A 20% cut in Council Tax benefit is on the cards for every working age claimant in Pendle.
But, before any decisions are made, staff and councillors in Pendle want to hear the public’s opinion on what they are planning.
They would like everyone to look at a consultation that has been drawn up, and to fill in a questionnaire.
The current Council Tax benefit is being abolished by the Coalition Government in April, and replaced by a local support scheme. The Government is also cutting by 10% the amount of cash Pendle gets to assist people on low incomes, knocking £900,000 from a £9m grant. The money will not go up, even if more people are entitled to claim.
“We’re genuinely interested in what people think, and we want to hear from as many people as possible,” said Dean Langton, who, as head of Pendle’s Central Services, is charged with bringing in the local scheme. Many of the people directly affected will have the questionnaires posted to their homes. It is also available on the council’s website, at council offices, libraries and is also being sent to voluntary and welfare groups.
In brief, the new system works on six guiding principals:
1. Every working age claimant should pay something.
2. Vulnerable claimants should be protected through existing arrangements.
3. The scheme should incentivise work.
4. Everyone in the household should contribute.
5. Better off claimants should pay no more so the least well off receive greater protection.
6. Benefit should not be paid to those with large capital or savings.
Said Mr Langton: “As part of the wider reforms of the welfare system, the Government is asking councils to devise their own local Council Tax discount schemes.
“This will replace Council Tax benefit, which currently helps people on low incomes, or no income, to pay their Council Tax according to criteria for entitlement set by the Government.
“As well as introducing a localised scheme of support, we will have less funding available. We currently get £9m from the Government for Council Tax benefit, but it will be reduced by 10% from April.”
Currently, Council Tax benefit is not a financial burden to Pendle, as the full costs are met by central government.
A decision about coping with the new regime has to be made by December. If nothing is in place by January 31st a default scheme, drawn up by the Government, will be imposed.
Assistance given to pensioners and single-occupancy 25% discounts have not changed and will not be reduced.
In Pendle, around 4,000 of the 9,000 people who receive help fall into those categories, so effectively the money available to support current Council Tax recipients who are working age has dropped by about 20%.
“These are big changes,” added Mr Langton, “And that’s why we’re asking for residents’ views to help us shape the new scheme.”
Anyone living in Pendle can have a say about the proposals, regardless of whether or not their receive benefit.
Go to www.pendle.gov.uk/benefitchanges or ring 661661 to ask for a copy in the post.