Council Tax Support for those who need it
Residents who need the discount provided by the Council Tax Support Scheme should continue to be able to claim up to 75 per cent.
That is the recommendation to the full Boston Borough Council from the Cabinet, despite the uncertainties around the impact on council budgets that national welfare reforms due to be announced will have.
The council has to consult and reassess the Council Tax Support Scheme every year. The difficulty this time round is that a decision on the scheme has to be made before the details of welfare reforms are known, and how they might affect the council's finances.
Cabinet members agonised on Wednesday over the way forward, anxious that those most at need in the borough should not be left high and dry, but at the same time worrying about how affordable the scheme in its current form might be in 2016/17.
Public consultation, which included a number of options, revealed that the majority of those who responded wanted the scheme beginning in April 1, 2016, to stay as it is - the maximum amount of support remaining at 75 per cent of the annual council tax amount for all households other than pensioners and war widows of all ages, who would continue to qualify for up to 100 per cent.
The Government abolished council tax benefit in 2013 and the main elements of the council's scheme have been the same for the past two years - but for 2016/17 it asked for opinion on different options, some reflecting expected cuts in council funding and the increasing challenge of fully-funding council tax support.
Cllr Aaron Spencer, portfolio holder for finance, explained there were uncertainties around how the roll out of Universal Credit would affect the council, Lincolnshire County Council and Lincolnshire Police. But he said vulnerable people, such as children, would be protected.
Cllr Michael Brookes said: "We have had to make hard decisions in other directions and this is another one."
Cllr Stephen Woodliffe said if it came to a choice between putting food on the table and paying council tax, the council would be an immediate loser.
Cllr Spencer stressed that any decision made for the next 12 months in the current uncertainty could be corrected when the following year's Council Tax Support Scheme was considered.
Cllr Leader, Cllr Peter Bedford, said: "It is critical we get it right for the people of Boston and critical that we get it right for the council's finances."
Cabinet has recommended some small technical changes to align the scheme with the national position. These include those who are self employed meeting a minimum income level, a maximum one-month backdate period for working-age claims - in 2014/15 backdated council tax support was more than £100,000, removal of the family premium - this is where £17.10 is disregarded when there are children in the household and tax credit is received. The Government has indicated that this is to be removed for all new claims for Housing Benefit.
Cabinet also recommended abolishing the second adult rebate. This is where a person whose income is too high to qualify can receive a reduction of council tax of up to 25 per cent if other adults in the household are below the income threshold. This costs £11,000 a year.
It was also recommended that awards should be restricted up to residents living in a band D-rated property.
Council will be asked to consider the possibility of taking child benefit and child maintenance payments into account during the means-testing calculation. Restricting allowances up to a maximum of two children in the household is also a possibility which is being considered in other welfare benefits. It was stressed that the council has hardship policies in place to help in extreme cases