City councils are at odds over the amount of council tax support given to the most vulnerable residents

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Opposition councils have repeatedly called for this Northumberland County Council Conservative Administration to cover the entire council tax bills of the county’s most vulnerable residents.

In 2019, the council lowered the maximum tax break for working-age claimants from 100% to 92% – and has since been asked annually to reintroduce the higher support rate.

While work City councilors urged the council to restore full levels of support. Conservative members and senior council officials said other offers of support would go beyond that.

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At Wednesday’s full council meeting, Vice Chair Coun Richard Wearmouth said: “This program is one of the most generous and helping most in the North East.”

County Wearmouth also acknowledged that families would face additional pressure from the rising cost of living, but outlined a number of support programs nationally to help families.

Labor Councilor Elizabeth Dunn argued: “For the past several years I have argued and advocated for the Council’s tax support scheme to be restored to its original level of 100%.

“This council needs to lobby central government for funding. We cannot rely on one-off energy funds that may or may not be there next time.

“In the current livelihood crisis we need to support all of our residents, even if it was just a temporary measure to get people through this year. 92 percent is not enough.

“We need that support. Our people need more than the 92 percent support program.”

Council finance chief Jan Willis explained how the council would support vulnerable residents in other ways.

She said: “We would look to continue the hardship scheme that we launched this year, which not only benefited the person at eight per cent but also helped a significantly larger number of low-income households below that threshold.

“We have 15,000 working-age claimants and the hardship scheme has helped all of them – but not all 15,000 would be helped if we changed the 92% to 100% scheme, which would cost 100%.”

Ms Willis’ comments led Tory councilor Nick Oliver to accuse the Labor group of “political point-scoring”, adding: “You advocate supporting fewer people with less generous support.”

Labor member Julie Foster then asked: “Why can’t we have both? we had it covid hit hard, we’ve sent energy bills through the roof – even those with decent wages are struggling.

“For me it means giving as much help as possible.”

Count David Ferguson acknowledged there was “so much distress afoot” but added: “If we have to find an extra £1.3m then it all comes at a price.

“Ninety-two percent is a huge council tax. If we can’t say where that money will come from, we will only push more people into poverty.”

The proposals were adopted by Conservative members, with Labor councilors abstaining over concerns that if the plans were defeated there might be no program at all. The two green members of the council voted against the plan.

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