Fenland’s poorest to have council tax support cut

Fenland District Council Full Council in February 2021

Councillors at Fenland District Council voted in favour of increasing Council Tax Support to 20pc. - Credit: Zoom

Tory controlled Fenland District Council voted to reduce the financial support available to help Fenland’s poorest residents pay their council tax bill.

From April 1, low-income households which usually qualify for Council Tax Support will have to contribute more towards their council tax.

In Fenland, those who are eligible for Council Tax Support pay 14 per cent of the bill.

The council decided that amount should be increased to 20 per cent.

Proposing the rise, council leader Chris Boden explained the issue had been debated at the overview and scrutiny and by his cabinet.

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And there had been had a public consultation between last September and December.

His motion though to increase the payment did not sit comfortably with some councillors.

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Cllr Gavin Booth, of the Liberal Democrats, said: “When this came to the overview and scrutiny committee, we said this year wasn’t the right year to be changing it because it does hit those on the lowest incomes.

“From the [public consultation] feedback, you can see a lot of those people are working but on very low incomes.

He added: “What you’ve got here is hitting the very poorest in society at a time when they are being hit with the constraints of having to work with Covid-19 around.”

Councillor Gavin Booth

Cllr Gavin Booth spoke against Fenland District Council's motion to increase Council Tax Support to 20 per cent. - Credit: Archant

Cllr Will Sutton, an independent member, agreed.

He said: “By the time another six months gets here, furlough will be finished, there will be more redundancies...

“I just couldn’t face those people who are in that position if I supported this increase, I just couldn’t do it.”

Councillor Will Sutton

Cllr Will Sutton, an independent councillor for Fenland District Council. - Credit: Archant

There were 170 respondents to the public consultation, two-thirds said they received Council Tax Support.

Cllr Boden said: “Lo and behold about two-thirds of those who responded were opposed to any increase and one-third supported it, which may not be surprising.

“But what was useful from that consultation was the fact it was clear that going to 30 per cent [increase] would clearly produce some significant concerns about affordability."

Councillor Chris Boden. Picture: FDC

Cllr Chris Boden, Leader of Fenland District Council. - Credit: Archant

One resident told the council: “I'm frightened that if you make me pay more council tax I will get into debt and end up on the streets again.”

Another who receives Universal Credit said after paying his rent and council tax at 14 per cent, he has about £70 a week for food, utilities and bus transport.

“There’s no way I could pay more council tax,” he said. “I would have to go without food or heating.”

Cllr Boden said that Peterborough City Council is increasing Council Tax Support by one per cent to 33 per cent.

But the same cabinet report which featured the survey results noted that Breckland, East Cambridgeshire, West Suffolk and East Suffolk councils have kept their contribution to 8.5 per cent since the scheme first replaced Council Tax Benefit in 2013.

The government has also provided extra funding to support councils for this issue.

Cllr Samantha Hoy said that many families are struggling during the pandemic, whether or not they receive any financial support.

“I don’t think anyone is suggesting that they’re going to be voting for this with any kind of happiness and joy in their heart and no one wants to be taking money from people,” she said.

“Those that aren’t on benefits are the sort of people that aren’t receiving any Council Tax Support and they have to pay council tax too.

“So, if we’re to say: ‘Right, we’re not going to [raise Council Tax Support] and we’re going to put council tax up instead those very same people also struggling will suffer.

“Just because someone is not in receipt of benefits does not mean they’re not the breadline.”

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Cllr Samantha Hoy argued that many families are struggling in the pandemic. - Credit: Archant

Deputy council leader Jan French second her leader’s motion.

She said help was available through the county council for those struggling during the pandemic.

"Cllr Steve Count may or may not confirm but we have helped something like 32,000 people across the county," she said.

Councillor Jan French

Cllr Jan French, Deputy Leader of Fenland District Council. - Credit: Archant

Councillors voted against a proposed amendment Cllr Booth put forward to keep the payment at 14 per cent.

When it came to voting for the original motion of increasing Council Tax Support to 20 per cent, 20 voted in favour of the increase and 11 against; one abstained.

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