St Albans councillor’s fury over tax benefits
A LIVID councillor stormed out of a meeting last week after she claimed she was denied the opportunity to voice her concerns about radical plans to shake-up council tax benefit.
St Albans district councillor for Batchwood, Roma Mills, left a cabinet meeting in protest last Thursday when she was told changes to the amount of help given to people to pay their council tax would not be discussed until next month.
She signalled to ask council bosses if they would consider joining other local authorities across the country that will fight central government proposals to cut council tax support for residents on low incomes by at least 10 per cent.
But her question was dismissed because Julian Daly, leader of St Albans district council (SADC), said the matter would be considered in October when the results of the public consultation would have been collected.
Commenting after the meeting Cllr Mills, who also chairs the Internal Services committee at the council, said: “The leader took the view we are looking into it in October and we are not looking into it now. He declined to take any questions and I took a particularly dim view of that.
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“I don’t think in all my years I have signalled to speak and I have been ignored. I am not there to be part of an enthusiastic audience I am there to raise issues and have a discussion.
“I understand we are having the consultation but we are asking for SADC to join with other councils and say this is not going to work fairly. That needs to be done quickly because I am concerned about the fact people on low incomes will suffer further fall.”
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Council Tax Benefit is the means-tested financial support central government gives to people that cannot afford to pay their council tax.
However, from next April it is set to be replaced with a local council tax support scheme that will transfer responsibility to individual councils to deliver this support.
The main elements of the scheme proposed by SADC include requiring council tax payers who are not considered “vulnerable” to make a minimum contribution which has been provisionally set at 30 per cent.
Non-dependent adults in a household could also now be expected to pay towards to their household’s council tax bill.
But “vulnerable” low income residents, such as pensioners and families with children under five, would receive a 100 per cent discount.
The proposed scheme also states that benefit recipients who are in work will keep more of their income before the benefits means test is applied.
Cllr Brian Ellis, portfolio holder for housing, said: “The council is required by government to develop a local council tax support scheme to replace council tax benefit. We want to make sure that the scheme we are proposing is fair, does not overburden tax payers, and follows agreed principles such as protecting the most vulnerable people and incentivising work.
“Making decisions about changes that affect people’s incomes is not easy, particularly as people who receive benefits are by definition those on low incomes.”
In August the council launched a public consultation on the planned changes, which will stay open until September 30. To take part visit www.stalbans.gov.uk/consultations or collect a copy at the council’s reception desk.