Calls for new hardship fund amid Covid impact and tax rise
- Credit: Archant
Calls have been made for the creation of a hardship fund to help those on low incomes afford their council tax - which is set to rise again this year.
At a meeting of Breckland Council’s overview and scrutiny commission on Thursday, Labour group leader Terry Jermy proposed an amendment to its upcoming budget, which would put extra support in place for the district's poorest families.
The authority is proposing to increase its portion of council tax by 5.3%.
Mr Jermy, councillor for Thetford's Burrell ward, said: “Whether we like it or not, council tax bills for most properties in Norfolk have gone up quite significantly in the last two years.
"It’s without a doubt one of the most expensive bills that households have each month. We’ve all seen the result of Covid, with impacts on people’s finances - and that’s going to continue this year, if not get worse.
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“That’s why a hardship fund is so crucial. There will be people who, for no fault of their own, will experience hardship this year."
"Whatever support the council can give, I think, will be very well-received,” he added.
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The authority currently has a Local Council Tax Support (LCTS) scheme which provides a discount of up to 91.5% to those who need it, but in March 2020 the government gave Breckland a £919,967 grant to further help with council tax.
This had allowed Breckland to provide those who received LCTS in 2020-21 with an additional £150 off their bill. For the poorest taxpayers, this meant their whole bill was covered.
Mr Jermy hopes that a pot of about £68,490 can be set aside to again provide an additional contribution of up to £150 to those in need in 2021-22.
His proposal was seconded by Conservative councillor Mark Kiddle-Morris and voted through. It will now go forward to cabinet and full council meetings in February.
Although the government announced a new council tax support boost of £670 million across the UK for the coming financial year, this has been distributed differently: most of the money has been given to county councils, to reflect the fact that they receive most of a person’s council tax.
Breckland has been allocated just £136,980, while the county council is set to receive about £7,512,000 for spending across Norfolk.
It is understood Breckland asked Norfolk County Council if it would contribute to a new scheme that would provide more than 91.5% support to those on the lowest incomes.
The county council said it would instead be using its share of the money to support the continued running of its services, because the pandemic has reduced the amount of council tax it is able to collect.
In a statement, the county’s cabinet member for finance, Andrew Jamieson, highlighted that additional support was available elsewhere: “We’ve been providing targeted support for the most vulnerable people in the county through the Norfolk Assistance Scheme.
“This countywide fund has been grown to meet expected demand and we have made more than 3,000 separate awards so far this financial year. The scheme is for anyone who is experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.
“I’d urge people who may need support, or know someone who does, to visit our website to find out more.”
Mr Jermy said the county council’s refusal to pool funding with Breckland for a new support scheme had been a set-back.
“I’m very disappointed because what we’ve arrived at is a hardship fund which is relatively minor in total,” he said.
“It will make a significant difference to those that it’s able to help, but there’s no way at all that it will be able to help everybody in need, and I think there needs to be a recognition of that…
“I understand the pressures on Norfolk [county council], but there are a lot of people across Norfolk that could really do with that extra support,” he added.