Tax benefit to be slashed

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COUNCIL tax benefits for working-age claimants are set to be slashed by 8.5% in Burnley.

The scheme branded a “poll tax on the poor” will affect 7,000 claimants in the town when charges are finalised in April next year.

Pensioners have been protected from the cuts but thousands of residents could end up having to pay between £64 and £85 per year.

A proposed 20% cut to council tax benefit was scaled back by Burnley Council through a government transition grant and changes to council tax payments on empty homes.

The two-year scheme is designed to incentivise work but critics fear it will drive Burnley residents further into poverty.

Coun. Mark Townsend said that a public consultation showed that many people believed working-age residents should pay at least something towards council tax bills.

He said that a discretionary hardship fund would be set up to support claimants worst hit by the changes.

Coun. Anne Kelly said that families would not go hungry having to pay an extra couple of pounds a week but feared there may be problems collecting the money.

Coun. Betsy Stringer said that it was a “poll tax on the poor” and blamed the Coalition Government.

She said: “It is a small amount of money but there are hardships people are going to have to go through with other benefit cuts.

“It is driving our residents further into poverty.”

Coun. Marcus Johnstone said that a “big bang” effect in changes to benefits was punishing the poor.

He said: “This is not the only thing happening to the poorest of the poor. They have already been taken off ESA and put on Job Seekers’ Allowance which is costing people between £12 and £20 a week.

“‘Bedroom tax’ will cost up to another £18 a week.

“It is not a lot of money but it is a huge hit when you have got very little.”

Accent Housing, which owns 1,500 homes in East Lancashire, fears Burnley residents will suffer financial hardship as a result of the changes which include the “bedroom tax” and the benefit cap.

Claire Stone, Accent Foundation managing director, said: “Many of our residents will be affected by the benefit changes and it is our responsibility to support them in whatever ways we can.

“Some residents don’t think they have ‘spare bedrooms’. They think that if they don’t use their ‘spare bedrooms’ as bedrooms, or they have children or other relatives who stay but don’t live there, or they are used for medical reasons, the bedroom tax won’t affect them. This simply isn’t true.

“The Government has decided how many rooms it will pay housing benefit for depending on how big a family is and what the mix is. If residents have more bedrooms than what the Government thinks they need, their housing benefit will be cut.”

She also voiced concerns about the introduction of the Universal Credit which will be a single monthly payment to residents who may not be used to budgeting and fall into difficulties.