A LEADING councillor has said he will not "play politics" by writing to Chancellor Rishi Sunak to highlight problems in the council tax rebate scheme.

Conservative councillor Scott Durham, Darlington Borough Council's cabinet member for resources, was asked to write to the Chancellor at a council meeting.

Labour member Cllr Mary Layton made the request, expressing concerns that "families in most need risk losing out" amid "unprecedented pressures on family budgets".

She said: "The government’s response to this crisis needs to address the poorest families, for whom the impact will be crushing."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Mary Layton. Picture: Darlington Borough Council.Cllr Mary Layton. Picture: Darlington Borough Council.

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She said the £150 council tax rebate showed "why the most vulnerable who are faced with the worst of the financial crisis are at greatest risk of not being able to access help".

She said: "For those who pay council tax by direct debt the rebate will be paid automatically and in a timely fashion.

"However around a third of Darlington households do not use this payment method, and will be invited to apply for their much-needed rebate.

"As a consequence, they will receive the rebate much later, and yet these are the very people who are facing the most severe and immediate financial problems."

She said the scheme's operation "risks not helping those families facing the worst of the financial crisis" and it was predicted some households "will never actually receive £150 at all".

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She added: "This is a real crisis to everybody, but especially for those financially vulnerable who will not be able to pay essential bills without some emergency intervention.

"We as a local authority have been tasked by the Government to deliver a vital contribution to ease this burden, but so far have not been given the tools nor the additional funds required to administer such a complex process effectively."

Cllr Durham replied: "These are unprecedented times, with the effects affecting you and I, our family and friends, with cost of living pressures that most of us have never seen.

"And yes, they are affecting the most vulnerable in our society the most."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Scott Durham. Picture: Darlington Borough CouncilCllr Scott Durham. Picture: Darlington Borough Council

He said the council welcomed the Government rebate funds with a firm commitment to support vulnerable people with the extension of funding for household support and activities for children.

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He added: "Anyone who has to be reminded and has to apply for the scheme will be able to have a reduction in their council tax bill.

"Therefore nobody will lose out."

He said the council was working to administer the scheme and expected support from Government.

He added: "Do I understand the issues residents are facing? Yes.

"Will we do everything within our power to support residents? Yes. Do we welcome the funding? Of course, yes.

"Is it going to be a mammoth task? Of course, but we won’t shirk our responsibility.

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"Am I going to write to Mr Sunak? No. Now is not the time to be wasted to play politics.

"We can only get on with the job at hand, which is to get this scheme up and running and payment to the hands of residents.

"I hope that all members work together to help support residents who may struggle to access the scheme.

"The time for review and appraisal of the scheme will come."

Cllr Layton said: "It’s not a political thing, it is just to feed back to whoever can help so that when this happens again in October, hopefully it’s not as bad, that there is some way of helping councillors deliver a scheme that is designed to help these people."


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