Have your say on changes to the Council Tax benefits system

UTTLESFORD residents are being given the chance to have their say on a major overhaul of the welfare system which is likely to leave households on low incomes paying more Council Tax.

However, pensioners and vulnerable people, such as those with disabilities or long-term illness, will be protected under the changes.

The Government is ending Council Tax benefit from the end of March next year, meaning Uttlesford District Council will need to make up for a �500,000 shortfall in funding when it replaces the system with its own Local Council Tax Support scheme (LCTS).

Currently, the authority supports around 4,000 households in the district with a budget of �4 million.

A six-week public consultation began on Monday and will run until September 28 to enable residents to comment on a draft proposal for the new scheme, based on a framework district and borough councils in the county have been working on together with Essex County Council.

Pensioners are protected from any reduction to their benefit payments – this safeguards Council Tax support for around 2,000 elderly people currently in receipt of Council Tax Benefit in the Uttlesford district.

But working age residents receiving support will see a reduction in benefits to compensate for this.

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Proposals will also see working age claimants pay a minimum of 20 per cent of their Council Tax bill, while child benefit and maintenance payments will now be taken into account when calculating entitlement to support.

Work will be encouraged by raising the level of earnings before benefit payments are affected and, to focus support on those most in need, the maximum level of savings below which claimants can still apply for support will be reduced to �6,000.

At the end of the consultation period the feedback received will be considered by cabinet members at Uttlesford District Council.

A proposed final scheme will be considered and a scheme agreed by full council on December 11.

Cllr Robert Chambers, cabinet member for finance and administration, said: “In aiming to be as fair as possible to the majority of people we were guided by Government principles including pensioners must be protected; every working age person should pay something; we should encourage people to work and low-income families should receive some help.

“We now really want to hear from all residents whether or not they receive Council Tax benefit. Do they think we’ve got it right or are there areas we need to look at again?”

The draft LCTS proposal can be found at uttlesford.gov.uk/LCTS with links to the consultation questionnaire, while paper copies are available at the district council’s offices in Saffron Walden.