Council tax support proposals

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COUNCILLORS will meet this week to confirm changes to the council tax benefit system in Hartlepool.

From April, the Government is giving councils the power to administer the benefit, but with a 10 per cent cut in funding – meaning financially-stretched families facing further money troubles.

The changes mean £1.1m will be taken away from Hartlepool Borough Council, with the authority giving away less in benefits.

The localised council tax support scheme for 2013-14 will be discussed at an extraordinary meeting of the full council on Thursday.

As previously reported, the actual grant cut for Hartlepool works out at about £14.58 per head of population, the highest in the North-East.

Because pensioners are among the vulnerable groups that will be protected, the authority was initially considering introducing a 20 per cent cut in levels of council tax benefit for others.

But finance chiefs have instead managed to come up with a tapered approach over four years.

If approved by the full council it will see an 8.5 per cent reduction for 2013-14, 15 per cent for two years after that before it rises to 20 per cent in 2016-17.

It follows an announcement by the Government in October of an additional £100m “transition funding” to help councils for 2013-14 only.

The council’s cabinet committee, chaired by Mayor Stuart Drummond, has already backed the plans along with a council working group and the scrutiny co-ordinating committee.

A council report added: “The scrutiny co-ordinating committee, supported by the Localising Council Tax Benefit Working Group, support the cabinet proposal to implement an 8.5 per cent reduction in support.”

Figures show that in Hartlepool, 15,000 households receive the council tax benefit, including 6,600 pensioner households and 8,500 working age households, with the annual amount of benefit awarded around £13.3m

Council finance chiefs say the scheme will need to be reviewed on an annual basis to reflect changing economic conditions and Government funding allocations for future years.

The report added: “This will include close monitoring to ensure actual claimant numbers and collection rates of council tax are in line with planning forecasts as any variances will either require the council to revise the local scheme for future years, or result in an additional General Fund budget pressure.”

The extraordinary meeting is due to take place at 7pm in the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road.