Fears for poorest as benefits axe falls

By Dan Santy Friday 19 October 2012 Updated: 25/10 09:14

A COUNCILLOR has spoken of 'sleepless nights' worrying about how Rugby's poorest residents will cope when their council tax benefits are slashed.

Coun Tom Mahoney, member of a task group examining how the cuts will affect people in the borough, shared his fears at the end of a public consultation on the situation on Monday (October 15).

The Government is changing the system in a bid to shave ten per cent from its council tax benefits bill nationally. Last year it spent £6 million subsidising Rugby.

As of next summer, it will give councils a fixed - and reduced - budget from which to distribute the payments. For Rugby Borough Council it means having to make up a shortfall of around £636,000 starting next April.

To do this, it will require people of working age who receive the benefits to pay 15 per cent of their council tax bill - even those with disabilities or illnesses which make it difficult or impossible for them to work.

There are around 3,500 such people in Rugby. Those who are of pension age and receive council tax benefits will be unaffected, as demanded by the Government.

It will see some of Rugby's poorest hundreds of pounds worse off over the course of a year. Even those who have never had to pay council tax because of their circumstances will be included.

Coun Mahoney told the Observer how, at the most recent meeting where the matter was discussed, a representative from Rugby Disability Forum left in tears upon realising the implications of the cuts.

The Labour councillor said: "I've been losing sleep over this. It's hard not to let it affect you - we're talking about people who are already struggling to get by being even worse off.

"It was a choice between cutting services elsewhere or cutting council tax benefits. But we couldn't cut from anywhere else so really, we had no choice.

"We think it best to spread the cuts thinly, so that a smaller group isn't left paying a lot more money.

"We don't want to have to do this but because of the Government we have got to."

The Benn ward councillor also expressed concerns at the 'bedroom tax' set to come in next April, in which tenants in homes with spare bedrooms will see their housing benefits slashed. Just under 400 properties in Rugby are known to be under-occupied, according to council figures.

But Coun Mahoney said Rugby did not have the available housing stock to solve the problem.

"It's not just a matter of pounds and pence or bricks and mortar to these people. These are their homes, and they don't want to leave them over a spare bedroom or two."

Currently there are around 12,500 in Rugby living at poverty level - with this expected to rise when further cuts are made.

Neighbouring councils in Coventry and Stratford are not reducing their council tax support and will instead make cuts elsewhere. Warwick District Council meanwhile will only apply the changes to new claimants registered after next April.

*If you will be affected by the cuts to council tax benefits and want to share your story, contact the Rugby newsdesk on 01926 451900 or email editor@therugbyobserver.co.uk

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