28 per cent of people facing council tax benefit cut

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MORE than a quarter of households in Hartlepool face having a massive reduction in their council tax benefit.

There are 15,000 households in the town who receive the benefit, including 6,700 pensioner households and 8,300 working age households.

As part of new Government proposal, local councils are being given powers to administer the benefit.

But the new plans will see Hartlepool Borough Council given less money and the authority giving away less in benefits.

Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond has warned the move will be a “disaster” for the town.

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Under the proposals £1.1m will be taken away from the council, equating to 28 per cent of eligible residents having up to a fifth of their benefit taken away.

This is a further blow for families affected by child poverty, with 29 per cent of children in living below the breadline.

It is also another savage strike for those on the dole queue who claim the benefit, as there are 4,223 people who are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Pensioners are being protected under the new proposals, but council chiefs are calling for other groups to be protected, including working households.

Another consequence of the plans is money has to be saved across other council services, which will affect “every single person, not just people on council tax benefits”, said Mayor Drummond.

He warned: “This is the single biggest risk to this town that this Government has brought forward.

“If such a chunk is taken out and all the administration and policing is done, we will have absolutely no choice, but to reduce levels of service everywhere to cover that and that will affect everyone.

“It’s going to be a disaster.

“It’s going to affect 28 per cent of the population of Hartlepool, who will have potentially 20 per cent of their council tax taken away.

“In casual terms that’s a lot every week for families who need the help more than most and I don’t know how they will cope or how we will cope as a local authority.”

Councillor Robbie Payne, cabinet member for finance and procurement said: “This is some very, very bad news for Hartlepool.

“If these changes are implemented Hartlepool is right up the Swanny.”

By reducing current council tax support, the Government hopes to claw back £500m a year nationally.

The costs of funding council tax benefit are currently met by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), which reimburses expenditure incurred by local councils.

The new plans hope to give local authorities more control over how a 10 per cent reduction on the current council tax benefit bill is achieved, allowing them to balance local priorities and their own financial circumstances.

The proposals are based on an incentive to get people back into work.

But Mayor Drummond said job opportunities are now reduced in Hartlepool.

The changes are currently under consultation and local authorities are being asked for their views on practical issues regarding the implementation of the scheme.

In 2011-12, council tax will raise £39.7m for Hartlepool Borough Council, excluding police and fire authority precepts.

Around £28.6m of council tax is paid directly by individual households and the remaining £11.1m is paid through the existing council tax benefit system.