Council hands out cash for needy people

NEEDY families in Essex struggling with fuel and food costs this winter are set to receive a cash boost from the county council after it announced a tax rebate.

Elliot Furniss

NEEDY families in Essex struggling with fuel and food costs this winter are set to receive a cash boost from the county council after it announced a tax rebate.

Thousands of poor families, pensioners and soldiers feeling the credit crunch and facing big hikes in energy and grocery bills could benefit from the boost, which is set to be covered by the council's reserves.

Last night, Essex County Council leader Lord Hanningfield said the details were still being finalised, but it was down to the council to help out its residents.

He said: “A lot of people are suffering, particularly old people, through increases in energy and food costs and this wouldn't just be for people over 65.

“Our job as a county council is to help these people. Essex (County Council) is for Essex people and they are suffering and are likely to suffer even more in the winter.”

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He said the county's financial officers were currently working to establish who would be eligible for the help and how it would be provided, whether in a council tax reduction or in a rebate.

The news comes just days after the Government scrapped plans for a £100 fuel voucher that electricity firms refused to stump up the cash for.

Later this week Gordon Brown is set to unveil a £1billion fuel package focussed on improving energy efficiency in the homes of the poor.

Giles Roca, the council's head of media and marketing, said the news followed on from the ground-breaking announcement earlier this year that the council would be stepping in to re-open post office branches closed down by the Government.

Mr Roca said the success of any scheme could be dependant on the backing of Essex's district councils, which administer council tax, but he was hopeful discussions would be concluded by Christmas.

He said: “Whether it will be a rebate or a discount is something we are discussing with the districts. If we do it through the districts then what we don't want is to add any more costs or bureaucracy.

“This is to help out those who are feeling the pinch during the credit crunch.”

The move was welcomed by independent watchdog the Tax Payers' Alliance, whose campaign director Mark Wallace, said it was “good news” that the council was planning the rebate.

He said: “The economic conditions are increasingly difficult and taxes are placing an intolerable burden on household budgets.”

Mr Wallace said he hoped Lord Hanningfield would make the tax relief permanent by cutting council tax next year and that other councils will follow his example.

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