Reading residents are being asked to respond to an important questionnaire following the Government's decision to abolish the current Council Tax Benefit scheme.
The questionnaire is being sent out as a direct result of the Government's decision to scrap the current Council Tax Benefit scheme as part of it's wider welfare reform changes. This means it will now fall to local authorities like Reading to design their own Council Tax Support scheme for those of working age on low income.
In addition, as of April 2013 the Government is cutting the funding it provides to all local authorities for Council Tax support by 10% nationally. In Reading a 10% cut would equate to around £1.2million shortfall in funding.
Given that the money Reading Borough Council receives from Central Government has been cut substantially since May 2010 - and looks set to reduce even more in future years - the Council is unable to cover the estimated shortfall in funding without impacting directly on frontline services.
The Council believes the fairest way of managing this shortfall is to spread the impact as fairly as possible. It has therefore designed a local scheme which aims to spread the funding shortfall as fairly as possible across the remaining working age benefit recipients. Pensioners are protected from any reduction in entitlement.
A questionnaire outlining the proposals is available online and will be posted out over the next month to all working age people in Reading who currently receive Council Tax Benefit and who will be affected by the proposed change. It is not limited to current claimants however - any Reading resident can respond.
The initial proposal being put forward for consultation would mean:
- In the future, because of the cut in Government money, entitlement to benefit will be assessed on 85% of Council Tax rather than 100%. This will mean that some claimants on very low incomes who previously paid nothing, will now have to make a contribution to their Council Tax while others will receive less benefit.
- Working age benefit claimants deemed to have savings of £3,000 and over in the tax year in which they claim council tax support, will not be eligible for help for the whole of that tax year.
- Abolishing the second adult rebate scheme. This scheme helps people who receive single person discount - even though they may have a very high income - who face an increase in payments when a second person moves into their home, but is unable to contribute to the Council Tax. This is considered unfair when other council tax payers on low incomes will face a reduction in the support they receive under the proposed council tax support scheme.
The Council is also proposing a discretionary special hardship fund as part its Council Tax Support scheme to help people who may face exceptional and extra ordinary difficulties in paying their council tax. This would only be available where a person is receiving some level of council tax support.
Reading Borough Council is now consulting on those proposals and is keen to hear feedback from Current Council Tax Benefit claimants, and indeed any Reading resident who has a view.
People can visit www.reading.gov.uk/
For people who do not have access to the internet at home, they can call our Customer Services Team on 0118 937 2150, and request a paper copy of the consultation, or pick up a copy from the Civic Centre. The closing date for consultation responses is October 31st.
As part of the consultation process, Reading Borough Council is also engaging with a number of voluntary sector organisations and other interested parties known to have local expertise in the benefits system to ensure that they have an opportunity to express their views on our proposed scheme.
Once the consultation is complete the feedback will be collated and a report will then be developed and considered by the Council's Cabinet in November 2012. Under Government requirements, all Council's are expected to have a new scheme in place by January 31 2013 to take effect from April 1 2013.
Jo Lovelock, Reading Borough Council Leader, said: 'This additional cut in Government funding for Reading will affect people on low incomes who already struggle to make ends meet. The Council is trying to devise a way of dealing with this problem as fairly as possible for all those affected, but if people have other ideas on how to make these unwelcome changes work we hope they will respond to this consultation.'