Rushmoor approves controversial tax schemeBy Amy Taylor
January 29, 2013
COUNCIL tax benefit in Rushmoor will be replaced by a new scheme where everyone, even the worst-off, will pay a contribution.
The local support scheme was approved by councillors at a special meeting on January 23, despite protest from Labour councillors who said it was unfair on low-income families.
From April 1, everyone of working age living in Rushmoor borough will pay a minimum of 8% towards their council tax bill after the Government delegated authority to local councils to set their own benefit programmes.
While pensioners who receive council tax benefits will see no change to their support, everyone else who is eligible to work could see their benefit income fall.
Those who received benefits for 100% of their council tax bill will see that support fall to 92% – requiring them to pay at least 8% in a bid to encourage people back into work.
Introducing the scheme, council leader Peter Moyle, said: “This was a difficult issue since time was limited – we had to react as quickly as we could to develop a new scheme and address the loss of funding, which was quite huge.
“It was particularly difficult as it affects the more vulnerable in our community, and we have sought to minimise that.”
Neighbouring borough Surrey Heath, covering Camberley, Frimley and Bagshot, have reduced their maximum support level to 70% – requiring people to pay at least 30% of their tax bill, to which Rushmoor councillors responded with disbelief.
Labour councillor Mike Roberts slammed the decision as ‘deplorable’, adding: “The impact on the poorest cannot be comprehensively examined at present.”
Many agreed that Rushmoor’s proposal of 8% was reasonable but Labour councillors proposed that the scheme be reconsidered.
Cllr Alex Crawford said people receiving council tax benefit should continue to get the same level of support, rather than the council claiming what adds up to £431,000 during the 2013/14 financial year from the 3,600 poorest claimants in the borough.
“Early on we were led to believe this meant all recipients of council tax benefit of working age were going to have to pay something more than they do this year.
“I’ve always baulked at that, as it seems most unfair to be imposing extra charges on our poorest, lowest paid residents with the least money, while freezing council tax bills for everyone else.”
He said a hardship fund of £50,000 for the first year, set aside to ease the impact on the worst-off, would not be enough.
“There is the issue of chasing up the 720 poorest, lowest paid in the borough who are not expected to pay up,” he said. “They will end up in court if they cannot pay and they are refused payment from the Discretionary Exceptional Hardship Fund.”
Despite Labour’s concerns, the scheme was passed and councillor Charles Choudhary, who led the working committee which put the proposals together, said it would be reviewed in nine months to ensure the hardship fund was adequate and tax bills were being paid.