UP to 60,000 Sheffield households face having reduced council tax benefits from the start of April, with several thousand households having to pay for the first time.
The situation has come about because the Government has handed responsibility for council tax benefits from the Treasury to local authorities – and reduced funding available by 10 per cent.
In Sheffield, there is £5.5 million less to cover the benefits in 2013/14 than the current cost of around £50 million – and it has been left up to the council to decide how to reduce the bill.
Because pensioners’ council tax benefit is protected, the council says it has been ‘forced’ to pass on a larger bill to people of working age, who face having to pay a minimum of 23 per cent of normal council tax bills, which is just under £5 per week.
A group of residents challenged the council’s decision in the High Court claiming it would unfairly hit disadvantaged groups including disabled people, and arguing that the council had other options.
But the court has backed the council’s plans.
Opposition parties in Sheffield say the Government has offered Sheffield an extra £1 million which could reduce the burden – but the Labour-run council has declined the money because, to qualify, it would also have to provide an extra £1m itself.
Coun Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for finance, said there is no spare money.
Sheffield’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau says staff are being inundated with people seeking advice and worried about benefit cuts – and say many will not be able to afford it.
FOR - Coun Bryan Lodge, Sheffield Council:
“The unfortunate situation is and always has been that our hands are somewhat tied on this issue.
From April, the Government has taken a policy decision that means it is ending council tax benefit.
All councils must replace council tax benefit with a new Council tax support scheme
The money the council has been given by the Government for the new council tax support scheme is £5.5 million less than the council would have been given if council tax benefit was not ending.
We can’t afford to spend £5.5 million to make sure everyone gets the same help they have been getting, so to make sure we can afford to run a council tax support scheme at all, it was decided that the help working age people receive must be reduced.
We realise that, for many people, paying this extra amount could be a struggle and that is why we are setting up a £500,000 fund to help those who really are struggling.”
AGAINST - Chris Walker, Pitsmoor CAB
In SHEFFIELD all people of working age will pay at least 23 per cent of their Council Tax bill.
A couple who currently do not pay any council tax will now pay something like £4.37 if their home is in the lowest band.
Come April, everyone will have to pay and we will see a great deal of rising debt and hardship.
Defaulting can lead to the bailiffs or even prison but we believe many people will simply not be able to afford it.
With the advent of the bedroom tax things will get even worse.
Take this example: a couple under 25, with no children, receive £85.80 a week Jobseekers’ Allowance.
They rent a two bedroom flat for £65 a week. They get full relief on rent and council tax.
They will now have to find £4.37 council tax, and £9.10 ‘bedroom tax’ for having a spare bedroom, reducing their income to £72.33.
If we’re all in it together, we are all jiggered!”
Student, aged 20, Ecclesall
“Everyone paying the same is OK as a general idea, but some might not be able to. But people who haven’t got jobs should put effort in.”
Sales assistant, aged 20, Worksop
“I’m actually officially classed as disabled but I still go out to work. So I think everyone should pay council tax the same.”
Retired engineer, 77, Gleadless
“I think people on benefits, people with disabilities, and disadvantaged people should pay less council tax than people in work.”
Student, aged 21, Broomhill
“I think everybody should pay the same. I will have to pay council tax next year so I think if I’m paying it everyone else should have to.”
What do you think about the changes to council tax benefit?