Hundreds of pensioners missing out on council tax support in Hartlepool
Hundreds of pensioners are no longer receiving help to pay their council tax in Hartlepool.
There were 5,145 pensioners claiming council tax support in Hartlepool in the three months to December 2018, official figures show.
This was a drop of 672, or 12%, compared to the same period in 2015.
Low-income households in England can apply for a discount on their tax under the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
The scheme replaced the nationally-administered Council Tax Benefit in 2013, giving individual local authorities the power to decide who is eligible for support and what discounts to offer.
Some pensioners who receive pension credit to top up their income may be fully exempt from council tax.
Others may get a discount if they have less than £16,000 in savings or property, but the amount will vary depending on their income.
Hartlepool Borough Council said evidence suggests a reduction in the amount of pensioners receiving council tax support could be a result of the Government’s increase in the state retirement pension age threshold.
A spokesperson said: “However, the council is fully committed to ensuring residents of any age affected by welfare changes are aware of the help available to access financial support.
“Claimants can visit the Civic Centre, where Customer Services staff are available to answer questions and offer help to complete traditional paper forms.
“For those who may not have access to the internet at home, the People’s Network is accessible at the town’s Community Hubs and libraries.
“This offers Hartlepool residents one hour of free internet access per day, allowing individuals to apply for a reduction online via our user-friendly Hartlepool Borough Council Online system.
“Alternatively, a home visit service is also offered by the council’s benefits section, for frail or vulnerable members of society who may require specialist assistance.
“We would encourage any claimant experiencing difficulty in accessing support to contact the council’s benefits team on 01429 284188, who can offer comprehensive guidance on eligibility and the various ways to make a claim.”
The Government says it has protected pensioners, and that they continue to receive the same level of support as under the previous system.
However, there are now 245,000 fewer pensioners claiming support in England compared to three years ago – a drop of 13%.
Out of 326 local authorities, only five did not see a fall in pensioner claimants.
Caroline Abrahams from Age UK said it was important for eligible pensioners to have access to support.
“It is shameful that despite millions of older people struggling financially, at least £3 billion in social security benefits remains unclaimed every year when this extra income could make a huge difference to their lives,” she said.
Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak MP said councils were best placed to make decisions about the appropriate level of support to provide in their area.
He added: “We have given councils access to £46.4billion this year to allow them to meet the needs of their residents.”