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Benefit claimants to pay more as Hertsmere Borough Council approves council tax changes
2:47pm Thursday 17th January 2013 in News
Thousands on low incomes will have to pay more council tax from April after Hertsmere councillors voted to pass an £827,000 funding cut.
Working-age people who receive council tax benefit will see changes to their bill after Hertsmere Borough Council approved the government’s money saving scheme last night.
The current means-tested system is being scrapped and control over who should receive the subsidies is being handed over to the local authorities.
Councilor John Graham, portfolio holder for finance, said 45 per cent of people who receive benefits in Hertsmere are pensioners and “we need to protect them”.
As a result, pensioners, parents with children under five and disabled people who are entitled to disability living allowance will not see any changes to their bills.
But claimants who are not protected will have to pay a total of £5 per week towards their council tax bill.
Councillor Graham added: “For many, this will be difficult in the current economic circumstances. It has been a difficult decision to make.”
The cuts mean the council is facing a funding deficit of £827,000 for the next year, and councillors voted to approve the creation of a hardship fund.
An allowance of £75,000 will be available to use in extreme cases in which the claimant is unable to pay their contribution.
Currently, a person can get 100 per cent of council tax benefit regardless of the size of their house.
But last night, councillors voted to cap support at Band D level – properties valued at £68,000 to £88,000 in 1991.
But the Labour party – the opposition in Hertsmere – voted to abstain on the proposals.
Leader of the group, Councillor Ann Harrison, said: “I accept this has to be imposed on us but it is terrible yet again to attack people on low incomes.
“The proposals protect vulnerable groups which is fine as it stands, but what will we do if funding gets cut again next year by another ten per cent?
“I understand why we have to do something but as a group we cannot support this motion because of our objections to the principle.”
Councillor Morris Bright, leader of the Conservative party, accepted this had not been an easy decision.
But he added: “This is as equitable as it is going to get.
“We accept this is tough, but the fact that still remains is we have to have a system in place by the end of January.”
Councillors also voted to freeze the annual council tax bill for 2010 to 2011 and 2012 to 2013.
Under the proposals, the government has also decided people with long-term empty homes can be charged a premium if it has been empty for longer than two years.
Hertsmere Borough Council will charge these householders an extra 50 per cent on top of their current council tax bill.
Homes which are inhabitable or are undergoing major repairs will be entitled to a £50 discount for a year.
People with properties which become unoccupied and substantially unfurnished will not have to pay Council Tax for two months.
Councillor Graham added: “Like the rest of the country there is a housing shortage in the borough. There are more than 250 long term empty homes in Hertsmere.
“At the same time, a number of large people are waiting to be housed. We hope these changes will help free up some more homes for people and families in need.”