Plymouth council tax benefit to be cut for 16,000
AT LEAST 16,000 people are set to see a big jump in the amount of council tax they pay next year.
City bosses have warned that benefits given to low-paid people are likely to be slashed by a quarter from next April.
The move has been forced on Plymouth City Council by the Government, which has cut the council tax benefits budget and handed responsibility to local authorities.
About 27,000 Plymouth people now get council tax benefit.
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Of these, 11,000 are pensioners, or war widows and veterans on low income. They will continue to be protected, Cllr Mark Lowry, the city's Cabinet member for finance said yesterday.
That leaves about 16,000 who will see their benefits cut by a quarter.
The Government has cut £2.6million from the £22million bill for council tax benefit in Plymouth. Ministers have suggested the city should cut benefits by 30 per cent, but Cllr Lowry said he was holding the line at 25 per cent.
He is proposing to pay for this by changes to benefits caps.
At present anyone with savings over £16,000 is not eligible for help, but from next April that will be lowered to £6,000.
The maximum benefit will be capped at Band E. Anyone with a bigger house will no longer qualify for extra benefit.
Meanwhile, Mr Lowry is proposing to set up a £100,000 hardship fund to help those in severe difficulty.
Plymouth has worked with the rest of Devon to come up with broadly similar schemes. Cllr Lowry said the aim was to prevent people moving to areas with more generous benefits.
"This will hit the low-paid," Cllr Lowry said. "We have been put in an impossible position by the Government."
The proposed scheme will be considered by the Cabinet on December 11 and will be formally adopted by the end of January. The changes will come into effect on April 1 next year.
Cllr Lowry said: "We are doing our best to protect residents as much as possible from the Government's Draconian cuts to the welfare system. Subject to funding settlements, we won't pass on the full 30 per cent cut.
"However, people who are working will feel the impact of the Government's £2.6 million cut. This is thoroughly unfair but we are being forced to do it.
"I have been lobbied by my Cabinet colleague, Cllr Chris Penberthy, to make sure that in line with our manifesto commitment to support the Armed Forces, our scheme protects people in receipt of war disablement pensions and war widows' and widowers' pensions.
Mr Lowry and his finance team are now wrestling with next year's council budget in the face of Government grant cuts. Residents will face a double whammy if Mr Lowry decides to put up council tax in the Spring.
Cllr Ian Bowyer, the Conservative finance spokesman, said: "The decision they choose to make is their decision. It has not been made in consultation with me or any of my colleagues.
"I respect their right to do that, but they have to be prepared to defend that to the people of the city.
"The alternative is that they make extra efforts to make savings in order to allow the present system to continue.
"It's another of those tough decisions they have to face up to."