Lewes pressure group’s tax changes concern

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The pressure group is concerned about proposed changes in the Council Tax benefits system and has called a public meeting to discuss the issue at Southover Grange, Lewes, on Friday, October 12 (7.30pm).

LSTC said Council Tax benefit helped people on low incomes pay the tax. It said: “From next April, on the same date that income tax is reduced for the very rich, councils across the country will have the power to devise their own Council Tax benefit scheme for people under pension age.”

It claimed: “All the councils in East Sussex are planning to use the same scheme, which will hurt the poorest and most vulnerable working age people very badly.”

Lewes District Council stressed no decision had yet been taken.

But the pressure group estimated that one in 10 households in the county will be affected. It claimed that on average they would lose 20 per cent of their benefit but some would lose more. LSTC spokesman Chris Smith said: “The scheme will hurt the most vulnerable and be administratively unworkable.

“We urge councils to use their reserves next year to avoid cutting benefit and losing money at the same time. In the long term the Council Tax system has to change. It is absurd that three poor people in a house full of little studio flats pay the same Council Tax as a lord and lady in their stately home.”

LSTC is urging residents to contact their council members and urge them to oppose the proposed scheme.

The group said families would be victimised. It claimed that however poor they are, no one will get more than £20 per week Council Tax benefit and families would be hit hardest because they live in larger properties.

LSTC cited the case of a couple who live with their three children on the Nevill Estate in Lewes in a Band D house. They currently qualify for the maximum Council Tax benefit. Under the new proposals they would lose more than £12 in benefit – money they can ill-afford to lose.

Lewes District Council last month launched a 10-week consultation on the scheme that will replace Council Tax benefits.

As part of the nation’s deficit reduction programme responsibility for funding the replacement scheme for council tax benefit will transfer to local councils from next April.

Central Government currently reimburses councils for the cost of Council Tax benefit paid out and from next April it will pass 90 per cent of these funds to the council.

This will leave the Lewes District Council 10 per cent short, just under £1m, and this will have to be found by Lewes District taxpayers. The percentage funding cut is the same for all councils.

The council must make some important decisions about who will get financial support towards their Council Tax and how much they will receive.

It has the following choices:

Scheme 1: The intention is to meet the majority of the 10 per cent shortfall by using flexibilities on Council Tax discounts and exemptions. Reductions in the amount received by those currently on benefit would need to be made to finance the remaining amount of approximately £460,000.

Scheme 2: To introduce a scheme which proposes no changes to the current levels of Council Tax support. This would make use of the flexibilities on Council Tax discounts and exemptions but would also mean an increase in Council Tax for all Lewes District Council residents.

Scheme 3: The council may consider a further scheme based on public feedback and ideas.

The Council Tax Support consultation will run until October 29 and can be completed on-line through the Lewes website, www.lewes.gov.uk Computers are available at local libraries and hard copy details will be distributed to local Town Council offices.

If you would like your own paper copy please telephone 01273 484052.