Changes to council tax benefits will hit the poorest residents of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire

'Draconian' measures see one councillor resign from working party looking at how to raise cash.

Major changes to the system of council tax benefits will hit the region's poorest residents with warnings of a postcode lottery as each district comes up with a different formula.

Almost everyone of working age will be expected to contribute to their annual bill from April next year – including those who currently pay nothing.

Thousands of low-paid and unemployed residents will be worse off as a result. The move has already seen one district councillor resign from a working party looking at the situation after he said the proposals were 'draconian'.

Graham Jones, a Liberal Democrat member of both North Norfolk District Council and the county council, said he was standing down from the district's working party because of how strongly he felt about the issue.

'Some 2,105 recipients of benefit will lose between �20 and �40 a month. Many of those will already be living on the margin,' he said.

'I have not felt so strongly about something in my 30-odd years in local government. I find it repugnant that we are being asked to decide which of the poorest residents will have to face cuts. It's something I cannot do.'

Most Read

There are 82,090 people who receive council tax benefit in Norfolk, with 37,906 identified as working age claimants. 36,650 are of pensionable age, who will not be affected.

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.

Officers around the region are currently working on a raft of proposals which are going out to public consultation before being put to members for approval.

Mr Jones is also calling for an urgent meeting between council delegates and ministers to discuss the proposed changes which, he said, could be a 'tipping point' for thousands of families.

The Government has insisted that pensioners and 'vulnerable' people are protected, so in some rural areas with high proportions of older residents, a bigger burden will fall on working-age householders and the criteria is already varying between districts.

Paul Carrick, finance portfolio holder at Broadland District Council, said the change was a huge departure from Government-led benefits to a local system.

'It is like being given a cake and they take a large slice out of it, and then another one.

'It is a postcode lottery,' he said.

Some councils will include child benefit as 'income' while others are not likely to. A number of councils are proposing an across the board reduction in help, while others have suggested a more complicated range of changes using a tariff.

Chief executive at West Norfolk Council, Ray Harding, said he was hoping to get all local council bosses in the area together to discuss a way of creating a hardship fund to ease the problem.

A range of technical changes involving taxation of second and empty homes are also being considered and Mr Harding said he hoped if the proposals were agreed, they would also be used by other authorities.

'We are looking at reducing discount to 5pc for second homes among other things. If we took the discount away completely, we would have no way of knowing which homes were second homes and could lose the money we get back from the county council under a different scheme as a result,' he said.

Mr Harding said if the technical changes were adopted around the county there would be scope to create a hardship fund to help those in most need.

Lowestoft Coalition against the Cuts is also lobbying on the issue and secretary Frank Joyce said the poorest would be hit hardest.

'We are having a meeting to discuss this and it is really wrong. On top of everything else people are being hit again,' he said.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter