More than 1,170 households in Bedford will have their council tax bills fully paid off to help them get through the coronavirus lockdown.
The Government has given Bedford Borough Council nearly £1.5 million to help people on the lowest incomes in the borough during the covid-19 crisis.
It’s intended to reduce council tax bills for those on the lowest incomes by £150 per household, but background reports to borough Mayor, Dave Hodgson, says the council can afford to pay a more generous discount of up to £650.
Mayor Dave, who made a formal decision on 30 April to accept the Hardship Fund grant, said, “This is higher than the Government’s recommended £150 and is possible locally because we already ensure that those on the lowest incomes do not pay council tax.
“This means we can do more now for those in need of support in the current climate.
“At this difficult time for everyone it is critical that we ensure those most in need are supported.
“That’s why we’re introducing measures which expand the support received by those who need it in our community.”
In his report to the mayor, Lee Phanco, the council’s chief officer for customer experience and digital services, said that about 1,176 working-age households will see their bills reduced to nil.
A further 866 households would see their bill cut by £650, but would still have to pay something.
The discounts will be applied automatically.
Mr Phanco said Bedford Council “in contrast to the majority of English billing authorities” already gives 100 per cent discounts for the lowest income households.
“Consequently,” he said, “many working-age households qualifying for Council Task Support already receive a 100 per cent discount.
“This means the council may use the hardship fund to provide a much larger discretionary discount than the £150 recommended by the Government.
“Therefore, this report recommends that discounts of up to £650 should be made to all working-age households that currently receive a Council Tax Support discount of less than 100 per cent.”
The estimated cost of awarding the £650 discounts will be about £940,000, which will leave £498,000 in the pot.
This will enable the council to give households who fall into financial hardship during the year discounts of up to £650.
But predicting the numbers of people who will claim council tax support during the year is not an exact science.
Because of this the Mayor has agreed to let council officers make sure that they do not overspend or underspend the budget by possibly changing the amount that they can give out during the year.
It may mean that later in the year the amount paid out will be more than £650, or less, but no less than £150.
If they have any money left in the pot towards the end of the financial year, the council will be able to use it for “other means of relieving local residents’ financial hardship.”
By David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter