Council tax benefit changes under fire

CHANGES in council tax benefit which will have a major impact on thousands of households in the East Riding came under fire at last week’s full meeting of East Riding Council.

The council has been carrying out a consultation on the changes, which they say will result from a reduction in Government funding available to local authorities to implement a new council tax benefit scheme.

The changes will only affect working age households, as pensioners are protected, but the council says many households in the East Riding will be affected because of changes that are entirely the result of Government policy.

From April 1 next year the Government is abolishing the current benefit scheme, which helps low or no-income households to pay their council tax.

All local authorities have been required by the Government to design their own local schemes to support those who need help with their council tax.

The Government is reducing the funding available to councils to deliver the scheme, and in the East Riding funding will be reduced by at least £2.5m in 2013/2014. Savings have to be made by either cutting the support provided to working age claimants or finding savings elsewhere in the council’s budget.

The council is considering three options for a new scheme, its preferred option being the one that limits the amount of help residents can receive towards their council tax bill to 75%. This means that every working age household in the East Riding will have some council tax to pay.

The council’s Labour group told the full council meeting that the proposed reduction in council tax benefit would hit 11,525 low paid households in the county.

The Leader of the Labour Group, Councillor Pat O’Neil called on the council to follow the example of Tory councils in the Prime Minister’s constituency and find the necessary savings from the council’s budget.

The Labour group’s Deputy Leader, Councillor Keith Moore, said: “These proposals are designed to hit yet again those low paid workers who are in pay freezes and are on such low pay they rely on these benefits for a living wage.”

The Conservative council Leader, Councillor Stephen Parnaby, said the authority has to make difficult decisions by reducing the amount of help people can have towards their council tax bills or by finding additional savings from elsewhere in the council budget.

He stressed that the changes to council tax benefit are entirely the result of Government policy and not anything decided locally by the authority.

The council approved an amendment by Deputy Leader Councillor Jonathan Owen that local MPs should be asked to make the Government aware of the impact of the changes on the East Riding.

The amendment said that the authority would await the results of the current consultation with residents and then ask MPs to ensure that the Government is made aware of the particular issues regarding the East Riding, in the light of figures showing the rate of increase of 65-year-olds in the East Riding is twice the national average.

“This age profile and the requirement to protect pensioners currently receiving benefit will have a disproportionate effect on the rest of our residents currently on benefits and we need to understand fully the long-term effects when coupled with other benefit reforms in the offing,” it said.

The consultation was due to end this week (October 12).

Information about the changes can be found on the council’s website at www.eastriding.gov.uk/counciltaxsupport.