Council tax support scheme approved for Northumberland - but not without controversy

The support will remain the same level in 2021-22 and continues to attract criticism from Labour. v.1

By Ben O'Connell
Monday, 9th November 2020, 6:00 am
Northumberland County Council's County Hall at Morpeth
Northumberland County Council's County Hall at Morpeth

Council tax support in Northumberland will remain unchanged next year, despite ongoing opposition to this ‘disgraceful tax on the most impoverished’.

At the Wednesday, November 4, full meeting of Northumberland County Council, members agreed by 33 votes to 28 to maintain the maximum level of support at 92% for 2021-22.

The reduction from 100% was introduced by the Conservative administration back in 2019 and meant that every household in the county had to pay at least 8% of their council tax requirement, with 12,500 receiving a bill for the very first time that year.

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However, as previously reported, the county council received £3.4million from the Government in April 2020 to reduce bills further during the pandemic, meaning that 13,000 people again ended up having no bill to pay this year.

Cllr Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, explained that a proportion of this funding is likely to be rolled over to next year, with the result being that the maximum level of support will be in the region of 97.5%, depending on how much is spent this year and the exact number of claimants.

Nonetheless, Labour’s Cllr Lynne Grimshaw, a long-term critic, described it as an ‘absolutely disgraceful tax on the most impoverished people that we represent in the south-east of Northumberland’.

She repeated her call made at the Monday, October 12, meeting of the corporate services committee to defer this decision until a report on collection levels is presented in December.

Cllr Oliver replied that, as explained at that meeting, there isn’t time to defer it as the scheme needs to be in place ahead of the council tax base and budget-setting processes.

He added: “I think it’s worth pointing out that with the money that we believe we’ll have in the pot, a typical single person in a band A house will be required to make a payment of around £2.50 a month.

“Although I understand this is absolutely affecting people in the hardest of circumstances, it is worth trying to put some perspective on it.”

Labour leader, Cllr Susan Dungworth said: “I won’t support this, it’s the wrong recommendation. It was wrong when it was introduced two years ago and it’s even more wrong under the current circumstances.”

Following further criticism, Cllr Oliver repeated the claim made when the cut was first agreed that if Labour had retained control of the council in 2017, it was planning to reduce council tax support by 50%, although this was disputed again by the opposition.

Cllr Georgina Hill, the independent ward member for Berwick East, pointed out that other schemes in councils of different colours are less generous, but said she had consistently voted against this as ‘it really does make a difference’.

There was also a digression after Cllr Jeff Reid questioned if the decision would be legal given the full 155-page document has not been sent out as a paper copy.

However, it was included online, there was a link to it from the agenda emailed to councillors and it stated that members could request a paper copy if they needed it, so it was eventually concluded that this was not an issue.

The reduction applies only to working-age claimants as the pensioner element continues to be prescribed by the Government with a 100% maximum. The overall scheme is forecast to cost £26.6million this year in the county.

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