By STEVE DOWNES
Friday, December 28, 2012
Some of north Norfolk’s most hard-up residents could be cushioned from the worst of a looming cut to their council tax benefits.
There were fears that the move to make everybody of working age contribute something to their bills would see 4,500 people losing as much as 30pc of their current rebate.
But last-minute government changes that will enable councils to raise more money from other areas have enabled North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) to limit it to no more than 8.5pc.
The issue has caused controversy locally, with NNDC’s ruling Conservatives pointing out that the district was “disproportionately” impacted because it had such a high number of elderly people, who ministers exempted from the changes.
Former Liberal Democrat Graham Jones was so incensed at the “draconian” government proposals that he stepped down from the NNDC working party set up to implement the new rules.
Since the initial proposals, the government has relaxed the rules on how much councils can charge for homes in certain circumstances.
In a report to cabinet of January 7, officers recommend:
● Council tax for the first 12 months for empty properties being renovated should increase to 50pc from zero
● The owners of vacant properties should be charged 100pc council tax after three months, rather than six months
● The owners of empty homes should be charged 150pc of council tax after two years
● Those with second homes should be charged 95pc of full council tax, not the current 90pc.
Despite the reduction in the likely benefits cuts for working people, the transitional nature of the 2013-14 arrangements means there are fears that the situation could worsen the following year.
NNDC leader Tom FitzPatrick said: “We are happy for this year, but we want to see - and in good time - how the end of the transitional arrangements will affect us.”
The Government is changing the system so that help with council tax bills comes directly from the local authority, not centrally via the benefits system.
Ministers want to reduce the annual £4.2bn council tax benefit bill by 10pc from April in an attempt to cut claimant numbers.
The councils are expected to make up the reduction.