At the Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) meeting on 23.1.2013, there was grudging unanimous support for the new local council tax benefit scheme. As part of the package, the previous discount allowed on second homes and the previous discounts for class A and class C dwellings (properties requiring major repair or alteration, and unoccupied/unfurnished properties, respectively) was stopped.

Commenting afterwards, Liberal Democrat group leader, Robin Parker said: “The abolition of these discounts was suggested by me to SBC more than once, about 10 years ago, and was at that time rejected by the Labour majority. SBC could have saved a considerable sum of money, had this been done all those years ago.”

The new local rules on council tax benefit will mean that everyone on Council Tax Benefit, who is not a pensioner, will have to find the first 8.5% of their council tax bill, before they get any Council Tax Benefit. “This is extremely unwelcome “said Robin Parker, “but it should be noted that:

  • SBC could have increased the amount of support available to Council Tax Benefit recipients if it had kept more money in the bank and had not overspent for many previous years, and had not chosen to spend money on, for example, such things as subsidising the very successful and profitable football club by over £3 million, paying the previous Chief Executive £170,000 to leave or had not wasted about £40,000 on a very ill thought out free parking scheme last year
  • Despite the majority Labour group’s hand wringing over the necessity to introduce these cuts, not one of them was able to suggest alternative savings the Coalition Government could have made in order to deal with the annual £159 billion deficit the Labour government left behind (after which, in 2010,  even Labour’s own Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne, admitted there was “no money left”)
  • The real problem is with the whole Council Tax system, introduced by the Conservatives, and continued by Labour, in governments since 1993 – because the system takes no account of people’s ability to pay – unlike the Liberal Democrats favoured fair Local Income Tax replacement for the unfair Council Tax.”