A 12 week consultation over proposed changes to Council Tax benefits has just started.

Sefton Council wants to hear everyone’s views on national changes to the Council Tax Benefits scheme with residents having until October 29 to get in touch.

Council Tax Benefit is currently a national welfare benefit scheme that helps people on a low income pay Council Tax for the home they live in. It is fully funded by the Government and about to change.

As part of its overall changes to welfare benefits, the Government has decided to abolish this scheme and has asked all councils in the country to replace it with their own local proposal called the Council Tax Reduction Scheme. The new scheme needs to be put in place by April 1, 2013.

The Government has also said that it will no longer fully fund the new scheme and plans to reduce the money it gives to councils. In Sefton this equates to an overall reduction of 13% or about £3.7m.

As well as having to create a local scheme, it means Sefton Council will also have to work within a reduced budget. The reduced funding means the authority will have to make some difficult decisions about who gets financial support and how much they will get.

Sefton Council is required to ensure that all pensioners are not affected by these changes in the first year.

 Apart from pensioners, everyone currently entitled to Council Tax Benefit will be potentially affected by this. Currently there are more than 33,000 residents in the borough who receive such benefits.

Letters will be sent to everyone who currently receives Council Tax Benefit informing them of the Government changes and letting them know how to get their views heard on the options available to the council. At this stage the impact on individuals cannot be assessed.

From August 6, an online questionnaire will be available on the Sefton Council website and a dedicated help line will be operational through 0845 140 0845.

Officers will also be out in the local community discussing the changes with local groups and hard copies of the consultation will be available at the two One Stop Shops in Bootle and Southport, Southport and Bootle Town Halls and libraries. Posters will also be put up at these and other venues informing people on how to get involved.

Cllr Peter Dowd, Leader of Sefton Council, said: “Before we agree on anything, a detailed consultation process will be carried out to find a scheme that suits Sefton best.

“We want to hear everyone’s views and opinions on the matter so please take the time to get in touch and tell us what you think.

“The Government is passing the responsibility for the Council Tax benefit scheme to local councils but with significantly less money to run it.

“I am afraid that on top of this we will have to find another £43m worth of savings over the next two years mainly as a result of Government cuts in our funding.”

To fill in the online questionnaire from August 6, visit www.sefton.gov.uk/counciltax. For a hard copy of the consultation, please call 0845 140 0845.

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