‘Poorest and most vulnerable hardest hit’ by council tax changes

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A CHANGE to the Milton Keynes Council tax benefit scheme will hit society’s most vulnerable, according to Lib Dem leader Councillor Douglas McCall.

From April 2013, changes in Government policy announced as part of the austerity measures mean local councils will lose millions of pounds in Government funding for Council Tax Benefit.

At a meeting last Wednesday, the council agreed proposals that will see everyone of working age expected to pay council tax while setting up a £500,000 discretionary fund for those who are ‘genuinely struggling, and do not have the means to pay.’

Under the new system, households currently receiving up to 100 per cent Council Tax Benefit will see their maximum support capped at 80 per cent, adding, on average, an extra £14 per month to their council tax payments.

Councillor McCall believes this is an attack on the vulnerable members of society in Milton Keynes, with around 13,000 homes set to be affected by the changes.

And he was surprised that the Conservative-led council didn’t take up the Government’s offer of supportive funding rather than setting up their own discretionary fund.

“We felt that the poorest and most vulnerable in our society would be hit hardest by these changes,” he said.

“This is going to affect 13,000 homes, so it’s not a small number. This is huge.

“Some people simply don’t have the money to pay. They work hard, but face the dilemma of feeding and clothing their children or paying this extra council tax.

“Our proposal was to take the Government grant and help those who need it most. Why wouldn’t you take the option of a Government grant?”

A council spokesman said: “If we did not implement a local scheme we would have had to deal with a shortfall of £1.8m million in 2013/14, rising to £2.9m within three years. This level of saving, alongside other funding reductions, means that in order to be fair to all taxpayers the council needs to recover the funding shortfall. The alternative would inevitably involve service reductions.”

The new proposals will mean around 10,000 more people will be expected to contribute towards council tax.

Cabinet Member for Finance, Councillor Edith Bald, said: “We did not wish to implement this scheme, but we felt that the consequences to services of not making this change were so significant we had no choice. We believe in the circumstances this is the fairest, most sensible way of dealing with the projected shortfall.

“Utmost in our minds was the need to still protect the most vulnerable members of society, and we are confident that we will achieve this.

“Everyone, apart from pensioners, who was previously receiving Council Tax Benefit, will be asked to contribute something, but we will be setting up a discretionary fund to help those who are genuinely unable to pay.

“This has been a challenging process but we have worked hard to come up with innovative and inventive ways to not only meet this challenge, but to actually improve associated services and facilities to help people make their council tax payments much more easily.

“We have set up a discretionary fund to protect those who, despite their efforts, simply cannot pay. We will be carefully monitoring the Council Tax Support Scheme next year to make sure it is fit for purpose.”