Reduced council tax approved for low income households in South Ribble
The lowest income households in South Ribble will no longer have to pay a minimum council tax contribution.
Currently, at least £3.50 per week is deducted from the incomes of certain benefit claimants in the district – but South Ribble Borough Council has now voted to scrap the charge.
Cabinet member Aniela Bylinski-Gelder said the change would mean “those who can least afford it will no longer need to divert resources away from their families”.
However, the move sparked a row between the ruling Labour group and opposition Conservatives about whether it was the best way of helping the poorest.
The change will reduce the budget not only of South Ribble Council, but other authorities that take a share of the council tax collected in the borough.
While the district authority will see its income drop by £44,000 a year when the new regime comes into effect in April, Lancashire County Council will lose out on at least £135,000.
South Ribble councillor Michael Green – who is also a cabinet member at County Hall – told the borough authority to “beware the unintended consequences” of their policy.
“Where will that funding [for the county council] come from, but by making further reductions to services which the vulnerable residents of South Ribble rely upon on?” he asked, adding that if all districts followed South Ribble’s lead, the county authority would be worse off by millions of pounds per year.
But council leader Paul Foster said the cost to County Hall had been “largely offset” by separate plans to raise the council tax paid on empty homes. Without that change, the county council would have seen their income fall by an annual £255,000.
“I commend [the proposal] to every member of this council who has a heart and cares about the most vulnerable in our society who continue to struggle,” Cllr Foster said.
The change will affect almost 2,000 people in the borough on “passported benefits” – some of whom are Universal Credit claimants – who have been making the minimum weekly council tax payment since the coalition government devolved council tax support schemes to local authorities in 2013.
Deputy Conservative group leader Caroline Moon, a longstanding critic of the charge, said the authority should have been “far more radical” in its changes – without hitting county services.
“We could have empowered people to join up with the council and engage in purposeful activity and supported people to build CVs and opportunities for volunteering.
“We could have offset [that] against these council tax payments and I believe we have the resources as a council to be able to subsidise this process…rather than pushing people into state dependency,” said Cllr Moon.
But deputy council leader Mick Titherington demanded to know why the Tories had not initiated such a scheme when they were in control of the authority until last May.
He added: “Why didn’t they introduce some radical plans that would help those people that have suffered the cuts from their government?
“To turn around and say, ‘We’re not voting for this, because it’s not radical enough’ – you might fool yourselves, but you don’t fool anybody else.”