Monday, 31 March 2014

Cornwall bucks national trend to cut council tax bills for poorest residents

A report for the Guardian has shown that in many parts of the country, some of the poorest residents are facing having to pay council tax for the first time. Here in Cornwall - thanks to the Liberal Democrats being part of the administration - the reverse is happening and people who genuinely cannot afford to pay are being taken out of the council tax system.

A year ago, the government devolved responsibility for council tax benefit to local authorities. The new system - known as council tax support - needed to be run with 10% less money. This meant that councils had a choice in order to make the books balance - to make people pay for the first time or to find the money from elsewhere. Councils that limited the amount imposed on new payers got a government grant. That grant has now run out and so many of the councils that sought to protect people last year are having to impose charges on people this year.

Here in Cornwall, the Conservatives forced through a proposal to make working age households pay at least 25%. They did introduce an exceptional relief policy, but only allowing people to claim up to half the amount owed.

Together with my Lib Dem colleagues, I have always argued that whilst some people could afford to pay something, there were also some who really could afford to pay nothing. In such cases, the process of billing them, taking them to court and so on was a futile exercise which just wastes money that we are never going to get back.

That's why, together with our Indie colleagues in the new administration, we have changed the hardship fund so that, in the case of the poorest, we will allow 100% relief. We believe that people who can afford to pay should be expected to do so. But we know that this is not possible in every case and we have changed the rules accordingly.

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