“Return of poll tax” – MP warns

A SOUTH Yorkshire MP has warned of “the return of the poll tax” with planned Government cuts to council tax benefit.

MPs debated the Local Government Finance Bill in the House Commons yesterday.

John Healey, a former local government minister, said:

“Given the way in which the measure will work for many, it is a return of the poll tax: rushed into law and rushed into practice, with a deaf ear to local government, to charities, to experts and to Members, who warn the Government, ‘You’re pushing too far, too fast with these changes’.”

The MP was referring to plans to cut council tax benefit by £500m or 10 per cent overall, but protect pensioners so that non-pensioners – including working people on low incomes – will face a cut of up to 20 per cent, or as much as £15 a week.

He added: “Let us remember that a 20% minimum payment expected of all people, whatever their means, was part of the flaw in, and at the heart of the unfairness of, the community charge. In practice, that is what we are building in for non-pensioners: a requirement to cover, whatever their income, about 20% of the council tax costs.”

About one in eight council tax benefit recipients work.

Mr Healey said: “The Government are making a pious claim to be on the side of those who are struggling but who are trying to do the right thing by staying in work in order to support themselves and their families, but those people will find it much harder from next year as a result of the changes that are going ahead.

“In Rotherham, just over 2,600 people are in that position, in Barnsley, just over 2,200, and across South Yorkshire there are more than 13,500 people in work who earn so little that they are entitled to support from us and others to help cover their council tax bills.

“Those on low incomes who are not pensioners, but who would get the full council tax benefit under the current system, will, as the Barnsley advice network has told me, have to find 20% of their council tax bill from their basic income, whatever they earn, as councils try to make less go further.”

He said despite increasing need and increasing pressure on services, councils like Rotherham and Barnsley are facing double-digit reductions in the grant they receive from the Government while other richer areas were having their grants increased.

As well as raising these concerns, Mr Healey suggested amendments to the Bill challenging Government plans to centralise powers over the new council tax support scheme, arguing instead that they decisions on how the schemes are run should be taken by councils to suit local circumstances.