Some years ago the government gave councils the responsibility of working out their own scheme to help people under pension age with low incomes pay their council tax.  Council tax is an increasingly large part of people’s expenditure.

The scheme Lewes District Council adopted makes things much worse for many people. In October 2019 the council cabinet approved a scheme starting in April 2020 which does very little to alleviate these problems and keeps most of the current rules in place:

NO BENEFIT ON THE FIRST 20% OF YOUR COUNCIL TAX.

Just like the poll tax, no one can get benefit to meet all of their council tax.  Everyone must pay at least 20%, even if they have nothing coming in at all.  Lewes Council does not have to do this and many councils do not.

To put this in perspective, imagine that you are a single person aged 40 living in a studio flat.  Your council tax will probably be around £25 per week (depending on which bit of the District you live in).  You will have to pay around £5 per week.

If you are unemployed this will have to come out of the £73 pounds a week or so universal credit that is supposed to cover your food, fuel, clothing and other necessities of life apart from rent (It may have to cover some of your rent as well if your rent is not very low.

The penalty is particularly hard for single people, but families, who are likely to be living in a larger home which is rated higher for council tax can also end up paying £6 or more out of meagre incomes.

HARD EARNED WAGES TAKEN AWAY

The way that your benefits are cut if you manage to increase your income has long been a scandal. The actions of Lewes District Council make it worse.

Let’s suppose you manage to work a bit harder so that your wages go up by £10 per week.

£3.20 of that will normally go in tax and national insurance, leaving you with £6.80

If you are on universal credit (UC) you will lose a further £4.28, because UC is reduced by 63p for every £1 net that you earn.  So you will be left with £2.52.

Now Lewes Council step in. They will reduce your help with council tax by roughly 37p, leaving you with just over £2, for all your extra work, out of an original total of £10

Your editor has been told that, if the council abolished the rule that everyone must pay the first 20% of council tax there would be very little effect on Lewes District Council, but the County Council would lose about a million pounds.  Given that the County is happy to spend up to £13 million on things like the Newhaven Port road, this seems good value.

SELF EMPLOYED- Some helpful changes

If you are starting off as self-employed, or if you are in one of those fake “self-employed” jobs, watch out.  After a short period, you will be assumed to be working full time, earning at least the national minimum wage, even if you are earning less than this.  This is causing hardship to self-employed and casual workers. From April 2020 the council cabinet has recommended that benefits  for the self employed.should be worked out on people’s actual income, which is fairer and is what already happens to other claiments. But  this will result in a lot of time spent by staff trying to go through the books of the self employed.  It looks as if the extra money will come from some kind of discretionary fund, rather than the main scheme.

Alarmingly, some Conservative Councilors seem to think that this means the self-employed will get more benefit than others, rather than simply removing the discrimination against he self employed they themselves put in place.

A HARDSHIP SCHEME?

The council says that it has a hardship fund for those who are penalised by these rules.  But if you want help from this you must:

  • Make an application
  • Have all your income and expenditure scrutinised in humiliating detail
  • Agree to have the council or an advice service tell you how to manage your money
  • Provide detailed evidence for all your income and outgoings and attempts to manage your money.

Even then you will not get any money if:

  • You are not likely to be able to improve your situation quickly (the scheme only makes short term payments)
  • You are suffering just the ordinary hardship that affects everyone caught in this scheme- you will have to show that there is something extra-ordinary about your hardship.

You can see the full details of the Lewes ordinary scheme for help with council tax benefit  at http://www.leweseye.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Lewes-S13A-Scheme-201718-v1.2-2.pdf

You can see full details of the hardship scheme at https://www.lewes-eastbourne.gov.uk/council-tax/exceptional-hardship-payments/