Poorest face increase in council tax of up to 30 per cent
More than 150,000 of the poorest Westcountry households face a council tax rise next year, following welfare reforms.
A number of Devon authorities have published proposals to effectively end the 100 per cent council tax discount for hard-pressed families.
All residents – barring pensioners, who remain unaffected – will pay at least 25% or 30% of their bill from April if plans put out for consultation by ten councils go ahead.
Labour has warned of a repeat of the poll tax, with councils "forced to chase people on low incomes for money they simply don't have". But the Government says it is ending Labour's "something-for-nothing culture" by reducing hand-outs.
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The proposals follow a 10% Government cut to rebates available to councils, and giving local authorities control of council tax benefits for the first time. The cut means that even small authorities will have an annual black hole of around £1 million to fill.
In the past, the unemployed, disabled, full-time carers and people on low incomes would not have had to pay their full council tax. Now a £1,000 annual bill will mean paying at least £300 if councils decide the maximum rebate is 70%.
Households receiving a partial discount will also pay more under the new regime.
Councils have started to set out their own council tax support schemes. Plymouth City Council has a £2 million shortfall, and has proposed everyone pays at least 30% of the bill.
Coun Mark Lowry, Cabinet member for finance of the Labour-controlled authority, said: "The Government's welfare reform is going to hit Plymouth really hard and targets people on low incomes. This is not something we choose to do, but something that is forced upon us and every council nationally."
Meanwhile, Torbay Council is proposing charging everyone at least 25%. Cornwall Council's proposals will be made public at its next Cabinet meeting. East Devon, Exeter, North Devon, South Hams and Torridge district councils are suggesting a 30% charge, and Mid Devon, Teignbridge and West Devon districts 25%.
Coun Philip Sanders, Conservative leader of West Devon Borough Council, said: "The shortage in funding means that we will have to make some difficult decisions about who gets financial help and how much they get."
Liberal Democrat leader of North Devon Council, Coun Brian Greenslade, said: "Working-age people can expect to see a reduction in their council tax support next year."
Latest Government figures show 157,000 people in Devon and Cornwall claim council tax benefit. Hilary Benn, Labour's shadow secretary for communities and local government, said the 10% cut amounted to a £450 million "council tax bombshell".
He said: "Local authorities face a terrible dilemma. Do they increase council taxes on the working poor, or the disabled, or families with young children?"
But local government minister Grant Shapps said: "Our reforms will localise council tax support and give councils stronger incentives to support local firms, cut fraud, promote local enterprise and get people off the dole."