Waveney District Council is asking residents for their views on a new scheme which will replace Council Tax benefit and affect the amount of money paid to claimants.
Setting Council Tax Benefit is currently the responsibility of the Government's Department for Work & Pensions, (DWP). However this is set to change from April 2013 and all local authorities are being asked to design a "Local Council Tax Support Scheme" themselves to determine the level of discount working age people will receive in future.
In addition, as part of this change, the Government is also reducing the grant made available to pay these benefits by a headline figure of 10%. This means, whatever happens, that working age households currently in receipt of benefits will have to pay more council tax as the amount of support they receive will be less.
However, the Government has now also given local councils additional powers to make changes to Council Tax discounts. Currently owners of second homes or owners of homes which are currently empty receive a discount on the Council Tax they pay as part of Government's policy to bring homes back into use more speedily. By allowing councils to charge more council tax for empty/second homes extra income could be generated to help meet the shortfall in funding.
So with these changes in mind, Suffolk Coastal and Waveney have devised a scheme which suggests reductions to the benefits or discounts received by four different groups and are now asking residents for their views on who should meet the greater share of the reduction.
Whatever happens, benefits to working age claimants will be reduced. However the consultation will play a role in establishing how much. None of the options would affect low-income pensioners, as they are not able to work to help support themselves.
Waveney District Council Leader, Cllr Colin Law said: "This is one of a series of measures being imposed on us by a Government seeking ways to help the country recover from the economic downturn, provide incentives to work and improve the numbers of houses available. We would rather not have to follow this path but we have been given no choice other than to make the very best of this situation. Our priority has been to come up with options which are fair and which do not impact on those in most need."
Prior to presenting these options, a number of others were considered and rejected according to Cllr Law. He said: "At first we considered using other Council money to make up the shortfall, however this would have meant even more cuts to essential services, particularly the services run by Suffolk Police and by Suffolk County Council like schools and social care.
"We also considered increasing council tax for everyone in order to meet the Government's headline 10% cut. However our residents have consistently told us that we should try and freeze council tax and we don't believe that this is the best option for the district. Instead we are seeking to make changes which reflect our determination to protect the poorest families and which we hope might actually have a positive impact on our communities."
The consultation, which starts today, is open to all residents and will last for 12 weeks. The simplest way to complete the questionnaire is online: www.waveney.gov.uk/counciltax
, however printed forms are available for those who do not have online access, at Council Offices.
Additionally, residents can visit these locations and receive assistance in completing the forms online should they wish. Once the consultation has finished the results will be analysed prior to a final decision which will be implemented at the start of the new financial year in April 2013.