing system, with a reduction of between 10 and 13 per cent.

A 13 per cent cut would mean a loss of £76,000 which would have to be borne by Corby Council.

Along with other local authorities in England, the council is required to set up its own scheme by January 31 next year.

Officers are now considering a number of options and members of the One Corby Policy Committee agreed on Tuesday (July 17) to appoint councillors from all parties to serve on a working party to consider the possibilities.

Pensioners are to be protected from whatever scheme is introduced.

Corby Council’s director of corporate services Adrian Sibley told councillors: “This will be one of the most important decisions you will make this term.”

Council leader Tom Beattie said: “The change to council tax benefit is one of the things that keeps me awake at night.

“We are now going into the meat of the austerity measures and the next two years are going to be very difficult. We need to make sure that the changes impact least on the people who are most vulnerable.”

Corby Council is considering a number of schemes, including not passing on the reduction, at a cost to the authority of £76,000. If this is agreed savings would have to be made elsewhere.

It could also impose a cut on everyone claiming the benefit but with half of them pensioners, who are to be excluded, this would mean a reduction of up to 20 per cent for the remaining claimants.

Other ways the £76,000 shortfall could be made up are to adjust council tax discounts and exemptions or to target certain claimants, for instance those living in band D properties, to increase council tax or to come up with a scheme that is a combination of some of the other options.

Cllr Rob McKellar said: “To apply a reduction to all claimants would hurt some of our poorest residents very hard.”

Cllr Bob Eyles added: “As a council we should condemn this completely.”

Cllr Chris Stanbra suggested the funding gap could be filled by reducing benefit fraud. He said: “We should ensure that it is kept to an absolute minimum.”

The government says the plans will save taxpayers money and give councils a greater stake in their local economies.

But it has admitted that with only pensioners protected from the changes, some working age people may have to pay more.

The proposals are contained in the government’s Localism Bill, a programme of measures designed to decentralise power.