Voice your views on changes to council tax benefit

People across the Chichester district are to be consulted on changes to council tax benefit that could affect them and their families.

New rules introduced by the Government mean that from April 2013 council tax benefit will be abolished and replaced by local support to help people to pay their council tax.

The council has been told it will receive about 10 per cent less than its current funding – a reduction of around £750,000.

Chichester District Council is now beginning to explore how its scheme could look and it wants local residents to provide their views from now until September 14.

The council says it wants the new scheme to:

l meet the needs of the local community;

l protect the most vulnerable and low income households in the district; and,

l include work incentives that will encourage people back to work.

The Government is reducing the funding it provides to the council and so it is consulting on a number of ways this could be dealt with, such as:

l reducing the amount of benefit people receive;

l making some people pay a little extra towards their council tax; or,

l changing the exemptions and level of discount on second homes, empty properties and those buildings undergoing repairs. This would be used to help pensioners, the vulnerable and low income households to pay their council tax.

The Government has indicated that pensioners will be protected from any benefit changes.

The consultation will be achieved through two surveys. One focuses on the support given to those who currently receive council tax benefit.

The other looks at the level of discounts and exemptions that are currently given to some empty properties and second homes. Those taking part in the consultation are encouraged to complete both surveys.

The surveys must be completed by September 14, with the council making a decision on the final structure of the new system later this year.

The surveys can be found from at www.chichester.gov.uk/consultations or a hard copy can be requested by calling 01243 534623.

The council says that council staff will also be available to assist those who would like help completing the surveys.

Councillor Tony Dignum, cabinet member for finance at Chichester District Council says: “We want to hear from local residents and homeowners, especially if they currently claim council tax benefit and are under the state retirement age.

“We want their views on which groups of people should be protected, or if they believe it is fairer to ask everyone to pay a little extra.

“We will use this information to help us make our final decisions.

“We may have to make some tough choices over the months and years ahead, and so it is important that people have their say.

“Implementing these changes will be a massive challenge for us. It is vital that we get the views of not only those who receive benefits, but also other groups such as landlords, agents and those with second homes.

“Our priority is to protect the most vulnerable and so for the first year we intend that no existing Council Tax Benefit claimant will be worse off as a result of the proposed new rules. “However, we do aim to make some minor amendments and simplify the administration to reduce costs. In the future we may have to make further changes.”

You can find out more about the consultation and the various options at www.chichester.gov.uk/consultations, or call 01243 534623.