Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Lib Dems defeat proposal to force poorest to pay extra hundreds in council tax

Cornwall councillors today opposed a plan by the Tory-led council to cut the amount paid in council tax benefits to some of the poorest families in Cornwall.

The Corporate Resources scrutiny committee was discussing the council's plan of how to replace the current council tax benefit scheme, responsibility for which is being passed to local authorities.

The proposal from the Conservatives was to force non-pensioner households who currently get council tax benefit to pay at least 25% of the bill in future. Council tax benefit is a means tested benefit which is only given to the poorest households in Cornwall. Most people in receipt of this benefit just don't have the means to pay and will simply rack up more and more debt. This would hit poor families but also create additional problems for the council s it sought to get money from people who just don't have any.

The Conservatives also planned to cap council tax benefit at Band D. The effect of this would be to impose an additional burden on larger families - especially those who live in more wealthy areas with higher property prices such as Truro and coastal villages. This would lead to the social cleansing of poorer families from areas with higher property prices. The cabinet member responsible for finance - Fiona Ferguson - proposed creating a special hardship fund to deal with those who could not afford the extra tax. But in my mind this would simply impose yet more paperwork on families who would automatically qualify for the additional support.

So at today's meeting I made the proposal to abandon the cap at Band D and to retain the existing system of council tax benefit. This inevitably means that the money will have to be found from somewhere and I made the suggestion that the extra income coming from new council tax levies on second home owners and empty homes should be used. This is around £4.5 million of new income and Liberal Democrats believe that we should be using it to protect the poorest families from unnecessary hardship.

I'm delighted that the majority of Independents and MK backed my proposal and this now forms the recommendation to Cabinet when putting together their budget.

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