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South Hams council throws lifeline to vulnerable residents

By Herald Express  |  Posted: December 08, 2012

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SOME of the most vulnerable people living in the South Hams have been thrown a lifeline by the council.

With tax being imposed by central Government on most state benefits, almost 3,000 households in the district are at risk of falling into poverty.

Now South Hams council has agreed to generate more revenues to offset the 25 per cent cuts so families on low incomes do not have to make a choice between heating their home or feeding their children.

Cllr Simon Wright, chairman of the community life and housing scrutiny panel, said: "Next April there will be so many changes for these vulnerable people. Anything we are able to do for these people must be a good thing.

"It is very forward thinking use of the second home owner's 10 per cent discount to support our local community."

Around 2,800 working age households in the South Hams, who currently claim benefits, are facing a cut of up to 25 per cent when the benefit system is abolished by the Government next April.

The district council will lose more than £73,312 in Government funding when the system is abolished.

All pensioners in the borough are protected from any changes to the level of council tax benefit they currently receive.

Councils all over the country have been tasked with designing localised council tax support schemes.

Cllr Wright said that during a recent consultation, ahead of a draft plan being presented before councillors, 69 per cent of those who responded said that paying at least 25 per cent of their council tax would have a high impact on their household.

More than 60 per cent of those currently receiving the benefit said they would 'struggle with basic needs' especially when the Welfare Reform Bill impacts on other benefits.

He said the community life and housing scrutiny panel listened to the views of residents and came up with proposals to generate extra revenue which will offset the reduction in Government funding and support vulnerable people in low income households.

The community life and housing scrutiny panel has now recommended the removal of the 10 per cent council tax discount for people who own a second home in the borough meaning that they would pay the full 100 per cent of council tax.

There are also proposals to change discounts given to people who own uninhabitable or vacant properties.

A 50 per cent council tax premium would also be charged on properties that remain empty for more than two years to encourage them to be brought back into use.

The council will also apply for extra funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government to help with the transition to a localised council tax support scheme.

This funding is only available to councils who protect the most vulnerable.

The draft council tax scheme will now go before the executive committee today and the full council on Thursday, December 13.

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