There was a heated debate when Labour and Tory councillors clashed over changes to the council tax support scheme (CTS).
Recommendations were put forward at last Monday’s full council meeting to continue the scheme unchanged for 2015/16.
The rules, brought in April 2013, see working-age non-dependant claimants who used to get all their council tax paid by the state having to foot at least 25 per cent of the bill. Pensioners and war veterans remain protected from the changes.
The recommendations include some small increases made to social security benefits in line with national changes.
Labour’s Coun Paul Gleeson said the £39,960 underspend from this year’s scheme was being used to chase people who had not paid the required 25 per cent.
“We are taking money out of the pockets of some of the poorest in the town,” he said. “Because of the overspend, people have not got their money in their pockets.
“We were promised the underspend would be used to fund training for people to get into work. But we are taking the money out of the pockets of the poorest people in Boston at the moment just to cover other people not paying.”
Coun Paul Goodale said more should be done to help people ‘back at work and struggling to make ends meet’.
Coun Gleeson (Labour)put forward four ammendments seeking to remove the 75 per cent cap, further protecting the severely disabled and families with disabled children. But each failed with the ruling majority taking the vote.
Coun Paul Kenny (Labour)said people are increasingly living off the town’s food bank and seeking advice from CAB, adding: “We’ve got a room full of councillors here who don’t get it.”
Council leader and Conservative Peter Bedford accused Labour of ‘not giving the full story’, pointing out that removing the 75 per cent cap would also take money out of the police and county council budgets.
A public consultation which ran his autumn showed 87 per cent of people agree with the proposal that everyone (except pensioners and war veterans) should have to pay something towards their council tax – and 78 per cent do not think other groups should be protected.
Responding to criticism of the scheme, Coun Aaron Spencer accused the Labour councillors of ‘political point-scoring’ and of making ‘headline-grabbing statements’.
“It’s the council’s responsibility to try to safeguard the most vulnerable in the community and we are doing what we can,” he said.
“We just can’t give people 100 per cent as the money is not there.”
Changes were made in 2013 because the Government abolished the national Council Tax Benefit Scheme, and reduced funding to the council.
This meant Boston would have had a shortfall of almost £750,000 if it kept the benefit as before.