Extra £100,000 to help Worthing households struggling to pay council tax bills

Councillors have approved an extra £100,000 for a hardship fund for 2022 and 2023.

Worthing’s executive members of the joint strategic committee approved the extra funding on Tuesday (January 11).

It comes as Worthing Borough Council reviews the council tax support it offers to residents on low incomes.

In December, Worthing Borough Council (WBC) leader Kevin Jenkins (Con, Gaisford) requested that the £5 a week minimum council tax payment be scrapped.

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If the £5 payment – which sees some of Worthing’s poorest households paying at least £260 in council tax a year -is scrapped it could see WSCC missing out on more than £1 million and mean £152,000 less for the PCC each year.

A hardship scheme was introduced alongside the £5 payments in 2015 to support those who may have struggled with the increase in council tax payments.

The budget for this currently stands at £99,000 with £60,000 coming from WSCC.

Until the £5 payments can be scrapped, the £100,000 approved on Tuesday could provide extra support for between 760 and 1,300 households – depending on the amounts awarded.

Figures from WBC’s ‘LIFT’ platform show that 240 households were ‘struggling financially’ in September 2021. A further 119 households were financially ‘at risk’ and 39 households were identified as being ‘in crisis’.

This led Labour group leader Beccy Cooper (Marine) to ask if more financial support was possible.

“I appreciate that the budget for the council is finite but it does strike me here that an extra £100,000 is going to mean that an awful lot of people in the database won’t be covered – we’re not going to be able to alleviate this payment of £260,” she said.

“Is there more funding or is there an alternative solution that would mean we could help more people?”

Council officers said that funding full council tax relief for those who pay the minimum rate could cost somewhere in the region of £870,000.

Mr Jenkins estimated that this would require a nine per cent rise in council tax to cover.

This was confirmed by officers who pointed out that council tax could not increase to such a level without calling a referendum.

Deputy council leader Ed Crouch (Con, Marine) asked that the consultation with WSCC and the PCC be sped up and officers agreed this would happen ‘without delay’.

A further report on council tax support is expected in March this year.