100,000 of the region's poorest residents due to receive first council tax bill (From The Northern Echo)
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100,000 of the region's poorest residents due to receive first council tax bill
UP to 100,000 of the region's poorest residents will receive their first council tax demand next month, with charities warning that disadvantaged families are being pushed to breaking point, The Northern Echo can reveal.
Households surviving on low incomes who previously received a 100 per cent council tax discount face bills of more than £300 a year.
Thousands more living on the breadline who received a partial discount will be forced to pay more after the Government cut the support for means-tested council tax benefit by £500m - and told local authorities to decide where the axe should fall.
The changes will come as a double whammy for many families who will also be affected by the so-called bedroom tax, with figures published today by the National Housing Federation claiming that 50,000 people in the North-East - including 30,000 disabled residents - will lose some of their housing benefit as a result.
An Echo investigation has revealed that the council tax shake-up - prompted by the controversial Welfare Reform Act - has created a postcode lottery for the region's poor with low earners living in some areas still receiving a 100 per cent discount.
However, other councils are asking for working-age adults living on benefits to find up to 20 per cent of the full council tax levy.
Durham County Council will protect payments to its council tax benefits claimants at current levels for the next 12 months by measures including cutting discounts on empty and second homes.
However, neighbouring councils - including Darlington, Stockton and Middlesbrough - are asking residents who previously received a full discount to pay 20 per cent of the bill from April.
Other authorities, including Hambleton and Richmondshire, in North Yorkshire, as well as Hartlepool and Sunderland, will ask for 8.5 per cent of the full levy.
With many people already struggling to make ends meet, councils fear as many as half of all low earners could refuse to pay the new bill.
Town hall bosses will then have to decide whether to launch costly attempts to recover the money from potentially vulnerable households or write it off as bad debt.
A Darlington Council spokeswoman said: "We are taking a financially prudent approach to the estimated level of collection in the first year of the scheme and assumed a 50 per cent collection rate which will be continually reviewed as the scheme is implemented.
“The council will of course take all appropriate action to try and recover 100 per cent."
Pensioners who previously qualified for a full discount will be exempt from the new charges.
But Steve Oversby, director of Barnardo’s North East, said the new system threatened the well-being of thousands of children.
He added: “This extra expense will put a huge strain on the already-pushed budgets of some of the North-East’s most disadvantaged families.
“Local authorities now need to ensure that the most vulnerable children and their families are protected as they make decisions on how changes to the tax and benefits system will be implemented when they take effect this April.”
The Government said council tax benefit spending had doubled between 1997 and 2010.
Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said: "The localisation of council tax benefit will give councils stronger incentives to cut fraud, promote local enterprise and get people back into work.
"Whereas council tax doubled under the last administration, we have taken action to freeze council tax bills for three years, to help hard-working families and pensioners."