Hardship fund for benefit cut sufferers

By Ian Dipple Friday 31 January 2014 Updated: 03/02 11:40

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A HARDSHIP fund is being created to support those affected by cuts to a council tax benefit scheme.

Councillors have agreed from April that working age residents eligible for a council tax discount will only receive 80 per cent off the total bill and will have to find the remainder themselves.

About 4,600 households will be affected by the move, approved at a recent meeting of Redditch Borough Council’s executive committee. The Conservative group attempted to move a motion asking for the cut to be staggered over the next two years but were told as it had not been included in the original consultation and there was no time to consult on the issue again, it was invalid.

Amanda De Warr, the council’s head of customer access and financial support, said the hardship fund would be available to those in real need, cash limited, depend on individual circumstances and not be aimed at any individual group.

“Actioning of this scheme will have an impact on households on low incomes, some of which won’t have paid council tax before,” she said.

“It’s not possible for us to help everybody affected by the changes and we will be working with applicants to move them towards improved financial independence for themselves so they can move off support over time.”

The changes are a result of government welfare cuts which mean instead of the council dealing with council tax benefit claimants and then recouping the money from the Department of Work and Pensions, it is now given a grant but which only covers 90 per cent of the £6.5million previously being paid out.

That left a £650,000 shortfall split between the fire, police, county and borough council to run services.

Councils were allowed to devise their own scheme to fill the gap, but were told by the Government to protect pensioners.

Redditch Borough Council’s share of the gap is £91,000 of which £26,000 has been saved through reducing the council tax discounts available on empty homes. The latest measure will save another £63,000.

Council leader Bill Hartnett said they had no choice but to approve the move as doing nothing would not only put extra pressure on their finances but those of the county council, police and fire services.

“Sometimes we do things with a heavy heart,” he said.

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