People across West Suffolk are being asked about who should pay more Council Tax following changes to the way discounts and benefit are funded.
Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council are both conducting surveys to help decide where the costs of the new system should fall. Currently the Government's Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) funds all Council Tax Benefit, but it will cut the amount by 10% from April 2013. And each council now needs to decide its own Local Council Tax Support Scheme to set how much discount people will get.
The change in funding means some people will have to pay more Council Tax. The survey is asking people who should share this cost and rank them in order of preference. The options are:
Option 1. Working age people who receive Council Tax support pay more Council Tax.
Option 2. Owners of second homes pay more Council Tax.
Option 3. Owners of empty homes pay more Council Tax.
Option 4. People who benefit from the Second Adult Rebate pay more Council Tax.
It is likely that there will need to be a mixture of the options, because some will not raise enough on their own. But whatever the results of the survey show, people who currently receive Council Tax Benefit, are of working age and are available for work, will be likely to pay more. Pensioners who are on low incomes will not be affected by the changes as the Government has said they are not able to work to support themselves.
The Cabinet members responsible for Resources, Cllr Stephen Edwards (Forest Heath) and Cllr Dave Ray (St Edmundsbury), said:
"The Government is cutting the amount of money for benefits and discounts. We have considered other options, such as putting up Council Tax for everyone to meet the shortfall, but we know most people do not want us to do that. We could also cut the funding for other services, but that does not seem fair. It's up to us to see that this burden is shared fairly among those who currently receive benefit or a discount and we welcome people's views to help us decide exactly how we do this."
Consultation forms and leaflets are being sent to more than 14,000 people and organisations across West Suffolk who currently receive a Council Tax discount, advise recipients or are involved in some way. But the consultation is open online to every West Suffolk resident. The consultation form, explanatory leaflet and full details of the new scheme are available for
Forest Heath residents on: www.forest-heath.gov.uk/counciltaxsupport and for
St Edmundsbury residents on: www.stedmundsbury.gov.uk/counciltaxsupport
The consultations, which close on 26 October 2012, are separate because each council, although asking identical questions through the survey, could choose to implement different Local Council Tax Support Schemes. These schemes will start from 1 April 2013.