‘Hundreds of pensioners missing out on council tax support in North Hertfordshire’
PUBLISHED: 10:06 24 February 2020 | UPDATED: 15:16 25 February 2020
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Hundreds of pensioners are losing out on help to pay their council tax in North Hertfordshire, latest figures show.
In North Hertfordshire, 2,900 pensioners were claiming support in the three months to December - a 21 per cent drop compared to the same period in 2015.
Low-income pensioners in England can apply for a discount or exemption on their council tax under the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
Charities have warned that vulnerable households may be missing out on the vital support they are entitled to, amid an increasingly complex and confusing system.
The Council Tax Reduction Scheme replaced the nationally administered Council Tax Benefit in 2013, affording local authorities the power to decide who is eligible for support.
Varuk Kanish, campaigns manager for Turn2us - a charity which helps people in financial hardship - said: "Not since the poll tax have so many low-income households had to pay local taxes.
"The localisation of council tax support schemes has increased the complexity of an already confusing system, resulting in more people missing out.
"We urge the Government to review this system and consider automatic entitlement for people who are struggling."
He added that a move towards online services - driven in part by budget pressures - may be impacting older people.
The Government says it has protected pensioners, and that they continue to receive the same level of support as under the previous system.
However, there were 310,000 fewer pensioners claiming support in England last year than in 2015 - a 17 per cent drop.
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The Local Government Association says budget cuts have meant many councils are being forced to reduce the support they give to residents.
Richard Watts, chair of the LGA resource's board, said: "Between 2010 and 2020, councils have lost almost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided for services.
"Council tax support schemes are no longer fully funded, with almost £2 billion - around half of the original funding - removed.
"No one wants to ask those on the lowest incomes to pay more but this has put councils in an impossible position."
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: "We're committed to levelling up across the country with councils in England having access to £49.2 billion next year - the biggest annual real-terms increase in spending power in a decade.
"Councils, not central government, are best placed to know what their communities need and are responsible for delivering services for residents, including providing an appropriate level of council tax support.
"People experiencing difficulty paying their council tax should approach the billing authority to discuss their situation."
Cllr Ian Albert, NHDC's executive member for Finance and IT: "This is based on no evidence other than there has been a reduction in the number of actual claimants.
"All pensioners in England are treated exactly as they were under the National Scheme for Council Tax Benefit that was abolished in April 2013 and was replaced by Council Tax Reduction Schemes. Council Tax Reduction Schemes consist of two elements; one for those that have reached the State Retirement Age, known as the Prescribed Scheme and and one for working age customers. The Prescribed Scheme fully protects those customers and the same rules are applied as those in place prior to April 2013. For working age customers, Councils had to implement their own schemes within reduced funding.
"It is true there are less pensioners claiming now than in 2015 due to the fact that "new" pensioners are generally better off than their predecessors of twenty years or more ago. Many new pensioners are more likely to have occupational pensions and have more financial stability gained through home ownership and inheritances. Consequently, the reasons for the reduced number of claimants is more to do with there being fewer of pensionable age on very low incomes rather than large numbers "missing out".
"Of course there are still nearly 3,000 claimants of Council Tax Reduction of pensionable age in North Hertfordshire. Whilst they are on low incomes, their pensions are uprated in line with the Governments triple lock commitment, currently at 3.69% for this year, whereas working age benefits were only increased by CPI of 1.7%.
"Councils have been underfunded by this Government. However, North Herts District Council is committed to doing all it can to ensure that there is the maximum possible take up of claims to Council Tax Reduction. We don't want anyone to slip through the net and not receive something to which they are entitled. Our staff will help anyone complete an application form face to face, as will local advice services like Citizens Advice. In addition, we have already announced a full review of the current scheme in the coming year and will consult widely on any changes."