Sefton Council is set to consult over proposed changes to Council Tax benefits.
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.
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.
Before any new scheme is introduced in Sefton, the local authority will run a 12-week consultation process with residents, groups and appropriate individuals to find out their views on a draft Council Tax Reduction scheme.
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 community discussing the changes with local groups and hard copies of the consultation will be available at libraries and the two One Stop Shops in Bootle and Southport.
Anyone can voice their opinions and it isn’t only for people who currently receive Council Tax Benefit.
Cllr Peter Dowd, Leader of Sefton Council, said: “We have to respond to this change in Government policy and must deliver a local scheme with less money.
“It is pleasing that pensioners will be protected for the time being. However this means that we are going to have to make some difficult decisions about the level of support we can afford to give to everyone else who needs help to pay their Council Tax.
“But before we agree on anything, we are planning a detailed consultation process to find a scheme that suits Sefton best and so want to hear residents’ views and opinions on the matter.”
To fill in the online questionnaire from August 6, visit www.sefton.gov.uk. For a hard copy of the consultation, please call 0845 140 0845 after this date.
Onthespot – your online reporter
Do you have a story to tell? Please text or phone 07930717137 or email email@example.com
Follow OTS (Onthespot) on Twitter www.twitter.com/onthespot_news