York Green Party

Green proposal to limit council tax benefit cuts

13 December 2012

Green Group leader, Cllr Andy D'Agorne has today put down an amendment to the Council's proposed new Council Tax Support scheme, which will be voted on at Full Council this evening. Cllr D'Agorne condemned the proposed scheme as having the potential to drive many of York's worse off residents to breaking point.

If councillors approve the Labour administration's proposed scheme (Option 1) then many of York's most vulnerable residents (both people seeking work and people in work) will be forced to pay an extra £300 to £400 a year, when previously they have been entitled to 100% Council Tax Benefit. The Green Party amendment proposes the Council should approve the 'Option 2' of three options put to the cabinet in November, which would reduce the benefit cut from 30% to a maximum of 8.5%. The scheme currently on the table will see 6,652 York households paying an average increase of between £4.16 and £11.26 extra per week (see Annex C, Cabinet, Dec 4th.)

The reduction in benefits is the result of the Government transferring responsibility for council tax benefit to local councils accompanied by a 10% cut on the current year payment in terms of the funding provided for 2013/14, leading to a £1.3m shortfall for York. As Cllr D'Agorne says, 'this particular cut is an excellent example of what the Coalition means by 'localism' - localising the pain and the blame, whilst keeping the purse strings firmly centralised.'

He will add that he therefore understands that in the face of all the other Coalition cuts to local government it is very difficult to find additional funds within the Council budget, but will argue that 'nonetheless money has been found so far for a variety of initiatives by this administration such as £330,000 for a vaguely defined grant to Science City York, £280,000 on raising York's global profile and £25,000 for a funding a trip to a property fair in Cannes. It would seem reasonable that given the political will the impact of this cut could at least be reduced.'

The Greens point to the recent approved changes to other parts of the city's Council Tax scheme, in line with Government requirements. Measures such as the removal of the 10% reduction for second homes, an empty homes premium and the fixing of the general exemption for empty properties at 50% will amount to increased revenue to the council of £773,000, covering the cost to the Council of Option 2 for 2013/14 (£772,000). Cllr D'Agorne added, 'We accept the Council's point that some of this extra money may be difficult to collect but we find it hard to accept that overall these changes will be cost neutral (as suggested in the Cabinet paper). Even at a 50% collection rate this will raise around £386,000, leaving a budget pressure of around £386,000 if Option 2 were approved.'

'We believe the impact of these changes on vulnerable households is unacceptable and will be counter-productive, quite possibly leading to further costs when people's family budgets are pushed to breaking point. 60% of working age benefits are paid to people in work - these additional costs added to rising energy bills and rents could lead to a spiral of debt for many low paid working households in York. Green-led Brighton & Hove Council are also setting their Council Tax Support Scheme today and are proposing a scheme which keeps the maximum increase in payments down to £3 per week, doubles the earnings disregard and includes a discretionary fund to ensure that the thousand hardest hit claimants will pay nothing extra. With the political will we could also do better in York.'

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