Government urged to strangle benefit change at birth

Proposed localised council tax benefit system will mean nothing but ‘costs, costs, costs’ for East Devon District Council.

Government plans to localise the council tax benefit system when the Universal Credit is introduced will mean “costs, costs, costs” for East Devon District Council and should be “strangled at birth”.

Councillors and officers are so concerned about the financial implications of localising the benefit that MPs Neil Parish and Hugo Swire are to be invited to hear the council’s response to a consultation document.

They could be given a written response, in bullet point format, to take back to ministers.

At the council’s cabinet meeting last week, it was revealed the Government wants to scale back the amount spent on council tax benefit by 2013 - while ensuring the elderly and vulnerable do not lose out.

East Devon District Council would have to invest in its own council tax benefit system and fears insufficient funding will be allocated to run it - while being expected to safeguard benefits to pensioners.

Just over 60 percent of pensioners living in council accommodation in East Devon are in receipt of Income Support.

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“This should be strangled at birth. It is a disgrace,” Councillor David Cox said.

“We haven’t got the resources and we haven’t got the time.”

Councillor Paul Diviani, leader of the council, chaired Wednesday’s cabinet meeting. He said: “The Universal Credit is just costs, costs, costs to us.”

Councillor Jill Elson agreed.

She said: “We need to get both MPs here.

“We need to ask questions on a one-to-one basis and work with the Local Government Association.

“We can’t be the only authority in this situation. And it is worse for us, because of low wages.”

The council is concerned about fairness and fears spending on council tax benefit for claimants of working age could be slashed by 25 per cent.

A report, presented to the cabinet by revenues and benefits manager Libby Jarrett, said the scheme must be fair and avoid poverty, while safeguarding the vulnerable - and all at less cost.

Ms Jarrett said in her report: “There are significant risks involved in implementing and running a local council tax benefit scheme in terms of meeting the expectations of Government and customers.

“There are significant financial implications in the costs of implementation and running a scheme with the concerns that sufficient funding will not be allocated to authorities.”

Delegated authority is to be given to the council’s head of finance, Simon Davey, in consultation with the portfolio holder, to respond to the consultation questions.