'Millions of low-income households' face council tax rise


Brandon Lewis: ''The best thing for councils is to put work programmes into place to get people into jobs''

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Millions of the poorest households face council tax rises because most councils in England will pass on a 10% benefit funding cut, research suggests.

A typical bill will rise from April by between £100 and £250 a year, but some could rise as much as £600, the Resolution Foundation think tank says.

Its report coincides with the deadline for local authorities to submit their plans for changing council tax benefit.

Councils say they have not been given enough freedom to manage the changes.

Responsibility for the benefit is being moved from the government to councils.

At the same time, the total spent on the benefit, which is to become known as council tax support, is being cut by 10%.

In Wales, the cut is being absorbed by the government, and not passed on to local authorities.

'Poll tax'

In Scotland, the cost is being shared between councils and the Scottish government, maintaining support for low-income residents.


There is a wider, highly charged, political context to this issue.

Ministers present themselves as being on the side of those who want to "work hard and get on". They say they are ending the "something-for-nothing culture".

They emphasise that more money is currently spent on benefits than on defence, education and health combined.

While delivering their tough - and they believe popular - rhetoric, ministers do not accept any blame if the poorest are hit the hardest.

The view from government is that there is no need for councils to ask the lowest income households for money. Instead they should find more efficient ways of operating, protect the vulnerable and deliver better value for money for all council tax payers.

Many councils accuse ministers of devolving responsibility for a hugely controversial cut.

The political heat on this has been rising in recent days in council chambers across England.

What seems at first to be an obscure, rather technical, debate about how a benefit is distributed, could soon emerge as a critical issue in the battle over welfare.

But the 326 councils in England could be left with a shortfall if they intend to maintain the level of existing payments.

Some are finding savings from elsewhere in their budgets, in order to protect the incomes of the poorest households.

At least 40 local authorities have decided to maintain current levels of support. Durham County Council and Tower Hamlets are amongst those which will absorb the costs of CTS into their budgets.

The government has also put forward £100m of support for those councils that limit the council tax increase for those on benefits or low pay to 8.5%.

Ministers say the total paid out in council tax benefit doubled under the last government and welfare "reform" is vital to tackle the budget deficit.

They say the changes will give councils the incentive to help people off benefits and into work.

Council tax benefit is currently claimed by about five million households in England - about half get 100% support, meaning they currently pay no council tax at all.

But the Resolution Foundation, a not-for-profit research and policy organisation which says its goal is to improve outcomes for people on low and modest incomes, says that three-quarters of authorities in England are planning to demand a new or higher payment from the lowest income households.

Council tax support changes

Council tax support (CTS) will replace council tax benefit (CTB) in April

Councils will decide who qualifies for CTS, rather than the government, as under CTB

Councils will have 10% less money to fund CTS, changes that will save £500m a year

Pensioners will be protected and households in Wales and Scotland are unaffected

This comes at a time when other benefits may also rise more slowly than the cost of living, and the government introduces an overall cap on benefits.

Because pensioners are fully protected, those of working age are, in many areas, being asked to shoulder a much greater burden.

"Millions of England's poorest households, both in and out of work, are already very close to the edge," said Gavin Kelly of the Resolution Foundation. "They are going to find it very hard to cope."

Some campaigners have likened the change to the "poll tax", in that people are asked for a contribution regardless of their ability to pay.

For Labour, shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said: "All over the country, people on very low incomes will be asked to pay sums of money they simply cannot afford, just like the hated poll tax."

'Low priority'

Many in local government fear that councils will be left with a financial black hole, as the cost of pursuing those who do not pay through the courts could be higher than the revenue the authorities will raise from them in tax.

Sir Merrick Cockell of the Local Government Association said the lowest paid are going to be in ''a very difficult place''

Peter Fleming from the Local Government Association, which represents local authorities, told BBC Radio 5 Live the government had not given councils enough control over the scope of cuts they could pass on.

"The problem is we've been handed the cut, but not given the flexibility to design schemes... that would have actually protected the people who are most vulnerable.

"Give us the freedoms and flexibilities to actually devise the schemes that work best for the communities that we serve," he added.

He also predicted there would now "be people who are literally unable to pay" their taxes, and the "difficulty for us as local authorities is do we take people to court for very small amounts of money?"

'Right to communities'

Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis told BBC Radio 4's The World At One that the author of the report was an adviser to the Labour Party and therefore viewed the issue "through a particular lens".

He said councils had the freedom and flexibility to develop their own schemes and ministers had urged them to be "sensible" about their collection policies so "they don't spend money collecting very, very small amounts of money".

"That comes back to linking in very carefully about the point we have made about protecting the vulnerable," he said.

He urged councils to continue to try and find savings in related areas by cracking down on the £2bn in uncollected council tax and the £200m lost to fraud and error every year.

He also rejected comparisons with the poll tax, saying "we have moved on somewhat with the system since then".

Graph showing potential increases in council tax payments for those receiving benefits under new council tax support schemes
Example of increase in annual payments for 'band B' house
Council scheme* Single adult (Part-time), no children Single parent (Part-time) with children Single parent (full-time) with children in childcare Single parent (part-time) with children in childcare Couple (one full-time earner) with children

Type 1






Type 2






Type 3






*The effect of new council tax support schemes was analysed by the Resolution Foundation and placed in four categories: type 1 (no change), type 2 (moderate increase), type 3 (large increase) and type 4 (severe increase). An explanation of their method is available here: http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/media/downloads/No_Clear_Benefit.pdf


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  • rate this

    Comment number 849.

