Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Poverty, House and Home

Nationally, Save the Children have just launched their first appeal to support UK children in poverty, with 3.5m and rising believed to be below the poverty line. And there's plenty more to come, the following has just come through from South Somerset District Council - government grants towards Council Tax are being reduced, and our area is losing £1.3m. This is on top of a whole swathe of other benefit cuts coming down the line, on housing benefit, rent levels etc.

The council is consulting on how to apply the cuts (see below), but I can't help thinking we'll be back here again next year, with more cuts to apply. Thousands of local households have already been hit with reductinos to housing allowance.

At the same time government is trying to use the housing benefit system to reshuffle occupancy: some social housing is overcrowded, whilst other tenants have more bedrooms than they need. So, just swap them over? Easy, except that you're turfing out someone who's lived there for decades from a house full of memories, or taking away the guest room kept by an elderly tenant which is regularly used by family members. It's a pretty impossible circle to square, and there doesn't seem to be a painless way to do it.

The Government is ending the current national Council Tax Benefit scheme and all Council's have to replace it with their own local Council Tax support scheme.

Council Tax Benefit helps people with low income to pay their Council Tax.

New local schemes will start on 1 April 2013. To make sure it suits our communities, South Somerset District Council is consulting with residents on proposals for our local scheme.

The Government is reducing funding by at least 10%. For South Somerset residents this means we will receive approximately £1.3 million less than we do currently. The cost to the Council will increase further if the number of people claiming support goes up more than we expect or if Council Tax increases in future years.

This shortage in funding means we have to make some difficult decisions about who gets financial support, and how much they receive.

Council Tax helps pay for the full range of local authority services including child protection, support for children with disabilities, adult social care, roads and pavements, waste and recycling, trading standards, enforcement of environmental crime, noise nuisance, policing and fire fighting etc. Over a third of council funding comes from Council Tax.

Will the new local scheme affect me?

Households that receive Council Tax Benefit where the applicant or partner is of State Pension Credit Age -Your benefit will not be affected.

In the case of couples, where one is of pension credit age and one is of working age and in receipt of Income Support, Income Based Jobseekers Allowance or Income Related Employment and Support Allowance - You will receive less help with your Council Tax under the proposed new local scheme.

Households of working age that receive Council Tax Benefit -You will receive less help with your Council Tax under the proposed new local scheme.

What if the new local scheme doesn't find the £1.3 million savings needed?

The local scheme proposals if all agreed will cover the £1.3 million cut imposed by the Government. If they are not each local authority can do some or all of the following:

Introduce some of the proposals
Increase Council Tax
Cut the level and range of local services

Our new local scheme proposal

South Somerset's proposed local Council Tax support scheme for working age households has been produced using the following principles and the rules of the current Council Tax Benefit scheme. We believe that any reductions in the level of support should be proportionate and remove unfairness in the current Council Tax Benefit scheme:-

Principle 1 - Everyone should contribute something towards the cost of local services through Council Tax

We believe all working age people should pay something towards their Council Tax

Principle 2 - All income should be included to ensure the scheme is fair

We will include all income except Disability Living Allowance, War Widows and War Disablement Pensions

Principle 3 - Greater account should be taken of the total income of a household

We will consider every adult's income to calculate Council Tax support

Principle 4 - Provide incentives to encourage people to work

We will support and encourage people to work by ignoring more of the money they earn

Principle 5 - It should provide protection for the vulnerable

We will continue to ignore Disability Living Allowance, War Widows and War Disablement Pensions and include a hardship scheme

Principle 6 - The scheme should not penalise those that have already saved for the future

We have decided not to change the current Council Tax Benefit rules regarding savings and capital

In our consultation questionnaire we have set out our proposals that show the areas where the proposed new scheme forworking age households is different to the current Council Tax Benefit scheme.

For each proposal there is an example to help you see what the change would mean. Some or all of the proposals may be in the new scheme so more than one proposal may affect you. At the end of the proposals there is an example to help you see what a combination of those proposals could mean.

Your say on the proposals will help us decide on the final scheme design. It is important that all of you have the chance to give us your views and opinions on the possible ways to manage the funding cuts. This will help us plan council spending for next year (2013/14).

Everyone currently in receipt of Council Tax Benefit on 31 March 2013 will have their Council Tax support calculated using the information we already hold.

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