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Hart considers change to council tax support

Hart District Council's head of finance said the scheme should remain the same to support the "poorer members of the community"

Hart District Council

Hart District Council is to consider whether it should reduce the support it gives to residents who need help paying their council tax.

Hart’s cabinet is to decided whether to keep its local council tax support scheme the same or whether it should be changed.

Around 835 lone parents in Hart would be adversely affected if a scheme to restrict support for working-age claimants was introduced.

Tony Higgins, head of finance for Hart, has recommended that the scheme remains the same to support the “poorer members of the community”.

He said: “Given the council’s current financial position, the fact that any additional savings generated are likely to be relatively minor and the impact of the scheme on primarily the poorer members of the community, it is suggested that the council continue with the current year’s approach.”

The UK’s council tax benefit system was abolished in March last year and replaced with a more localised version – the council tax support scheme.

The change also meant that councils would receive a 10% cut in government funding – around £40,000 a year for Hart. There are currently 3,184 residents in Hart claiming council tax support.

Around 1,500 are pensioners who are protected under the legislation and receive council tax support to the same level as council tax benefit.

It is the remaining working age claimants where a local scheme can be determined, which can change the level of support provided.

For 2013/14 and 2014/15 the council decided to operate the new scheme where entitlement criteria was aligned to the old scheme, so that working age claimants did not have their support reduced.

Nationally for 2014/15 around 40% of local authorities adopted a similar approach whereas 60% of local authorities decided to make up the funding gap, in full or in part, by introducing a scheme which reduced support by taking into account various factors as determined by each local authority concerned.

Mr Higgins said: “In those council areas where a reduced level of support has operated the residents affected have typically been asked to pay £150 to £300 additional council tax per year.

“There was concern that as these taxpayers were on low incomes, there would be difficulty in collecting these amounts.”

If Hart’s cabinet is minded to change the scheme, it would need to decide what changes it wished to make and then consult with all existing claimants, interested parties, such as the CAB and the wider public, before adopting a revised scheme.

The estimated cost of maintaining its current scheme is around £40,000 per year. The cost of conducting the consultation on changing support would be around £10,000.

Ouida Grant, CEO of Hart CAB, hoped the council would continue to provide the same support.

She said: “People think Hart is healthy and wealthy, but there are pockets of poverty in the district.

“Around 50% of the issues we deal with are to do with benefits and debt, so anything that can ease the client’s burden is of great value.”

 

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