Suffolk/Ipswich: Councils on collision course over benefit changes

TWO councils are on a collision course over how they should react to changes in the benefit system coming into force next April.

Changes are being introduced to the way council tax benefit is paid and the government expects those of working age on benefits to contribute to their bills.

Until new April the government has paid council tax benefit in full – but from then it will only pay 90 per cent of the cost.

To partially compensate for this change, councils will be able to end council tax discounts on second homes and empty properties.

The Labour leader of Ipswich council David Ellesmere had written to his Tory counterpart at Suffolk, Mark Bee, and to the police authority to suggest that the costs were borne by their organisations and not passed on to those on benefits.

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Pensioners on benefits will not be affected – the government has said their council tax bills will continue to be met in full.

However the county has rejected Mr Ellesmere’s request. Mr Bee said it would be unfair to treat Ipswich differently to other districts in Suffolk.

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A spokesman for the county said if the authority was to extend the scheme across all districts in Suffolk, it would cost more than �1.5 million and would be unaffordable.

Mr Ellesmere said: “Apart from anything else the cost of collecting the council tax will be quite high, and we feel this may be a way out of this.”

He said families on benefits would struggle to find their share of council tax bills – an average of about �60 a year – and the authorities should try to help them.

However Mr Bee said: “I have always argued that councils have a moral duty to do everything they can to reduce the cost of providing services to residents.

“But as a county-wide council, it would be wholly unfair if we treated Ipswich any differently to other parts of Suffolk. I believe that faced with the same set of circumstances, most people would do the same.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty over government funding for council services in the coming years so we need to think very carefully before we make decisions which commit the authority to long-term financial pressures.”

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