Dozens have a say on benefit changes

DOZENS of people have already had their say on proposed major changes to the way council tax benefit is paid and civic chiefs are urging more to come forward.

Officials at Hartlepool Borough Council are looking for people’s views on plans for a Local Council Tax Support (LCTS) scheme, which will set new rules as to which residents qualify for council tax benefit and how much they receive from April 2013.

It follows the Government’s decision to abolish the national Council Tax Benefit (CTB) scheme which currently applies the same rules to the whole country, as part of its welfare reforms.

So far around 50 people have taken part in the consultation and civic chiefs are urging more to come forward.

The biggest effect of the change is that some Hartlepool residents will find that the level of benefit they receive will reduce.

This is because the Government also plans to reduce its financial support for new local schemes.

In Hartlepool’s case, this is set to result in an estimated £1.6m funding cut in 2013-14 – a reduction of 14 per cent.

The council cannot afford to offset this reduction in funding from its own budget because it faces spending cuts of nearly £10m over the next two years.

Independent councillor Paul Thompson, portfolio holder for finance and corporate services, said: “We face some very difficult decisions about who should receive council tax support and how much they should get.

“But we wouldn’t be in this position if the Government wasn’t changing the system and reducing the level of funding it provides.

“So far around fifty people have responded to the consultation and we’d like to hear from more people before the consultation closes.”

Low income pensioners who make 43 per cent of all council tax benefit claims in Hartlepool, will be protected and unaffected by the changes, but the other 57 per cent of claimants could receive a council tax bill for the first time, where previously they weren’t required to pay anything, or a higher bill because the benefit they receive is reducing.

The consultation started last month and residents have until November 9 to air their views.

They can comment by going to www.surveymonkey.com/s/HBC-LCTS o.

Information will also be available at the South and Central Neighbourhood Forum and the North and Coastal Neighbourhood Forum meetings.

These are to be held in the Civic Centre on Wednesday, October 31, from 10am to noon and from 2pm to 4pm respectively.