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Southend Council gives stark choice to residents - cut benefit or get bigger bills?
8:00am Saturday 4th August 2012 in Local News
TAXPAYERS will be confronted with a stark choice over whether they want benefits to be cut or bigger bills landing on their doormats next year.
Southend Council has thrown open the decision on whether to slash council tax discounts for low-earners and the unemployed or bump up overall council tax to the public.
It will hold a six-week consultation until September 12 to give residents the chance to air their views on the best course of action.
Nigel Holdcroft , the Tory council leader, said: “We are faced with a stark choice – reducing the level of support to residents receiving council tax benefit or increasing council tax for every resident in the borough.
“I urge people to take part in this consultation.
“It is very important as many residents of the borough as possible let us know their views on how we should deal with this.”
The Government wants councils across the country to reduce their spending on council tax benefit by 10 per cent in 2013/14.
The discounts, which are usually worth between £16 and £18 a week and can knock up to 100 per cent off annual council tax bills, are available to people who are on low incomes, out of work or receiving a pension.
According to the latest statistics, released in February, there are currently 19,270 claimants in Southend.
Whitehall claims councils will be able to make up the shortfall by cracking down on claimants who abuse the system.
However, with Southend already facing cut-backs of more than £10million next year, bosses said that was simply not possible.
Pensioners are protected from the changes and guaranteed to receive the same discounts in 2013/14.
In Southend, that could mean other claimants losing up to £300 a year – compared to a national average of about £170 – because of the town’s elderly population.
The only alternative is substantial increase in council tax, probably equivalent to about 2.5 per cent.
Mr Holdcroft said: “Once again, local authorities are being forced to make very difficult financial decisions due to Government funding cuts.
“This situation is not of our making, and whatever we do there will be people who will be unhappy, but it has to be one or the other.”
To take part in the consultation, visit www.southend.gov.uk/Benefits/Changes
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