Uttlesford benefit claimants warned to budget for Council Tax rise

FAMILIES claiming benefits have been warned to budget for an increase in Council Tax when a major overhaul of the welfare system comes into force next year.

With Britain in the grip of a double-dip recession, the changes are likely to spell worrying times ahead for residents who rely on financial support.

Uttlesford District Council has agreed a blueprint which would see a 13 per cent cut in Government funding offset by a drop in the financial support households receive – a response to the Government’s decision to replace Council Tax benefit with a new scheme run by local authorities.

It means residents on benefits could be hit with a steep increase in their Council Tax bills next April as the authority attempts to make up for a �500,000 shortfall.

However, pensioners and vulnerable people, such as those with disabilities or long-term illness, will be protected under the new system – described as “one of the most difficult and disruptive things the council will have to do over the next few years”.

Uttlesford residents with savings of more than �6,000, landlords with empty properties and people with second homes who are currently recipients of Council Tax benefit could all be affected.

Under the council’s draft proposal, working age people receiving Council Tax benefit – currently around 1,700 households in the district – would be on average �6 per week worse off.

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The matter was discussed at a cabinet meeting last Thursday (June 21), where members approved Uttlesford’s draft Local Council Tax Support Scheme for consultation.

Cabinet member for finance, Cllr Robert Chambers, said: “The Government is abolishing Council Tax benefit from next year and we have to adopt our own local system of Council Tax support.

“We are going to see a major cut in Government funding – the equivalent of 13 per cent of the Council Tax benefit bill and a reduction of more than half a million pounds.”

He explained that the cut would be offset by a reduction in Council Tax support to working age households – leading to an average reduction in Council Tax benefit of 31 per cent.

Families receiving child benefit could also be affected. Around 458 households would have to deal with the benefit no longer being classed as a ‘disregarded income’, meaning they could see a reduction in the Council Tax support they receive.

The authority is the first in the county to approve its draft proposals and is leading the way in what is expected to be an Essex-wide framework adopted by other councils.

Officers will also liaise with the council’s partner agencies such as the county council, police authority and fire authority ahead of a public consultation.

The process will run from July to September, with a final decision made by full council on December 11 this year.

Letters will be sent out next month to notify all households affected by the changes and to reassure pensioners and vulnerable people that they are protected.