    What's the odds that if all the potential trouble brewing at the moment kicks off big time that most of the government will have their feet up on a nice beach somewhere warm & sunny?

  • rate this

    Comment number 848.

    Here we go again wittering on about the so-called poor. I have a couple of streets near where I live inhabited by the "poor" the majority of the people on benefits. Nearly every house with a satelite dish lots of new or nearly new cars parked in the street. Its no good whingeing about being poor if you never bothered your backside at school and ended up with a lousy job or no job at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 847.

    The reason the unions get pay rises for there members is because individual workers without a union to back them would be told where to stick it by the bosses. Only as a collective force with the threat to withdraw your labour can the workers have any clout. Why don't you study the history of why workers formed unions and how they were treated before they existed.

  • Comment number 846.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 845.

    Trout Mask Replica

    None are really "tyranny of the majority".

    I know, and i'd never use that term, but things evolve, change and mutate depending on the conditions prevalent, which is how we got to where we are now (paper matters more than people).

    Without controls to ensure changes really work, there comes a time where society breaks down as the terms are no longer fit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 844.

    I can hardly call Brandon Lewis "Tory Boy" because he was never taught to speak properly, but in every other respect the description fits.
    How does he expect councils to create viable jobs (through something called a "work programme") when he and his careless chums in Westminster cannot? And how can he (he will) expect councils to absorb the cost when they have no money either?

  • rate this

    Comment number 843.

    The tax rise for the most poor has to be put into perspective.
    It ´s part of David´s general understanding to hand over the tasks of a welfare state to private charity organisations that are clearly overstretched with this.
    David should rethink the social balance of his cut strategy to improve the budget situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 842.

    To 761 Samxool.
    Not sure which Dickens novel you've crawled out of? I assume you'd like workhouses and debtors prisons re-opened? At no cost to you, of course.
    What a lovely person you are! If only there were more people with your sense of compassion in the world...
    If, in your ignorance, you mistake this for a sincere compliment, I should tell it it is irony. You might want to look that up too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 841.

    I'm probably going to take some stick for this but the Poll Tax was a much fairer system than the Council Tax.

    If it's all about paying for services then why should a childless couple pay the same amount as their neighbours (same tax band) who have 4 wage earners in the same house (parents + adult children) and therefore utilising double the services.

    It should be an individual tax!

  • rate this

    Comment number 840.

    @771. DSA

    I don't use buses, I don't claim benefits, I don't need a social worker, I don't need a translation or any other service, all I get for my council tax is my bin emptied one a fortnight.
    Value for money? I think not.


    But do you use the roads, paths, parks, street lighting and the myriad of other services provided?

    If not, then please carry on living your selfish life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 839.


    Worth pointing out :

    a) Unions are comprised of millions of ordinary working people and are a vital democratic institution.

    b) Immigrants cant vote. You have to be a Biritsh citizen to vote, which requires 5-years of residence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 838.

    What surprise me is that the scot and the welsh seem to have an endless pot of money to "absorb" the cuts (whether that one or another) or the tuition fees. But where does it all come from since those regions have below average household disposable income, have therefore more benefit claimants and should receive less tax revenues (at least if they were raising them themselves...)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 837.

    The benefits system just gets crazier and crazier. We must stop giving too little to too many and get enough going to the few who genuinely need it for as long as they need it. All this tinkering, with tax charged on benefits for crying out loud and families on £50,000+ a year qualifying for government assistance is just madness. We need to start again; take the politics out and just go on need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 836.


    There is absolutely no statistical evidence, anywhere, at all that Labour waste more, you can't prove it simply because it is a Daily Muck lie.

    As for "silly sausage" is that a Tory sausage, I won't eat it, who knows what they put in it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 835.

    825. preatel0606 - You need to get yourself into fraud, I mean the City of London. There you do not need to work at all, you can just parasitically sponge of the hard work of others and make millions. Then, when it all goes up the swanney, you can just walk away. Great Britain, what a wonderful place to commit fraud,,,, i mean do business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 834.

    Where individuals life, liberty and property are protected, not violated, by the state.
    But under this rule the state still have the authority and can be manipulate to create the same corruption as now, only easier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 833.

    #792 Dan, one of the reasons benefits bills are too high is that the combination of low wages paid by employers and high charges for everything (especially rents) mean that a whole swathe of the british working population need state handouts to pay their way.
    Higher wages and control of prices would cut the benefit bill immediately.

  • rate this

    Comment number 832.

    @822 Toorie

    There are more pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs. That's why we get it right - that's why we want independence!!! No more Condems!!! No more divide and rule!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 831.

    How many times do we hear 'pensioners are fully protected' as in your article? I have recently retired I pay full council tax and I also pay income tax at 20% just like everyone else and so do most of my friends. Pls get it right, only pensioners who live on Serps get benefits. Those of us who saved for a pension pay in full.

  • rate this

    Comment number 830.

    Benefits should be given out as food stamps (that can only be spent on food..) and not as actual money that is then used to buy cigarettes, alcohol and Sky TV.. These are luxuries not necessities!


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