Cutting council tax support – simply unnecessary

Reigate Town HallTory Councillors showed their true colours at last week’s Council meeting by voting for a cut that will hit poor people hardest – even though they didn’t need to.  And they were so keen to do so that they banged their desks with excitement.

On the table were proposed cuts to Council Tax support.

Council Tax Benefit is changing. Councils now have to set up new schemes – with 10% less money from the Government. The Government has also restricted the options available to Councils when devising the new arrangements, putting them in a difficult position.  Our Council will lose £700,000 as a result.

Tasked with recouping some of this shortfall, Council staff had come up with a very reasonable scheme, with some good elements, which would save £263,000.  The Green Party Councillors contributed to the consultation process, and many of the proposals included in the final version were broadly similar to our suggestions.

However, the Council Tax Support scheme was not the whole story.

At the very same Council meeting, there was an agenda item on the ending of Council Tax discounts for second homes and empty properties. The changes proposed by this report would result in an increase in Council Tax income of between £900,000 and £1,025,000 – significantly more than the amount lost as a result of the Council Tax Benefit changes.

In other words, the changes proposed in the original Council Tax Support scheme simply aren’t needed.

We don’t have to insist that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, must pay 10% of their Council Tax bill. Nor do we have to say that if your calculated level of Council Tax Support is less than £5 per week, then you can’t have it.

The changes in treatment of empty properties and second homes already take care of the reduced government funding.

Just 10% of your Council Tax bill, or £5 per week. These are tiny amounts aren’t they? Surely everyone can afford that?

Perhaps they do seem tiny if you are a Borough Councillor with a good job, in financial services or IT, for example. But if you are unemployed, or, just as likely, in part-time employment on a low wage, these numbers can be the difference between being able to pay your rent or going further into debt every week.

If there was no other choice, and the Council really couldn’t pay for public services any other way, we would need to introduce these sorts of changes. But there is a choice.

So, at Thursday’s meeting, Green Cllr Jonathan Essex proposed an amendment: as the empty property changes will generate more than enough additional revenue to make up for the reduction in central government funding, the new Council Tax Support scheme should be abandoned, or at least postponed.

In response, Conservative councillors stated their belief that everyone has to make sacrifices in these difficult times, and that everyone, regardless of their income, should make a contribution to Council Tax. They steadfastly ignored the whole point of the amendment – that the Council will be better off as a result of the changes, so no one needs to make sacrifices in this instance.

There was even a misleading reference to the fact that Green-controlled Brighton & Hove City Council have introduced a Council Tax Support scheme similar to the local proposal. Brighton has been forced to introduce such a scheme because they don’t have enough empty properties and unoccupied second homes to make up for the shortfall in government funding.

“It’s no wonder people are cynical about their politicians,” said Conservative Cllr Ellacott, as he opposed the amendment. He’s right. Cynicism is the only response when such misleading statements are made in support of a policy that needlessly penalises the least well-off in our society. Forcing these changes through simply smacks of ideology.

Our amendment was soundly defeated. Desks were banged. The poor will make their sacrifices.

Read more:

Council Tax Benefit support

Empty Homes Discounts

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