Benefit blow ‘will not hit the poorest’

BULGING POSTBAG -- Hucknall's Coun Trevor Locke with some of the survey responses
BULGING POSTBAG -- Hucknall's Coun Trevor Locke with some of the survey responses

ASHFIELD District Council can respond to a change in welfare benefits without hitting its poorest residents, says Hucknall member Coun Trevor Locke (Lab).

Since 1993, the council has run the council tax benefits scheme on behalf of the government.

This allows people on low incomes to receive some support towards payment of their council tax.

The government has recently abolished this arrangemnent and has asked councils to put their own schemes in place.

At the same time, it has reduced the amount of money it pays nationally, for this purpose, by ten per cent.

The government has also introduced new rules on the way in which councils can levy council tax on empty homes and second homes.

At a meeting of Ashfield Council’s Cabinet, members said they believed they could protect benefit claimants from this national cut in funding by using their powers to levy full council tax on second homes and reduce the discount on empty homes.

The council wrote to all 52,000 of its residents in October and has received 5,000 replies. A clear majority of between 60% and 81% have come out in favour of the council’s ten proposals.

However, the council will not make an immediate decision on the new arrangement. It will take time to look through all the responses so that the impact on residents iis fully understood before a final decision is made.

Having looked at the scheme this week, the council will now prepare to come up with a final version in January.

Coun Locke (Lab), who is the porfolio holder for finance, said: “We are pleased so many of our residents took the time to respond to us.

“This has given us a wealth of useful information which we will use to design our service. Many of our ressdents have been affected by benefit changes and we believe we can bring in these changes without hitting the poorest people in Ashfield.

Council leader Coun John Knight (Lab) said: “This is yet another cut imposed by central government which the council has to deal with without hitting the most vulnerable in our community.

“The council believes that by changing the rules on council tax, many empty houses can be brought back into use, benefiting the whole community.”