Low income residents in South Ribble will continue to make a minimum contribution to their council tax bills for a further year, after a review of the system was delayed.
It is almost 12 months since the future of the council tax support scheme in the borough was first brought under review. South Ribble Council indicated that it would consult on a range of options - including scrapping the charge altogether.
Currently, residents who qualify for help with their council tax have to pay a minimum of £3.50 per week. Under government rules, pensioners are exempt from the fee and can claim up to 100 percent relief if they are eligible.
But a meeting of the authority’s cabinet heard that the “very lengthy process” of designing a replacement scheme on which to consult had been further complicated by benefit changes announced by the government in the last budget.
The council had previously said the introduction of universal credit in the borough had also made it more difficult to come up with a new system to help those on the lowest incomes with their council tax bills.
Cabinet members were told that tight timescales meant that the current system would have to continue unchanged during 2019/20 - and the charge might increase slightly once inflationary pressures have been taken into account. But cabinet member for finance, Susan Snape, moved to reassure residents that there was no intention of raising the rate any further than that.
The meeting heard that there was now insufficient time to consult on any suggested change before the next financial year. A proposal is expected to be put forward during the spring which could then be introduced in 2020/21.
As well as the public, South Ribble will also have to consult other public bodies who take a share of the council tax collected in the borough. Cabinet has previously been told that scrapping the minimum fee would cost the borough around £70,000 per year - but Lancashire County Council would be left almost £400,000 worse off.
During the meeting, Labour opposition member Derek Forrest accused the authority of being the “principal persecutor” of poor families in district, citing figures which showed that the council had referred almost 1,600 council tax debts to bailiffs in 2016/17.
But members heard that figure related to all residents in arrears on their council tax - not just low income households which qualified for council tax support.
The council tax support scheme was introduced by South Ribble in 2013 after the then coalition government scrapped a national system which funded rebates for low income households of up to 100 percent. The responsibility was devolved to local authorities - but with a reduced budget compared to the previous arrangements.