Major changes to council tax benefit are revealled

Scarborough Town Hall

Scarborough Town Hall

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Plans for a major shake up of Scarborough’s council tax benefit system have been revealed - which if approved will see a 20 per cent reduction in support for working age claimants.

The major shift will also see child benefit count as income, and will prevent anyone with savings of more than £6,000 from gaining benefit.

Scarborough Council has unveiled the changes as it begins consultations with the public on the planned moves, which will come into force from April 1 next year if approved.

The shake up follows confirmation from the Government that it will be abolishing council tax benefit as part of the Welfare Reform Act.

As a result local authorities are now tasked with designing and implementing their own schemes, but with 10 per cent less funding from the central pot.

Currently more than £11 million is awarded across the borough in council tax benefit for residents on low incomes - a figure that has increased over recent years.

Bosses at the council predict the sum will rise again in both 2013 and 2014, resulting in a funding gap which they say will be closer to 18 per cent; the equivalent of £1.6 million.

They say to address this “significant shortfall”, people in Scarborough and surrounding areas may have to receive lower amounts of council tax support.

The exception to this is pensioners, who are fully protected by the Government under the same terms and conditions as the existing council tax scheme and will be no worse off.

David Ponton-Brown, Revenues and Benefits manager at Scarborough Council said: “These proposals represent a significant shake up in the council tax benefit system and will effect all people of working age that need to claim council tax support.

“We fully appreciate more and more of our residents are suffering in these economically challenging times but unfortunately, from next April, we will have less money to pay out and therefore any new scheme we design needs to bridge this gap.

“However I would like to emphasise that pensioners will be no worse off under the new scheme.

“The eight changes we are proposing are still in draft format and councillors will take all consultation responses into account when making their decision on the final version of the new scheme.”

The draft scheme is now out for public consultation and the officer at the council say they welcome all responses regardless of whether someone claims council tax benefit or not.

All information including the consultation documents and on-line copies of the questionnaire can be found at www.scarborough.gov.uk/LSCT

The public consultation runs until October 31. The results will then be reported to the council’s Resources Scrutiny Committee on November 20.

Any amendments the committee makes to the draft scheme will be presented to the council’s Cabinet on December 7 prior to seeking approval from Full Council on January 7. This timetable has been drawn up to meet the Government deadline that all local council schemes should be agreed by January 31.

The main proposed changes:

- An overall 20 per cent reduction in support for working age claimants.

- The removal of second adult rebate element.

- Regardless of a claimant’s property band type, the level for a band C property is the maximum that will be used to assess council tax support.

- Reducing the amount of savings and other capital a person can have and still qualify for council tax support from £16,000 to £6,000.

- Reducing the amount of savings and other capital that is disregarded in the calculation of council tax support from £6,000 to £3,000.

- Counting all maintenance received from former partners as income when calculating council tax support.

- Counting child benefit as income when calculating council tax support.

- Increasing the level of earned income that is disregarded before calculating council tax support.