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Councils work together to support people through benefit cuts



[Thursday 5 July 2012]

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Torridge District Council and North Devon Council are working together to support local residents affected by changes to council tax benefits coming into force in 2013 as part of the government’s welfare reforms. There will be an eight-week consultation period starting soon so people can help design the new local scheme.

The changes will mean cuts to the benefit fund at the same time as responsibility is transferred from the Department for Work and Pensions to local councils, with effect from April 2013. The new scheme will be called council tax support.

Whilst only some groups within the community will be directly affected by the changes, everyone needs to know what’s happening and how councils in Devon are working together to limit the impact on hard-pressed families and individuals as much as possible.

Those who are affected will see their council tax support reduced by an amount yet to be finalised, but in some cases it could mean a drop of around 25 - 30%, or around £300 a year (£5.75 a week).

Publicity



A county-wide publicity campaign starts this week and will extend through to the end of the year, by which time councils across the UK will have to show the government how they propose to implement the changes. The campaign includes letters, leaflets and awareness posters, as well as online guidance.

The main groups affected directly are individuals or families who currently claim council tax benefit and are of working age. In both areas, residents will be informed of how it might affect them and they’ll be asked to comment on the new schemes being proposed by the councils.

Pensioners are not affected by the changes but they need to be aware of what’s happening to ensure that they understand it and don’t worry unnecessarily.

All taxpayers in North Devon and Torridge need to be aware of the changes because council tax forms part of the overall tax system in the UK and it’s important that everyone understands the new arrangements.

The funding that the government will be handing out to each district to pay for council tax support will be less than it is now, so councils will have to decide how best to ensure that needy households still get support from a shrinking pot of money.

The situation will vary from one district to another, because the funds will be different and the number of pensioners who must be taken care of first will also vary from one location to another. Districts with a higher proportion of pensioners will see a smaller pot of money to be divided up amongst the working age benefit customers, so these people will be hit harder.

Councillor Barry Parsons, Leader of Torridge District Council, said: “Above all, we want to ensure that these changes are introduced in a way that treats people as fairly as possible so that the most vulnerable are kept safe. Councils in Devon have been working together to thrash out the best options for a local scheme and now we’re ready to share our ideas with the public.

Survey



“During August and September, we will be asking people to fill in online or paper surveys and to let us know if they think we have got our district scheme right. We will be inviting all sections of the adult population to take part in the survey – not just those who are directly affected. It’s really important that we limit the impact on our benefit claimants, so we must design the best scheme we can and operate it effectively”.

NDC Lead Member for Communities Cllr Yvette Gubb says: “This is going to have a big impact on the people affected and I’m particularly concerned for the hard working families on low incomes who will be hit by this change. We will be working really hard to support people through this process and provide as fair a service as we possibly can.”

The consultation will also include bodies like the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Housing Associations who find affordable homes for lower paid people, welfare groups and pensioners’ organisations.

The draft options, which may form part of the draft scheme for Torridge, are being discussed at the Council’s Community and Resources Committee on Monday 9th July. These can be viewed online, as part of the agenda. The issue will be discussed by North Devon Council at its Executive meeting on 17 July. The report will be available online from Monday 9 July.

More details about the proposals will be released as soon as possible. Watch out for posters advertising the changes and inviting you to take part in the consultation.

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