Council braced for benefit cuts

THE POOREST people in West Lindsey could be hit in the pocket when council tax benefits are cut next year.

In Lincolnshire, £5 million is set to be cut from council budgets for vital cash support which helps people on low incomes pay their council tax bill.

Under the Government’s welfare shake-up, all local councils will take over the administration of tax benefits from April 2013.

West Lindsey District Council currently gets a £6 million subsidy from Whitehall to fund council tax benefits for more than 8,000 people, which is set to be cut by 10 per cent from next year.

This means people on the lowest incomes might have to stump up the cash towards their council tax.

But the authority says is looking at other ways of bridging the shortfall, so that the most vulnerable residents are protected.

“Pensioners and really vulnerable people will not be affected by this,” said Coun Burt Keimach, leader of West Lindsey District Council.

“There are a number of ways we can get extra revenue in, like looking at charging council tax on empty homes and second properties.”

“And at a national level they are looking at what defines a disabled person and the benefits they get.”

Currently £50 million is spent every year on council tax benefit in Lincolnshire, providing nearly 66,000 households with reduced council tax.

The new scheme will be funded by a fixed Government grant, set ten per cent lower.

Coun Keimach said: “West Lindsey will try its best. We are working together with the county council and the seven other district councils to try and find ways around it.”

“There will be hardships, I’m not pretending there won’t be. But we are prepared for the worst.”

“I want to reassure people that we will do our best to ensure people are getting what they are entitled to.”

WLDC is now working on a scheme to ensure it can continue to provide support, despite the reduced grant.

Options being considered are reducing the amount of benefit given out, funding the shortfall by reducing other services, using reserves or finding other income sources.

Over the next two months the council will work towards presenting its support scheme budget for consultation.

A statement from WLDC read: “Pensioners are protected from the savings. Under the new scheme they will receive at least as much in council tax benefit as they do now. This does mean that savings have to be found elsewhere and people of working age may be the most affected.”

WLDC councillor Trevor Young, who represents the south west ward, one of the most deprived areas in Gainsborough, said the changes would worry many people.

“People on the lowest incomes may have to start contributing towards council tax, which some people may say is fair,” he said.

“But for those who are caught up in this predicament will be very difficult.”

“For many it will be a choice between paying council tax or buying their kids a meal, or pay for heating and lighting.”

Around half of all council tax benefit recipients in West Lindsey are of working age.

The average council tax bill in the district is £1,440 a year. Most goes to the county council and Lincolnshire Police Authority for their services.