Labour anger at proposed cut: 'Find your savings elsewhere'

Coun Lynne Grimshaw.
Coun Lynne Grimshaw.

Proposals to cut council tax support in Northumberland to save £1million a year have been described as ‘atrocious’ and ‘despicable’ by Labour.

As previously reported, Northumberland County Council’s cabinet is being asked to approve a consultation on a reduction in the level of council tax support for working-age claimants to 92 per cent.

The current scheme provides assistance of up to 100 per cent, meaning that some households pay no council tax, and the proposed changes would affect around 12,000 people.

The assistance provided for pensioners is set out by the Government, but for younger people, it is up to each council to decide.

At yesterday’s meeting of the council’s corporate services committee, Coun Nick Oliver, cabinet member for corporate resources, said: “We take no pleasure in proposing this, but we have to find a balanced budget.

“Currently only Durham and Northumberland in the North East pay 100 per cent relief and only about 10 per cent of councils nationally. We would still have the most generous scheme in the North East with the exception of Durham.”

But Labour’s Coun Lynne Grimshaw said: “I think it’s atrocious, picking on the most vulnerable. Every member has areas of deprivation (in their ward) and people are starving, people are taking their own lives.

“To put another pressure on people who are struggling even to afford a loaf of bread, it’s despicable. You can find your savings elsewhere.”

Responding, Coun Oliver said: “We do have to find savings and we have deferred this adoption. When we took over, we were presented with savings from your administration and that included 50 per cent on the council tax support scheme.”

Coun Grimshaw hit back, saying: “I’m sure if our administration was still in power, we would reject this wholeheartedly.”

Coun Gordon Castle said: “If you look at other places with less generous schemes, like Middlesbrough, Redcar and Hartlepool, they are hardly the richest places in the country.”

Coun Malcolm Robinson said he was ‘uncomfortable with taking money from people’, but recognised that all he was being asked to support was the start of a consultation.

The committee voted by six votes to three to recommend that the cabinet launches a consultation on the proposed cuts.

If approved at its meeting next Tuesday (September 11), a six-week consultation will take place ahead of a final decision in January next year.

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.

Of the 15,425 working-age claimants, more than three-quarters (12,010) receive the full relief and currently have no bill to pay.

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.

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