The slow erosion of Council Tax support for some of the most vulnerable members of our society started in April this year. This removal of support went unnoticed by most due to the bedroom tax (or under occupancy penalty as it was originally known) grabbing most of the headlines. Initially, the change was to remove council tax benefit and replace it with a local scheme called council tax support. The government did not do a like for like financial replacement; they reduced the amount of funding by 10% meaning that councils needed to make up the shortfall.
Locally, in most of Leicestershire, the amount passed on to residents was 8.5% of the council tax charge which worked out at about £1.60 a week or £93.20 a year. This charge only applied to working age people, so was not passed on to pensioners. Residents with links to the military, ie disabled through serving for the armed forces or widowers, were also excluded. However, disabled, unemployed and workers (on low wages) were included.
To most of us, thankfully £1.60 is not much. From a local survey undertaken, there is support for all people paying something towards council tax (57%), however, there is greater support from this same survey for protecting the vulnerable (77%). Councils are responsible for offering support to residents. A discretionary support fund has been set up by councils to support those who cannot afford to pay. This is worked out on a case by case basis.
To date, there has been limited take up of the discretionary support fund; however this is going to rise. Currently, the amount of non-payment amongst those who have started being charged council tax is around 30%. This compares to an average 3-4% non payment of council tax at this time of year.
It is with some surprise and dismay that I discovered the support offered is almost certain to be reduced further from April 2014. The same residents who were previously exempt from council tax will have their payment increased from 8.5% to 15% across most of Leicestershire. Bearing in mind the council tax freezes for most people, the bedroom tax and the increased cost of living; this increase is staggering for some of the poorest residents.
Charnwood Borough Council, Overview Scrutiny Group - agenda, 18th November 2013