Scheme to help Hartlepool families affected by council tax support changes is extended

Christopher Akers-Belcher
Christopher Akers-Belcher

A SCHEME to ease the burden on families affected by changes to the council tax benefit system will offer the same level of protection for another year.

Many Hartlepool residents saw a cut in the level of council tax support they get from April after the Government abolished a national council tax benefit system.

Local councils were required to come up with their own schemes but Government funding available to local authorities was cut by 10 per cent.

In real terms it meant a 13.4 per cent funding cut for Hartlepool resulting in the authority giving away £1.5m less in benefits.

At an extraordinary meeting in January, Hartlepool Borough Council agreed a scheme that limited the benefit reduction for working-age households to 8.5 per cent for 2013-14.

The council managed to afford it by using £500,000 from its reserves and by using extra council tax income it gets from charges on second homes.

But it says it will not be able to avoid the cut in support rising to 20 per cent at some stage.

The council’s finance and policy committee agreed to keep the cut to 8.5 per cent for 2014-15 and then implement phased reductions in support over the following two years.

A second option members considered was to begin phased reductions next year.

Committee chairman and council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher said the chosen option was the best deal.

He said: “It is the here and now where people are feeling the greatest hurt.

“We decided to keep it at the low level for the benefit of people who have been hardest hit by the welfare reforms and thought it was more prudent to keep the low level for next year.”

Coun Akers-Belcher said the scheme will be reviewed annually and keeping the same level of cut will save the council money by not having to hold a consultation exercise.

Disadvantages to the option favoured by councillors are it will cost the council £205,0000 compared to £110,000 and the higher cuts will happen over three years instead of four.

A 20 per cent in council tax support will need to be introduced in the year 2017-18 based on current forecasts.

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.