Changes may lead to £600k cuts in borough

Decisions: Finance cabinet member Coun Stephen Robinson
Decisions: Finance cabinet member Coun Stephen Robinson

Government plans to abolish council tax benefit could lead to a funding reduction of £600,000 for South Ribble Council, and mean the area’s most vulnerable residents have to pay more.

The change will come into force from April 2013 when council tax benefit will be replaced with council tax support, which will be designed and administered by each local council.

Council tax benefit is a means tested benefit that helps people on a low or no income to pay their council tax.

No money is paid to them but their bill is reduced by the amount of their benefit.

The council says the reduction in funding means “difficult decisions” will have to be made.

The changes mean that in future it is likely that everyone will have to pay something towards their council bill, apart from pensioners who will not be affected by the changes.

Councils will be expected to protect other ‘vulnerable’ groups, but this will be up to each council to decide.

Coun Stephen Robinson, South Ribble Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for finance and resources, said: “This reduction in funding of £600,000 a year means we have to make some difficult decisions about how we budget for the shortfall.”

The amount of money given to councils to fund the new system is 10% less than the current amount spent on council tax benefit.

It is feared those affected could lose some of the benefits they currently receive – at a time when household budgets are already pushed to the limit.

The changes could see the council cut services to make up the shortfall, reduce the amount claimants get in their council tax support or increase council tax – although no decisions have yet been made yet.

Coun Robinson added: “The council is carrying out extensive local consultation over the next eight weeks to find out what the public thinks before we finalise our local scheme.

“People can give us their views by completing a survey that is available on our website now, and also from the Civic Centre on West Paddock, local libraries and leisure centres.”

Residents are being asked how they think the council should deal with the reduction in funding relating to Council Tax Support.

Suggestions include cutting other council services to make up the shortfall; increasing the council tax; or reducing the amount claimants get in their council tax support.

Residents can also have their say at the next round of My Neighbourhood Forum meetings in October.

The consultation is open to South Ribble residents and will take place until November 2.

During this period, the council will also be meeting to discuss options and plan the introduction of a new scheme.

The views of residents that come out of this consultation will be an important part of the decision making process, before the council agrees its final scheme, which it is intended to do in November.