The benefit that helps people on low or no income pay their council tax bill – Council Tax Benefit – is being radically altered from next April as part of the Government’s welfare reforms.
Swindon Borough Council has now started a consultation on a new benefit scheme, which will see an overall reduction in the amount of money available each year to pay to claimants.
The council currently pays £13million in council tax benefit every year to local people, which is later reimbursed in full by the Government.
In future, councils will be given the money themselves to develop their own local benefit schemes, known as Council Tax Support.
However, the amount that will be available next year to Swindon council to pay for the new scheme will be approximately £11million, leaving a shortfall of £2million compared to the current scheme.
The consultation is asking residents for their views on a draft scheme which, if approved by the full council, would reduce the overall level of benefit payments by £1,150,000 a year.
Cllr Mark Edwards, Swindon Borough Council Cabinet member for Finance, said: “The Government is making changes to the welfare system to encourage people to work. As a council, we have to make these changes and we need to strike the right balance to bridge the £2million funding shortfall.
“I don’t believe we should pass the cost of this to all Swindon residents, either by reducing the levels of service we provide to them or increasing council their tax, and it would also defeat the object of the changes.
“I also think it is right that everyone makes a contribution to council tax, even if that’s only 20 per cent of the full amount.”
“Instead, the council is proposing to reduce the benefit payments themselves for people in certain circumstances, although we will fully protect pensioners and people with disabilities.”
The majority of the remaining £850,000 needed to meet the £2million saving is proposed to be found from future government changes to council tax discounts on empty homes, which could save £600,000 a year, with another £250,000 saved from other council budgets.
Cllr Edwards said: “I am committed to ensuring that all residents and interested groups have the opportunity to have their say on these significant changes before the council makes its final decision on how to respond to them.”
The consultation started on 16 August and will be open until 9 November. It can be found on the council’s website at www.swindon.gov.uk/ctsconsultation
Details of the current council tax discounts and exemptions can be found on the council website at www.swindon.gov.uk/counciltaxexemptions
Responses to the consultation can be completed by filling in an electronic form available on the consultation website page, or by e-mail to email@example.com or in writing to The Head of Revenues and Benefits, Swindon Borough Council, Civic Offices, Euclid Street, Swindon SN1 2JH. Hard copies of the consultation will be available in council buildings such as leisure centres and libraries shortly.