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Welfare reform 'is vital to tackle the budget deficit'

Spending on council tax benefit doubled under the last Government, costing taxpayers £4 billion a year-equivalent to almost £180 a year per household. Welfare reform is vital to tackle the budget deficit left by the last administration.

Our reforms to localise council tax support now give councils stronger incentives to support local firms, cut fraud, promote local enterprise and get people into work. We are ending the last administration's 'something for nothing' culture and making work pay.

– Brandon Lewis, Local Government Minister

Welfare system changes 'pushing struggling families'

For a second successive year, the country's poorest families are facing big increases in council tax.

This change to the welfare system is largely below the radar but has significant impact for families already struggling to get by on a low income. Paying this tax increase will be beyond most, pushing them into deeper hardship.

– Chris Goulden, head of poverty research at JRF

People previously deemed too poor to pay anything now face a hefty council tax bill. English councils have to hold a referendum if they want to put council tax up by more than 2%.

This government policy, aimed at keeping rises down, has been a success. Now the transitional grant has gone, it is time that government offered the same protection to the poorest households.

– Sabrina Bushe, of the New Policy Institute

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Poor families 'facing a second year of council tax rises'

Almost 600,000 poor families are facing a second year of above average council tax rises, according to new research.

Almost 600,000 poor families are facing a second year of above average council tax rises, according to new research.
Almost 600,000 poor families are facing a second year of above average council tax rises, according to new research. Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said 580,000 families in England will pay an average of £149 a year more than 12 months ago, having a "significant impact" on their finances.

The research group said a study of Council Tax Support, brought in last year, found that from this week 70,000 poor households will pay council tax for the first time, facing average bills of £114.

Government rejects call for council tax changes

The government has rejected calls for single person council tax discounts to be scrapped for people with larger homes.

Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said: "Single person council tax discount is a long-standing feature of the council tax system, reflecting the fact that single adults make less use of local services than larger households.

"We have absolutely no plans to change this discount, and we have rejected the LGA's calls for a Bridget Jones tax."

Read: 'Expensive homes should lose council tax discount'

Council tax: 'Expensive homes should lose discount'

The Local Government Association suggests people in larger homes should lose their discount Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

People living alone in large homes should lose their council tax discount to free up more money for struggling families on low incomes, local authorities say.

Single dwellers currently receive 25% off their council tax bill, but under new proposals the Local Government Association (LGA) wants councils to be able to adjust the discount for working people living alone in homes rated council tax band E and above.

Its own analysis has shown that it is costing councils more than £200 million a year to give the compulsory discount to people living in such properties, which are typically bigger and more expensive than the average family home.

At the same time, it said one in three local authorities expects they will have to reduce council tax support for families on low incomes because of a major shortfall in Government funding for the subsidy.

Councils are 'tackling the biggest cuts in living memory'

Local authorities are "tackling the biggest cuts in living memory" and urged the Government to give them the full amount of funding needed to provide adequate council tax support for vulnerable residents.

Chair of the Local Government Association's Finance Panel, Sharon Taylor hit out at Government cuts after the Public Accounts Committee published a scathing report into measures taken by local authorities in the wake of cuts.

The shortfall between the money councils receive to fund council tax support and the money we would need to protect those on low incomes is getting bigger and is likely to reach £1 billion by 2016.

At the same time, councils are tackling the biggest cuts in living memory and cannot afford to make up the difference.

The Public Accounts Committee's call for Government to review the scheme echoes concerns raised by councils.

Government should consider giving local authorities the full amount of funding needed to provide council tax support.

– Sharon Taylor

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'230 authorities' require minimum council tax payment

Almost three quarters of local authorities (71%) required all working-age claimants to pay at least the minimum contribution towards their council tax bill, according to the Public Accounts Committee.

They also found:

  • There were only 133 authorities which provided exemptions only for pensioners and war pensioners, whom the Government insisted must be protected.
  • Some 19 local authorities, representing 225,000 working-age claimants in England, increased the "taper rate" at which support is reduced as income rises from 20% under the old system - some 14 of them increasing it to 25% and four to 30%.
  • Taper rate increases combined with the loss of housing benefit and increase to income tax and national insurance, would mean claimants taking on additional work they would lose 93p of every £1 they yearend on a 25% rate of 97p on a 30% rate

Council tax benfits 'perverse'

General view of a council tax bill. Credit: PA Wire

Changes to council tax benefits have weakened work incentives for almost a quarter of a million people in England, some of whom stand to lose as much as 97p out of every extra pound they earn, a parliamentary report has found.

The chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge, branded the outcome "fundamentally perverse" saying that the decision to give local authorities powers to design support schemes for themselves has delivered the opposite result to what the Government intended

Council tax benefit was formerly administered nationally, costing taxpayers £4.3 billion in 2011/12 as five million people claimed support.

From April 2013, responsibility was transferred to 326 local authorities in England, with the Government providing funding of £3.7 billion - a cut of £414 million, or 10% of the predicted total budget if the scheme had remained unchanged.

Council Tax bills sign of 'how stretched councils are'

Research by the Local Government Chronicle - which received responses from 262 of the 353 councils - found that speculation over a tighter limit had influenced behaviour. Some 14% of councils changed their proposals as a result, with half now planning a tax freeze.

Confirmation of the figures will not come until spending plans have been approved by council meetings across the country over the coming weeks.

Councils want to freeze tax for their residents, but many local authorities are under increasing pressure as a result of cuts to their government grant and rising demand for their services.

The fact that so many have chosen to increase tax by around 2% rather than accept government funding equivalent to a 1% tax rise is a sign of just how stretched councils are.

– LGC editor Emma Maier said:

Local authorities face a 2.9% cut in overall Government funding for 2014/15 - another reduction to budgets which town hall leaders say are already too stretched to pay for some important services.

Local authorities set to avoid cap on Council Tax bills

Dozens of English councils are poised to infuriate ministers by raising council tax just short of the threshold that would trigger a referendum.

Councils are set to avoid a cap on Council Tax. Credit: Johnny Green/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Almost a third of authorities will reject extra central Government funding equivalent to a 1% rise to help them freeze bills, according to the most recent survey, and more than half of those plan to impose a hike of 1.99%, the biggest possible without being forced to seek the approval of voters.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles - whose desire to halve the cap to 1% was blocked by the Liberal Democrats - has described town hall leaders who go close to the limit as "democracy dodgers".

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