Low income families and empty homes could be targeted to help plug council’s £600,000 deficit

COUNCIL tax charges on low income residents and empty homes are two of the options facing South Holland District Council to plug a £600,000 budget gap.

Proposals for a new support scheme to replace council tax benefit have been put before cabinet members ahead of a January 2013 deadline for the scheme to be in place.

The proposals are in response to Government legislation abolishing council tax benefit and cutting grants to local authorities by ten per cent.

South Holland is facing a total budget gap of £594,000, with much of it to be picked up by Lincolnshire County Council and Lincolnshire Police Authority.

To plug the gap, the council is hoping to raise cash by changing the criteria for helping people to pay their council tax bills.

But any new criteria would have to be in line with Government guidelines to protect pensioners, other vulnerable groups and encourage unemployed people to find work.

A report presented to cabinet members said: “All Lincolnshire local authorities have been meeting regularly over recent months with the aim of reaching consensus on a local council tax support scheme that can be applied consistently across the county.”

Options put forward in the report include a new 50 per cent premium for properties empty for two years or more, on top of a full council tax charge, which could raise about £43,000.

Another proposal would see council tax charged in full on empty second homes, raising about £20,000.

But one of the biggest changes could see people on low incomes having to pay between 20 and 30 per cent of their council tax bill where at present, they get benefits in full.

Such a change would raise between £288,000 and £432,000, but increase the risk of large arrears and unpaid council tax bills.

South Holland District Council plans to consult with individuals and groups, including parish councils, affected by the new support scheme over a 12-week period in the autumn.

But the scheme must be in place before the end of January 2013, ready to be implemented from April 1 2013.

Deputy council leader Paul Przyszlak said: “We’re looking to minimize, if not eliminate, the affect of these changes on the most vulnerable and we’re talking to the Government about the options that may be available.”