Send your news, photos and videos by texting bucksfreepress to 80360 or email
Council must decide: raise tax or cut benefits
A RISE in council tax for everyone or slashing the benefits of some of the poorest in the district is the 'impossible' choice being weighed up by finance bosses.
The old system of council tax benefits is being axed and Government cuts mean Wycombe District Council will have £2.5 million less next year to pay for the new scheme.
Either, the current council tax freeze will have to be scrapped or about half of the 9,000 thousand people on the benefit will lose out by as much as £300 per year.
A rise in council tax would mean about £13 extra a year for the average band D property for whom the bill is about £1,400 annually currently.
Andy Green, Revenues and Benefits Service Manager, said: "It's a big decision, it's a dilemma for the council because it affects potentially everyone. We can't satisfy everyone.
“The choice is do we put up the council tax for everyone or do we reduce the amount of support we give people on the benefits?
“We are being forced into a corner.”
The council spends or pays out about £9.8 million per year on council tax benefits.
The prospect of the cuts is even bleaker because officials expect an even greater shortfall. The ten per cent reduction is based on Government forecasts on the number of people who will be on benefits in April 2013.
But council officials believe these figures are optimistic. The council will have to pick up the slack if figures prove higher than the projections.
Pensioners are excluded from the possible benefit slash.
Councillor Roger Wilson, Cabinet Member for Finance, said this means effectively the figure is already 20 per cent and believes the council may actually have to cover for a shortfall could get worse.
The ex-Marlow Mayor agreed with Mr Green that councils are facing an 'impossible' choice and said it does not want to be viewed as uncaring.
He said: "There are no winners out of the system at all. We will obviously look after the poorest as far as we can.
“The last thing we want to do is have people in our area who who are breadless. “This is what's been forced on us by the government.”
The council's preferred option is for all claimants of working age to contribute, plus a specific cuts in benefits for some groups.
Cllr Wilson urged residents to complete the survey, saying: "The screaming will only start when people get their bills so we need to get their views now.”
The Government is aiming to cut its current £4.8 billion annual council tax benefit bill by ten per cent and believes it will simplify a complex system and establish stronger incentives for councils to get people back into work.
Questionnaires must be completed by October 17 and the council must have its new system in place by January of have one imposed upon it by Westminster.
Comments are closed on this article.