Full council tax relief could be coming for South Ribble's lowest income households

Working age residents currently have to pay a minimum of 3.50 per week in council tax
Working age residents currently have to pay a minimum of 3.50 per week in council tax
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Some low income residents in South Ribble might not have to make a minimum contribution towards their council tax bills from next year.

South Ribble Borough Council is set to launch a public consultation on a proposal to scrap the so-called council tax support scheme, which means all working-age households pay a flat rate of £3.50 per week – even if their income level entitles them to help to cover the rest of the bill.

The previous Conservative administration proposed a change to the system at last year’s budget, but the process was delayed by complications caused by the roll-out of universal credit in the borough and the timeframe needed for the consultation.

The ruling Labour group which took charge in May has now announced that the consultation process will begin at the end of this month. Cabinet members voted to ask for views on a proposal to remove the charge for those on “passported benefits”, such as income support, from April 2020.

Member for community engagement, Aniela Bylinski Gelder, dismissed claims made at previous council debates on the issue that the minimum contribution was a way of offering “dignity” to those who were unable to afford their full bill.

“I became a new mum in 2009 at the dawn of the global financial crisis and was made redundant while pregnant with my second child in 2011,” she said.

“I can say with certainty that a £3.50 weekly contribution to my council tax would not have bought me my dignity or incentivised me to work. However, it would have been useful to buy fresh food for my family.

“I consider it to be wholly a disciplinary measure and I want to look more broadly at what it means to contribute to society – are people taking time out of work to look after a sick relative…or parents looking after their children not contributing to society?”

Other bodies which have a claim on the council tax pot collected in South Ribble – including Lancashire County Council and the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner – also have to be consulted.

Estimates presented to the meeting suggest that the proposed changes could cost County Hall £255,000 in lost revenue per year. Members were told that increased council tax bills for empty homes in the borough and other additional charges on such properties could be used to reduce that figure to around £120,000.

The annual cost to South Ribble Council itself is expected to be £44,000 – lower than previous estimates, because the current proposal is to remove the minimum charge only from the 1,900 households on passported benefits. Proposals to end the payment for just over 1,000 other working age claimants of council tax support could follow.

The meeting heard that there have been 1,161 summonses raised so far in 2019/20 to recover unpaid council tax in the district. Of those, 368 owe the flat fee of £3.50 per week – which equates to £183 per year.

The consultation will open on July 29 and run until September 23. The results will be brought to full council for consideration in November.

The minimum payment was introduced in South Ribble in 2013 after the then coalition government devolved responsibility for council tax benefit to local authorities – and reduced the available budget at the same time. Previously, the lowest income households had been entitled to 100 per cent relief on their bills.

The government ordered that pensioners be exempt from the flat fee since it was brought in.