A survey of local authorities has shown that over 670,000 households in the UK will face an increase in council tax from Tuesday.
Through the use of freedom of information requests, a joint investigation by the Guardian and the campaigning organisation False Economy have found that from April, 83 local authorities are reducing the protection for residents with vulnerabilities.
The survey of local authorities revealed that over 670,000 of the poorest households in England will face an increase in council tax of £120 a year due to the withdrawal of benefits.
Ministers cut the funding for the means-tested council tax benefit by £500m last year and instructed each local authority to decide how the reduced benefits should be distributed. Ministers also offered £100m in “transitional grants” to councils that designed schemes that would give those in need more protection, reports the Guardian.
This year the money will not be replenished meaning that the most vulnerable people will no longer be supported. Over 50 of the 83 councils reducing support relied on the government’s transitional grant funding to provide welfare relief.
It is estimated that 675,000 working-age households will see bills rise by an average of £127 a year. It means that local authorities must choose between charging council tax to the working-age poor, or making deep cuts to local services on top of the government’s 40% cuts to council budgets.
A False Economy spokesman said: “The transitional grant was never anything more than a cynical sticking plaster to be ripped off after a year and now we see the effect of its removal – half the councils that were relying on it are hiking council tax bills for people on the lowest incomes, many of whom are already living at a deficit due to low wages, high rents and a plethora of welfare cuts.”
Hilary Benn, Labour’s spokesman on local government, said the government’s removal of the extra funding would mean “a further rise in council tax for people on the lowest incomes, including carers, single mums and the disabled. So while the prime minister goes around claiming that council tax has been frozen, it is the very poorest people in society who will be forced to pay more”.
Sharon Taylor, chair of the Local Government Association’s finance panel, told the Guardian: “When government handed the responsibility for administering council tax support to local authorities, it cut hundreds of millions in funding for it. The shortfall between the money councils receive to fund council tax support and the money we would need to protect those on low incomes is getting bigger and is likely to reach £1bn by 2016. At the same time, councils are tackling the biggest cuts in living memory and cannot afford to make up the difference.”
The local government minister, Brandon Lewis, said: “Spending on council tax benefit doubled under the last government, costing taxpayers £4bn a year-equivalent to almost £180 a year per household. Welfare reform is vital to tackle the budget deficit left by the last administration. Our reforms to localise council tax support now give councils stronger incentives to support local firms, cut fraud, promote local enterprise and get people into work. We are ending the last administration’s ‘something for nothing’ culture and making work pay.”
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