A new council tax benefit scheme that could see 2,000 claimants lose out on around £150 a year was approved for consultation by Horsham District Council on Wednesday September 4.
Central Government has given responsibility to local authorities to draw up their own council tax benefit schemes, and while they will receive the funding directly, it will be at a reduction of 10 per cent, equating to around £600,000 for bodies in the Horsham district.
In the district there are around 6,500 council tax benefit claimants out of 56,000 householders. About half of the 6,500 are pensioners, who are exempt from any changes. The proposals would protect those on certain benefits, principally the disabled, carers and lone parents with children under five from any reduction in council tax benefit.
Proposals follow extensive work from the Council Tax Working Group, which was set up to make recommendations to the cabinet member.
The level of benefit will also be capped at the level of a Band D household and claimants living in properties in Bands E to H will have to pay the difference between the Band D level of benefit and the council tax charge for Bands E to H.
The proposed changes would therefore affect around 2,000 Horsham district residents who receive council tax benefit. If the changes are agreed these residents will have their council tax benefit reduced by an average of £3 per week.
At Wednesday’s HDC meeting Jim Rae (Con, Holbrook East) said: “I think we have done everything in our power to alleviate the strain, to come up with a thoughtful and sensitive proposal which fulfils the need to do something for our tax payers rather than simply letting them pick up the bill.
“We are being left to pick up the pieces and we are trying to do it the best way we can.”
Roger Arthur (UKIP,Chanctonbury) asked if a sensitivity analysis had been carried out to see what impact schemes by other councils had on claimants.
Mr Rae said Mr Arthur’s line of questioning was strange considering he set up the working group himself as cabinet member for efficiency and resources before defecting to UKIP earlier this year.
David Sheldon (LDem, Denne) conceded that while this measure might not in itself have a considerable impact, taken with other recent changes made by the Government it might be the ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’.
He called for extensive monitoring of the situation so that nobody was made homeless as a result of changes, and that discretionary housing payments were used when needed.
Gordon Lindsay (Con, Billingshurst), cabinet member for resources, said: “Obviously we will listen to all the comments that come in in the consultation.”
Peter Burgess (Con, Holbrook West) added: “The driving force here is people should not lose their homes and that does really drive this.”
Mr Rae and Mr Lindsay both made assurances that the effects of any proposed changes would be closely monitored.
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