A new system of council tax benefit is coming in which will affect thousands of people in Bury.
Until now, the Government has determined the council tax benefit rules and reimbursed councils for the amount they pay out to claimants. But from April 2013, it will hand these powers to individual councils, who will each design their own scheme – but receive only 90 per cent of the cost.
This means Bury will be left with a shortfall of £1.4 million – and the council now has to consider how to plug the deficit.
The council is in the middle of its consultation exercise and is asking Bury people for their views on a range of options to raise the money needed.
The benefit changes will not affect pensioners, who make up 45 per cent of the 18,300 claimants in Bury.
The council also wants to protect the following vulnerable groups: people who receive disability benefits; carers; lone parents with children under five; war veterans, widows and widowers.
Among the options being considered are:
- Reduce council tax discounts for empty properties and second homes.
- Award 100 per cent of council tax benefit only to those who live in Council Tax Bands A and B.
- Withdraw the Second Adult Rebate.
- Abolish backdated benefit.
- Awards will not be paid where the weekly amount is less than £1.
- Non-dependent deductions will be increased by 20 per cent.
- Upper capital limits will be reduced to £6,000.
The council must draw up its benefit scheme by next January, and the new regime will start next April.
Councillor Tony Isherwood, cabinet member for finance and resources, said: “The Government has brought in this new scheme without giving us enough money to pay for it. It means that we’ve been left with a shortfall of £1.4 million, at a time when we are being forced to make budget cuts of £34 million over four years.
“Given the scale of the cut in Government funding it is inevitable that there will be some financial impact on some claimants and property owners. However, the council has no option but to deliver the new scheme within the timescales in accordance with the available budget or the Government will impose a scheme on us which will mean cuts in other services.
“We will do our very best to limit the effects of the Government’s cut by protecting the most vulnerable people and we are looking at putting a hardship scheme in place.
“These are tough decisions to make, but we will listen to what our residents say.”
Consultation forms can be picked up at council offices and libraries throughout the borough. The document can also be completed online at www.bury.gov.uk/counciltaxsupport.