Low income households in Northumberland can currently see their annual council tax bills slashed by more than 90 per cent.
But despite fears about the impact of the pandemic, rising costs of living and the ongoing energy crisis, leaders at Northumberland County Council have refused to provide a full exemption to those most in need, voting instead to maintain support at its current level.
“[Councillors] work in the community with the people this will affect, the people deciding whether they can afford to put the heating on or feed their kids,” said opposition Labour councillor Caroline Ball.
“Instead of having to apply and make phone calls, let’s take away the stress.
“The money’s there, why are we making people jump through hoops when we’ve already got in-work poverty and cuts to Universal Credit? Why don’t we make it simple?”
Until 2019, council tax bills could be completely cancelled for those who met the right criteria.
From the start of the 2019/20 financial year however, rules were changed meaning “working-age claimants” of the local authority’s Council Tax Support Scheme (CTSS) could only have their annual charge cut by a maximum of 92 per cent.
Pensioners are still eligible to see their annual bill totally scrapped.
The CTSS is predicted to cost the county council about £26 million over the course of 2021/22.
This, combined with extra government Covid funding, has seen council tax liabilities wiped for 13,040 claimants this financial year.
Even with discounts capped at a maximum of 92 per cent, Northumberland remains one of the most generous support schemes in the North East, second only to County Durham, the last local authority offering a full 100 per cent exemption.
Defending the current programme, Conservative county councillor David Bawn said “Someone said the people who support this scheme lack integrity – the thing I noticed was the two most generous [North East councils] are not run by the Labour Party.
“Perhaps some [Northumberland councillors] might turn their fire on their comrades in other local authorities, before castigating us for offering a very generous scheme.
“I think we should cut down the histrionics and look at the very sensible additional support we’re offering, which is real support, not hot air.”