Council tax support scheme must not be cut

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The council is now planning its budget for next year where they expect to make further cuts of £50 million as a result of the Tory government’s Autumn Spending Review.

It has been estimated that a further 100,000 households are expected to fall into poverty as a result.

At the same time they are required by law to review their localised Council Tax Support Scheme and engage in meaningful consultation, especially with those who are most affected.

This provides an opportunity to consider abolishing the minimum council tax charge imposed on thousands of the poorest people in the city since April 2013. These are the unemployed, low-waged, chronically sick or physically and/or mentally disabled.

A recent report by Child Poverty Action Group Too Poor to Pay described these localised schemes as a grotesque system which inflicts more poverty, creating hardship and misery.

On top of the minimal charge which thousands just cannot pay, the council levies extra charges for court hearings, bailiffs and benefit deductions which should stop.

Child Poverty Action Group are calling for such support schemes to receive 100 per cent government funding as before.

Wandsworth council absorbed the cost of extra council tax, concluding that the costs of legal recovery for non-payment outweighed any savings.

This is likely to be the case everywhere, including Sheffield.

Even the Tory-dominated Local Government Association has presented a united front with a cry to government of ‘no more cuts.

This should be backed up with concrete action to reject the Government’s plans and Sheffield council should be part of such a campaign.

This is something that Jeremy Corbyn advocated when he addressed an audience of 1,500 in Sheffield in the summer.

A review of the Council Tax Support scheme should include finding ways to remove this burden such as increasing the council tax, using reserves or various creative accounting methods.

Without this, they will balance the budget at the expense of those who should be part of the council’s priorities for protection.

A campaign should be launched to advertise the reductions and exemptions available to help people with council tax payments, including 100 per cent rebate for those who can show they do not have sufficient income and for whom payment would create hardship.

For those people who have been added to the register since April 2013 due to government diktat, help should take precedence over court summons, bailiffs and benefit deductions.

Further help with this can be obtained from Sheffield Citizens Advice.

The fundamental problem is the Tory Government’s obsession with their discredited austerity programme which is a cover for endless cuts in the welfare state, benefits and public services.

The election of Corbyn as Labour leader was a rejection of this disastrous policy which can have no positive outcomes except for the rich.

Instead, Corbyn, backed by 40 economists advocates an end to austerity and instead investment for growth, including the public sector.

A public consultation on the budget is under way. Visit www.sheffield.gov.uk/budget to have your say.

Shirley Frost

Sheffield Benefits Justice Campaign