Plymouth City Council agrees cut in Council Tax benefits
THOUSANDS of low-paid families are set to see a jump in the amount of council tax they pay next year as benefits are slashed.
Members of Plymouth City Council voted "with a heavy heart" for a new council tax benefit scheme after the Government handed over responsibility for administering the benefit to local authorities.
Cllr Mark Lowry, Plymouth's Cabinet member for finance, said the Government was giving Plymouth £2.6million less than needed to fund benefits. The council would have to pass on the costs to those who now pay little or no council tax.
Because the council will protect pensioners, or war widows and veterans on low income, he said the burden would fall disproportionately on the working-age population, he told a meeting of the full city council yesterday.
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A couple earning £475 a week, with two children, and getting council tax benefit, would see the amount they pay rise by nearly £2 a week, Cllr Lowry said.
Council leader Tudor Evans said the consequence of the policy introduced by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles was to take money off people who do not have it. He said people who earn £1million a year would be getting a tax cut of more than £42,000 thanks to a cut in the marginal tax rate from 50per cent to 45per cent from April 1.
"He called on the council to "send a clear message to Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary … scrap your poll tax."
But Cllr Dr John Mahoney (Con, Peverell) said the last Government never actually collected the 50p tax rate from millionaires.
Those earning more than £1million a year paid a 40per cent top rate of tax under the previous Labour Government. The rate was increased to 50per cent in Labour's last days, but Dr Mahoney said they never actually collected it.
Cllr Ian Bowyer, the Conservative finance spokesman, attacked Mr Evans's "hysterical rhetoric".
"We're in this position because of the deficit left by the previous Labour Government."
He said Labour never came up with any suggestion except to borrow more.
Cllr Paul Jarvis (Lab, Eggbuckland) said: "This will affect the working poor who already struggle to make ends meet.
"Some of these people will be unable to pay and we will have no choice but to pursue the debt."
He backed the measures "with a heavy heart".
Cllr Kate Taylor (Lab, Devonport) said the move would inevitably increase hardship. She blamed the Government for "slashing the benefit".
Cllr Dr David Salter (Con, Plympton Chaddlewood) said the last Labour Treasury minister left a note for his coalition successor saying, "Sorry, the money is all gone."
"Trying to deflect people's hate away from this chamber might help us to sleep a bit better … but this council has to decide how best to run things in Plymouth."
Cllr George Wheeler (Lab, St Budeaux) said it was nothing to do with the deficit. It was equivalent to a poll tax. "The Tory Party are as nasty now as they were in 1990." He said the coalition "does not like helping poor people".
"We are doing this with very heavy hearts."
Cllr Danny Damerell (Lab, St Budeaux) said the council had made the best of a bad job.
Cllr Michael Leaves (Con, Plymstock Radford) said Labour had a choice about where to make cuts. "Come on Tudor, cut somewhere else so poor people don't have to pay this money."
Cllr David Stark (Con, Compton) said: "The country needs us to rebalance the economy and get us out of the spiral of debt, otherwise this country could end up going the same way as Greece."
PLYMOUTH CITY COUNCIL TO TAX THE RICH
A NEW "tax the rich" reform of council tax exemptions will earn Plymouth about £1million a year and bring empty homes back into use.
The changes, approved by members of the city council yesterday, will remove the 10 per cent discount on second homes and charge the full council tax.
Properties having major repairs will have to pay 50per cent council tax as long as the property remains in that state, up to the maximum period of one year.
The 100per cent discount on empty properties will be cut from six months to one month.
Homes left empty for more than two years will face a 50 per cent premium, meaning their owners will have to pay 150per cent council tax.
Council leader Tudor Evans said: "We are going to tax the rich and those better able to pay."
Opposition leader Cllr Vivien Pengelly (Con, Plymstock Dunstone) called on Cllr Evans to make an exception for homes left empty because of a death.
She said it could take a year to deal with probate, leaving the inheritor with a big bill for council tax through no fault of their own.
Cllr Ted Fry (Con, Compton) said: "This is a good idea. We have too many empty houses in Plymouth."
The changes will come into effect on April 1.
Councillors were told that national welfare reform changes would hit council tax collection rates by about £1million a year.
"The proposed recommendations would provide more opportunity for local authorities to set council tax levels more appropriately for its citizens by relieving the burden of council tax in relation to second homes and empty properties, where the authority felt that properties receiving this relief did not merit it," a report said.