Council tax benefit cut is ‘fair to everyone’

Boston Borough Council's Municipal Buildings in West Street.
Boston Borough Council's Municipal Buildings in West Street.

Working age people will see their council tax benefits cut by 25 per cent – with the severely disabled and families also bearing the costs.

At last Thursday’s full council meeting, Boston Borough Council voted to go ahead with the reduction in support despite appeals from opposition members.

The changes, which come into effect in April, will not affect pensioners or war pensioners – but will affect all other claimants, including severely disabled people and families with young children.

Changes to council tax benefits have hit national headlines today, with the media looking at the way local authorities are coping with a ten per cent drop in Government funding for the benefit.

At the full council meeting, Coun Paul Gleeson asked for the scheme to be amended to ‘protect the severely disabled and families with disabled children from any reduction in support’.

The council’s report claims the cost of protecting severely disabled people from the changes would be £21,009 – but Coun Gleeson said the cost would only be £4,024, which could be ‘met from the surplus income of £6,000 generated by the scheme’.

The council voted against the amendment, along with four others put forward.

Coun Mike Gilbert said: “We are trying to be fair to everybody and recognise there are some groups that need protection. We also have to look at what the Government have done by creating the context by which we have to bring about these changes.

“We have had years of social engineering from the last government with people becoming more and more dependant on the state. We need to try and find a satisfactory resolution and I believe we have done that.”

As from December 2012, there are 3,159 working age people claiming council tax benefits – and 3,187 pensioners claiming it.

The council is introducing the Council Tax Support Scheme, which treats all working age claimants equally, as part of central Government’s welfare reform. All local authorities are required to introduce a scheme.

Coun David Witts said: “I think this will affect the most vulnerable in our community.”

Coun Paul Kenny added: “I think this is going to come back to haunt you. The people that are going to suffer the most are the low-paid people of Boston.”

In reply, Coun Arron Spencer accused opposition members of ‘making statements to appease the public to get re-elected again’.

“We live in a country now where everybody has to be seen to have equal rights,” he said. “We can’t be seen to discriminate from one set of beneficiaries from another. I support this entirely, it’s the right thing for this council.”

Changes were also approved to council tax exemptions and discount rates on empty properties. This includes the introduction of a premium charge of 150 per cent on dwellings left empty and unoccupied for more than two years. The council said the changes support their ‘wish to see vacant homes across the borough reduced’.