New council tax discounts scheme agreed by Durham County Council
Council bosses have agreed to renew a scheme providing council tax discounts to low income households across County Durham.
In 2013, the national council tax benefit scheme was abolished and replaced by the ‘local council tax reduction scheme’ (LCTRS).
Since that date, councils have designed their own support schemes and are required to review them every year.
At a full council meeting on December 4, county councillors agreed to extend council tax support into 2020/21.
This will retain the same level of aid for working age council tax payers on low incomes.
According to a report prepared for councillors, Durham County Council is one of 36 local authorities nationally to offer the same level of support to residents as under the old scheme.
This means no claimants in the county have been worse off in the last seven years than they would have been under the previous national scheme.
Deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, Coun Alan Napier, said the scheme would continue to provide support to “those who need it most.”
“We’re now the only council in the North East that continues with the benefits available under the old council tax benefit scheme,” he said.
“I think we should be proud as a council that we have supported this benefit for people across this county.
“People really are struggling to make ends meet, universal credit and the rate of austerity have hit people hard.”
There are currently around 57,091 LCTRS claimants in County Durham.
Of this number, 22,785 (40%) are pensioners and 34,306 (60%) are working age claimants.
Around 27,015 (78.75%) of working age claimants currently receive 100% discount, with support forecast to be circa £56.5 million in 2019/20.
A report prepared for councillors also states welfare reforms are having a “detrimental impact” on many low income households.
And extra council tax liabilities in this context could have a “significant impact” on household budgets, making council tax collections more difficult.
The report adds: “The reasons for extending the current scheme are due to the current scheme remaining within existing cost parameters for the council.
“In addition, whilst the full impacts of the government’s welfare reforms are complex and difficult to track, demand for discretionary housingpayments; social fund applications and rent arrears statistics in County Durham compared to others across the region, would suggest that the council tax benefit protection afforded to working age claimants, in addition to the wide ranging proactive support that has been put in place, is continuing to have a positive impact on these households.”
Any changes to the LCTRS in future would require consultation.