The Government has announced that from April 2013 the current national Council Tax Benefit scheme will come to an end and local councils will be responsible for devising their own schemes. It believes decisions about who should get help to pay their Council Tax bills are better taken locally than by civil servants in Whitehall.
But at the same time as it is making this change, it is reducing the amount of funding available by 10 per cent – just one of the many cuts it is having to make to eliminate the huge deficit it inherited from the previous Government. For Croydon, that equates to a funding gap - assuming everyone continues to receive the same level of help - of £4.84 million.
Many councils will simply absorb this pressure - in other words, they will carry on paying Council Tax benefit in line with the old scheme and make savings or cuts in other areas to bridge the funding gap.
I am pleased to see that my Conservative colleagues on Croydon Council aren’t doing that. They are taking the opportunity to make some changes to who gets help to pay their Council Tax bills and how much help they get so that the system better rewards hard-working people.
The approach they are proposing is based on six core principles:
1. Council tax support should not be paid to those with relatively large savings.
2. It must be related to property type.
3. Everyone should contribute something.
4. Everyone eligible in the household should contribute something.
5. Work must pay.
6. The vulnerable must be protected.
These are good principles. Take the second principle: why should everyone else subsidise the full Council Tax bill of those living in the most expensive properties? The Council is proposing to restrict the amount of help those living in the most expensive properties receive (so if you live in a Band E property then you’ll receive no more support than the equivalent of a Band D property).
Or the fifth principle: people who take low paid jobs rather than sitting on benefits deserve more help - they’re doing the right thing. So the Council is proposing to increase by £10 per week the amount people can earn before their Benefit is reduced.
Or the final principle: pensioners and those on Disability Living Allowance should be protected so they won’t be affected by these changes.
You can take part in the consultation via the link above but it is good to know that we have a Council that is on the side of hard-working people.