St Albans council tax support continues for a year

St Albans City & District Council

St Albans City & District Council - Credit: Archant

HARD-PRESSED households entitled to help towards their council tax bill will continue to receive the same level of support for at least another year.

St Albans district council (SADC) has agreed to introduce a new scheme to replace council tax benefit that will come into effect in April.

Cabinet members had recommended a scheme based on protecting key vulnerable groups, such as pensioners, and requiring other benefit claimants to make a minimum contribution of 30 per cent.

But at a full district council meeting last Wednesday, opposition councillors passed an amendment put forward by the Labour group which proposed existing council tax benefit rules should continue to apply.

Speaking after the meeting Batchwood councillor Roma Mills said: “I was against the cabinet proposals because it did not to protect a small group of people who would be picking up the tab for the rest.”

She continued: “It is going to mean there won’t be an extra pull when people are seeing a squeeze on other benefits. It is one area they don’t need to worry about changing, at least for this year.

“Our job as politicians is to speak up for people who have little opportunity to do so for themselves and I think we did that on this occasion.”

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SADC was required to introduce a localised scheme following the Government’s announcement it was abolishing council tax benefit.

When the council initially announced their proposals last year it caused one recipient, John Allen, to fear he would have to contribute an extra £30 each month.

Commenting on last week’s decision Mr Allen, of Colney Heath, said: “It relieves a lot of stress and worry off of me. I was thinking ‘Where am I going to get the money from to pay it?’ in all honesty. I am glad common sense and humanity prevailed.”

Due to a 10 per cent reduction in central government funding the new initiative is expected to cost an additional £500,000 next year for SADC, parishes, Herts county council and the police.

Cllr Brian Ellis, portfolio holder for housing at the council, said: “The scheme agreed by cabinet was cost-neutral for the council and received strong support in the public consultation.

“The Labour amendment will cost the council £73,000 in 2013/14, rising to £95,000 in 2014/15 and in each subsequent year as the transitional grant from the Government is only available for one year.

“Therefore further savings from the council’s budget will need to be found and all options are being considered.”