Cuts to council-tax support look set to go-ahead after consultation backing

Northumberland County CouncilNorthumberland County Council
Northumberland County Council
Cuts to council-tax support in Northumberland look set to go ahead, after consultation revealed a majority in favour of the cost-saving measure.

Northumberland County Council has proposed and consulted on a reduction in the level of council-tax support for working-age claimants to 92 per cent. The current scheme provides up to 100 per cent, meaning that some households pay no council tax.

Coun Nick Oliver, the Conservative cabinet member for corporate resources, previously said: “We take no pleasure in proposing this, but we have to find a balanced budget.”

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Nonetheless, when the proposal was first announced, Labour’s Coun Lynne Grimshaw described it as ‘atrocious’ and ‘despicable’.

The ‘evil, vile cut’ also sparked a heated debate at the council’s full meeting in November amid claims that the previous Labour administration was planning to save five times as much.

However, the results of the six-week consultation show that of the 512 respondents, 51 per cent agreed with the proposal to reduce the maximum level of support to 92 per cent.

Therefore, the council’s cabinet is being recommended to approve the cut at its meeting next Wednesday (December 19), with the authority’s overall council-tax support scheme needing to be finalised by the end of January. It will also be discussed by the corporate services committee next Monday (December 17).

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Only Northumberland and Durham in the North East currently offer 100 per cent relief, and about 10 per cent of councils nationally. The cut as proposed would still mean Northumberland’s scheme was more generous than the rest of the region apart from Durham.

The cost of the 26,984 people receiving support in 2018-19 is forecast to total £25million, of which 15,425 working-age claimants get £14million and 11,559 pensioners receive £11million.

There is no change proposed to the scheme for pensioners which is prescribed by the Government and not at the discretion of local authorities.

Of the working-age claimants, more than three-quarters (12,010) receive the full relief and currently have no bill to pay.

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An eight per cent reduction in the maximum support would reduce the cost of the scheme by £1.2million and, based on an anticipated collection level of 83 per cent over time, would generate additional council-tax receipts of £1million.

The report to councillors adds: ‘In order to maintain collection rates, the option to pay over 12 instalments will be offered to those affected by the change as well as the usual 10 instalments.’

In terms of the impact on those currently receiving 100 per cent support, an eight per cent reduction to a typical band A property would mean a council-tax bill of £98.55 per year for a couple/family or £73.91 for a single person.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service