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Will you be affected by the changes to council tax benefit?

PUBLISHED: 12:51 06 September 2012

Gravesend Civic Centre

Gravesend Civic Centre

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There is currently a public consultation regarding the changes to council tax benefit. The Reporter takes a look at who will be affected...

There is currently a public consultation regarding the changes to council tax benefit. The Reporter takes a look at who will be affected...

Over the past few weeks questionnaires have been sent to homes in Dartford, Gravesham and Sevenoaks asking for feedback on plans to change the current council tax benefit system.

It may easily be overlooked but the results of the consultation could see people either pay more or pay a proportion of their council tax for the first time, including those with disabilities and on low incomes.

From April 1 next year, council tax benefit will be scrapped and instead individual councils will run their own discount schemes.

Councils will also have less money to support people with their council tax bill – the Government grant which usually fully reimburses councils will now be reduced by 10 per cent.

This is all part of a drive to devolve power to the local level and slash costs – in 2010-11 council tax benefit cost the UK economy £4.82bn.

The changes are a radical step which has been opposed by many organisations, politicians and councils – including Conservative-controlled ones.

One concern is that many people will not realise they will be affected until it is too late to speak out.

John Burden, leader of Gravesham Borough Council, has described the situation as “ridiculous”.

He said: “This is a really significant change in policy and yet many people are not aware of it. The devastation it’s going to wreak is unbelievable.”

Sevenoaks District Council leader Peter Fleming commented: “These changes herald the start of the biggest change in the benefits system for a generation.”

The Government has said that pensioners will be protected from the changes and will see no reduction in the amount of council tax benefit they receive.

That leaves the rest of council tax benefit claimants to share the reduction in funding.

The cut in funding will vary according to the amount spent by each council on council tax benefit.

In Gravesham £7.9m was spent on supporting people with their council tax bill in 2010-11, meaning the council will be looking to make up for a £799,000 shortfall.

Sevenoaks spent £6.9m in the same year, while Dartford spent the least with £6.3m.

Gravesham, Dartford and Sevenoaks councils are all considering a scheme that would mean all working-age claimants will have their current benefit reduced by about 18.5 per cent.

Those affected will be all recipients of the current benefit born after October 5, 1951.

While higher levels of support will be paid to a parent or family with young children, people with a disability and those returning to work, these people will still have a reduction in benefit, with some paying a proportion of their council tax for the first time.

The three councils are also considering reducing the amount of time an empty property is exempt from council tax from six months to three months.

Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite explained that the next stage was to introduce a scheme that works for all.

He said: “Like most people, I want to see benefits targeted at those who really need them and there seems to be a growing feeling that people who can afford to pay at least something towards the services they receive ought to do so. Our job is to ensure we get the balance right between those who can afford to make a fair contribution and those who, by virtue of honest circumstances beyond their control, cannot.”

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