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Council tax benefits to be capped

An anticipated ten per cent cut in the funding received from Government to support local people through council tax benefits led to "hard decisions" being taken by Boston Borough Councillors on Thursday.

A ruling from Government that pensioners were to be exempt from any cuts in council tax benefit led to an agreement that from April 1 all of working age in receipt of support should have their benefit capped at 75 per cent of any awards made under the existing scheme.

The decision followed a comprehensive consultation period during which more than 3,000 borough residents received letters making them aware of proposed changes to the council tax benefits they receive.

The council also explored a range of options and modelled different potential solutions to meet the objectives.

The borough council had to make changes to the current council tax benefits system as a result of the Government's plans for welfare reform. 

The Government currently gives Boston Borough Council £4.7 million per year to support local people through council tax benefits.  In 2013/14 this funding will reduce by around ten per cent. 

Currently, around 6,400 people in the borough receive council tax benefits - 3,200 are pensioners and are protected.

Cllr Raymond Singleton-McGuire, portfolio holder for finance, told full council that demographics for councils were different so there was no fits-all solution. Lincolnshire County Council and Lincolnshire Police had backed the borough council's new scheme. He warned that if the council did not adopt a scheme before the end of January a Government scheme would be imposed. But he said options were limited due to the reduction in funding from central Government.

He said the cuts in benefit would be a contribution to reduce the plight of the UK economy and the Government wanted to encourage more people back into work.

"But, it is a difficult decision for this council to make," he said.

Cllr Mike Gilbert, portfolio holder for housing, property and community, said the council was trying to be fair to all.

Cllr Singleton-McGuire said the new system would be closely monitored and reported on every quarter.

The council also approved changes to council tax discounts and exemptions, which Cllr Singleton-McGuire said would help bring empty properties back into use.

The 100 per cent discount for 12 months for unfurnished properties needing major repairs or undergoing structural alterations to make them habitable will be reduced to a 25 per cent discount.

The 100 per cent discount for six months for unoccupied and unfurnished properties will be reduced to one month.

The 50 per cent discount for substantially unfurnished homes empty for more than six months will be abolished.

And a 150 per cent charge will be introduced for properties left unoccupied for more than two years, subject to certain conditions being met.