Proposed changes to Council Tax Support could see nearly 5,000 Fenland households pay substantially more from next year

Fenland District Council

Fenland District Council - Credit: Archant

Proposed changes to Council Tax Support could see 4,700 Fenland households pay a substantially higher amount of Council Tax from next April.

Shortfalls in Government funding mean Fenland District Council, in a bid to save £215,000, could reduce Council Tax Support by 14 per cent in the year 2014-15.

Under the proposals Band D households, whose average Council Tax is £1,587.57 per year, will be forced to pay £222 in 2014-15. The council, however, says most Fenland households are in lower bands “so their increase will be less than that”.

The proposal will be discussed by Fenland District Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee on November 25 before going to full council next month; a scheme needs to be approved by January 31.

Under the Council Tax Benefit scheme, which was abolished in April, eligible households were not required to pay Council Tax.

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It was instead paid for by Fenland District Council, who were reimbursed by the government’s Department for Work and Pensions.

But the Government has replaced Council Tax Benefit with Council Tax Support, a means-tested reduction from Council Tax.

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The changes meant, while people of state pension age were protected, eligible working age people paid 8.5 per cent of their 2013-14 Council Tax bill.

For Band D households, this meant paying £135 Council Tax and has led to a substantial increase in reminders and summonses for non or late payment.

In May, the month after the changes came into force, Fenland Council issued 2,306 reminders and 1,726 summonses, compared to May last year, when 828 reminders and 782 summonses were handed out.

Last month, 1,142 reminders and 303 summonses were issued, compared to 1,109 reminders and 284 summonses in October 2012.

Overall, collection rates are down from 74.2 per cent (2012-13) to 73.5 per cent (2013-14).

A council spokesman pointed out, however, that “these are on target since we have made greater provision for non-payment because of the effect of the change.”

This year, the Government gave Fenland District Council money to help limit the shortfall, but this money is not available for next year.

Fenland District Council has consulted residents on a 20 per cent reduction in Council Tax Support for 2014-15.

They wrote letters to all 4,700 customers potentially affected.

The ten-week consultation, which finished on October 31, generated a passionate response.

Sixty out of 175 respondents said they did not understand the proposals, while only 55 people agreed everyone other than pensioners should pay some Council Tax.

Thirty-one people disagreed and 68 strongly disagreed with the proposals.

Out of 174 people, 111 said vulnerable groups (such as the disabled and families with young children) should be helped by getting more benefit than those without a disability or young children.

Sixty-six respondents complained the proposals will make them worse off, 22 said the vulnerable should be protected more and 11 felt the council should be increase efficiency instead of passing on the cuts.

Eight people feared they would no longer have enough money to live on.

The council spokesman added: “You could of course turn some of them round and say 115 respondents did understand the proposals. More importantly, it’s not surprising that most of the comments are negative, given that it’s always people who don’t like proposals who are most likely to take the trouble to respond and although the consultation was open to everyone, we specifically wrote to the 4,700 people who would be adversely affected - thus making the overall response even more likely to be negative.”

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