Epping Forest District residents will have their say on how support for Council Tax payments will be provided to local people on low incomes.
Under the Welfare Reform Act, the Government will end Council Tax Benefit on 31 March 2013 to be replaced by a Local Council Tax Support scheme (LCTS). The Government is moving responsibility for the new scheme to councils and reducing the amount of money it provides. The Government funding allocated to Epping Forest District for LCTS is expected to fall to 88% of its current Council Tax Benefit value. For Epping Forest District Council, this means a drop of approximately £1 million.
Residents will be asked to comment on the proposals stemming from the Government’s reforms. District and borough councils in the county have been working together with Essex County Council to design, develop and deliver a framework for the new LCTS schemes and tackle the reduction in funding.
Pensioners are protected from any reduction to their benefit payments. If benefit payments are to be met without significant costs to Council Tax Payers or reductions in other services, the support given to those of working age will need to be reduced.
The proposed Epping Forest framework incorporates five key principles for working age claimants:
• Calculation of support will be based on 80 per cent of the Council Tax bill rather than 100 per cent as at present.
• The calculation of benefit will be on the maximum of a Band D property. Anyone in a higher banded property will only be able to claim at the Band D rate.
• Child maintenance will be taken into account when assessing income although £15.00 per week will be disregarded.
• Anyone with savings of more than £6,000 will not be eligible
• An exceptional hardship scheme will provide a safety net for people in particular need.
Epping Forest District Council is also seeking views on whether child benefit should be included in the calculation, whether there should be a standard charge for other adults living in a property and whether any groups of people, such as disabled or young families should receive any protection.
It is proposed that some forms of income such as Disability Living Allowance and War Disablement Pensions be excluded from the calculations to ensure the most vulnerable groups in the community are protected from the reductions.
Councillor Chris Whitbread, Leader of Epping Forest District Council said: “These are tough choices. Some people who have never paid Council Tax before will do so for the first time. We are working to ensure no-one is left unable to fend for themselves without a roof over their head. The elderly and most vulnerable groups should be protected. Working age people should be encouraged to work. Families on low incomes should receive some support and thrift should be rewarded. Nevertheless, I do not understate the potential impact on people of working age on low incomes if these proposals are adopted. It is therefore vital that people look very carefully at the proposals and reply to the consultation.”
Cabinet meeting on 23 July approved proposals for everyone in receipt of Council Tax Benefit in Epping Forest district to be contacted directly during a six-week period starting on 1 August as part of the pan-Essex consultation. At the end of the consultation period, the feedback received will be considered by the Cabinet with final approval of the new scheme planned for the meeting of Full Council on 18 December.
All residents are being invited to participate whether or not they are in receipt of Council Tax Benefit. The consultation is available here from 1 August with links to the questionnaire on the Essex County Council website.