Council tax support claims start to arrive

W25618H13  ''Official Opening of Portland House Richmond Road on Thursday Prtland House ENGSUS00120130613125343
W25618H13 ''Official Opening of Portland House Richmond Road on Thursday Prtland House ENGSUS00120130613125343

MORE than 80 residents have applied for support in paying a new council tax charge for those who previously paid nothing at all.

A total of two per cent of the 4,295 residents being asked to contribute £5 per week under the new policy have applied for financial support.

The charge split opinion on Worthing Borough Council, with fears the most vulnerable would not be able to afford the contribution, amounting to £260 per year.

Leader Dan Humphreys, whose Conservative party introduced the charge, said the policy stood up on its fairness.

He said: “It’s too early to say whether the figures support the policy.

“I think it stands up by the fact 80 per cent of people (in a consultation) voted in favour, it is fair and requests something from everybody and there is a hardship fund that people can apply for if they can’t afford it.”

As of March, the council received 7,786 council tax support claims.

Of these, 3,491 claims were from pensioners, who do not have to pay the new charge.

The remaining 4,295 were working age claimants, who are eligible to pay £5 per week and of which the 87 applications have come from.

Worthing Liberal Democrats leader Keith Sunderland said the numbers were roughly what he expected.

But he warned many residents would find the form complicated to fill out and suspected more people would struggle to pay than actually applied.

He said: “It’s about the numbers I expected as a lot of people haven’t gone through the process. I think people will be put off by the form – a lot of people don’t know how to negotiate the system.

“We would have preferred people not to go through this.”

Council tax support schemes have been drawn up by around 250 councils since the Government abolished council tax benefit and devolved setting up council tax support schemes to local authorities.

The Lib Dems and the Conservatives clashed at a meeting of full council earlier this month, in which Mr Sunderland stated his belief the policy was ‘vindictive and doctrinaire’.

He said: “We have now allocated £80,000 to provide relief for those who are shown to be suffering hardship.

“Bearing in mind that the potential cost of administering this charge could exceed the amount raised by £22,000 how can the leader call this measure pragmatic?

In response, Mr Humphreys said: “326 councils had funding cut by the coalition government which contained Lib Dem MPs and ministers. We were not the first. We were the 250th to do this. 249 authorities had already done this.

“Policy is policy. It is not vindictive nor doctrinaire. It is fair and we have not approached it considering that it is an election gift.”

While Worthing Borough Council agreed to introduce the charge, partner authority Adur District Council decided against it.

The Adur members feared the most vulnerable residents would be exposed to bills they could not afford.

Meanwhile, council tax charges were frozen by both authorities – for the fifth consecutive year in Worthing.

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