COUNCILLORS say they have been left with no choice but to increase the amount of council tax paid by some of Darlington’s most deprived residents, following changes to the benefits system.

Members of Darlington Borough Council tonight (Thursday, January 24) agreed to cut the amount of council tax benefit paid to people on low incomes by 20 per cent, resulting in an average £160 a year added on to the council tax bill of about 6,900 people in Darlington.

The decision was made at an extraordinary meeting of the council, but members have criticised the Government for leaving them with no other choice but to agree to the scheme.

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Deputy leader, Councillor Stephen Harker, said: “If we are having to slash nearly £40m of our current budget, how does the government expect us to do anything other than pass on these changes? We have no choice.

“I don’t quite see why those at the poor end are having the biggest benefit cuts when those at the high end are having a tax cut.”

Pensioners will not be affected by the changes, which have been brought in after the Government handed responsibility of council tax benefits to local authorities, but reduced the amount of money available to cover payouts by 12 per cent.

Labour councillor Paul Harman said: “We are being forced to act under the constraint of central government. They have set it in such a way that we have no choice but to place another burden on the poorest members of society.”

Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Heather Scott, leader of the Conservative group, said: “We have got to realise that the country is in difficult times and we have all got to play our parts in trying to meet the problems that we have got.

“They (Labour) have got to accept some responsibility for what their party did when they were in power.”

Councillors also agreed to cut tax discounts on empty properties to save £645,000 a year.

From April, the authority will introduce a 50 per cent premium on empty homes and lower second property discounts.

A six-month full tax discount, available for empty unfurnished homes, will be reduced to one month, and the full 12 month discount on empty properties undgoing major repair will also be removed.

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