Council tax is increasing for the ‘most vulnerable and poorest people’ of South Ribble next month.
South Ribble Council has announced an unexpected hike in charges due from families claiming benefits.
Under the Council Tax Support scheme, introduced last year, working-age claimants in South Ribble were required to start making a contribution to their council tax bill.
Now, it has been decided that the charge will increase from £2.95 per week to £3.50 each week, resulting in an attack against the Tories for targeting the borough’s poorest families.
But the Conservative-led council is blaming the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition at Lancashire County Council for the changes to the Council Tax Support Scheme arrangements.
The Tories described the situation as ‘sad’, but said the ‘regrettable’ decision by the county council to increase its share of council tax this year meant they had no other choice.
The borough council has frozen its share of council tax for 2014/15, and Coun Stephen Robinson, cabinet member for finance and resources, said: “Unfortunately there are some problems we have to address that are caused by external circumstances.
“Perhaps the saddest aspect of all is the position with the Council Tax Support scheme.”
Local councils used to receive full funding from central government for Council Tax Benefit, but this refund was replaced last April by a grant, leaving authorities with a 10 per cent funding gap.
South Ribble Council launched a public consultation, asking residents how they would like to see the council bridge the gap.
Results showed that the majority wanted working age claimants to start making a contribution towards their council tax, based on ability to pay (means tested).
The other options included increasing council tax or cutting other council services, which people didn’t want.
After the county council reduced its share of council tax for 2013/14, South Ribble revealed it would be using the reduction to minimise the impact which the Council Tax Support scheme would place on the borough’s residents.
It meant the amount was reduced from the originally proposed £3.50 per week charge, to £2.95.
But the fee is now set to go up.
Coun Robinson said: “Last year we resolved to recover the reduction in the funding of Council Tax Benefit by charging a flat rate of £2.95 per week to working age benefit claimants.
“Originally the sum was to be £3.50 but due to the cut in the county’s precept made by the then Conservative administration, we were able to reduce this to £2.95.
“We had no intention of raising that amount this year, but due to the regrettable increases imposed by the Police Commissioner and the county council, we have no alternative but to raise this flat rate contribution to £3.50 a week.”
He added: “It was said at a recent council meeting that we Conservatives display a ‘callous disregard’ for workers’ interests – how does Labour, together with their Lib Dem coalition partners at County Hall, reconcile that with this further imposition on working age claimants?”
But Labour councillor Sue Prynn, who represents the Middleforth ward in Penwortham, spoke out against the move.
She said: “You’re freezing council tax for some, but increasing it for our most vulnerable and poorest residents.”