BENEFITS should be slashed to keep a council tax freeze in place, officials say.

Bosses at Wycombe District Council's Revenues and Benefits department have recommended a 20 per cent cut for about 4,500 claimants on the old system of council tax benefits.

The council has been forced to come up with a new scheme after the existing one was scrapped by the Government - leaving a funding shortfall in the Wycombe District Council area of roughly £1m.

Between an estimated £85,000 and £112,000 has to be found by the council. Other bodies like the county council, fire and police, which take a portion of the tax, will pick up the remainder of the slack.

Pensioners and disabled residents will be protected under the changes.

But if the Conservative Cabinet agrees with the recommendations at its Monday meeting then those of working age who currently claim will lose out by an average of £300 a year.

A rise in council tax would have meant about £13 extra a year for the average band D property.

Yet Andy Green, Revenues and Benefits Service Manager, said the results of its consultation gave it a mandate for opting to cut benefits.

He said: "There were good levels of support for it in the feedback we got."

Of the 344 who responded 56.9 per cent either tended to agree or definitely agreed with the principle that working age residents should contribute towards council tax. There were 36.7 per cent against it and the remainder were unsure.

Claimants comprised 49.7 per cent of respondents and 45 per cent were non-claimants.

Cabinet Member for Finance, Cllr Roger Wilson, said: "We understand that a lot of people are very hard pressed but we also understand we have lots of taxpayers who are just as hard pressed.

"It's not a pretty sight at the moment. We are protecting the actual vulnerable people - the disabled - and the Government is making sure pensioners are protected.

"We gave the pledge in our manifesto to taxpayers to keep taxes down as low as possible."

He said it was important to look at the numbers affected – about 4,500 claimants compared to about 140,000 adults in the district’s general population.

"We've got to look after, to my mind, the majority of the population as best as we can," Cllr Wilson said.

He insisted it was non-political and said the Government had severely restricted the kind of changes it could make.

There will be a discretionary fund of £50,000.

Mr Green said: "If we come across people who really are in dire need we can support them with this."

The Government has axed the current system as it undertakes radical welfare reforms, which are aimed at ensuring people are better off in work and therefore have an incentive to get jobs rather than live off benefits.

Full Council will vote on Cabinet's decision on December 17.

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