On Wednesday night Lancaster City Council voted 33-13 to preserve council tax benefit levels for all claimants in the face of a cut in government funding for the benefit. The government’s cut to the grant for council tax benefit would have resulted in the poorest-paid and unemployed couples in Lancaster district having to find £232 each year (£4.45 per week) in council tax from April. Single people would have been £174 a year (£3.34 per week) worse off.
Green councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox, who was responsible for much of the research behind the motion, said:
"Green councillors have been insistent that extra revenue from extending the council tax levied on empty homes and second homes, added to a transitional grant from central government, could cover more than 87 per cent of the lost grant and that we should use these funds to protect people already struggling with increasing food and energy bills. The residents who will be affected by the loss of council tax benefit are those on low incomes who are also likely to face further cuts to their income as a direct result of the government’s wider welfare reform programme.
"But not only were the cuts to council tax benefit unfair, they threaten to be an administrative nightmare to implement," he added. "Even senior members of the Conservative party have pointed to the difficulty and expense of trying to collect relatively small sums - but still significant for the people charged - from relatively large numbers of already poor households who have been protected from paying council tax until now.
“I am delighted that the City Council supported maintaining a fully-funded council tax support scheme - not only because it was the right thing to do to help poorer people but was affordable too – and administratively the sensible option.
"With a further funding cut from government of £1.6m to come in 2014-15 there’s no guarantee that we can hold the line then. But at least we have the time to see what chaos is inflicted in other parts of the country by cuts in council tax benefit and to learn from it. As some senior Conservatives have said, the requirement to make every household pay some council tax, regardless of income, is a poll tax mark 2, and it didn’t work first time round.”