Row erupts over cut to council tax support scheme for poorest families

Enfield Council wants to cut the maximum discount it provides on tax bills to 50%, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Thousands of low-income households in Enfield could face having to pay more council tax to reduce mounting financial pressure on the civic centre.

A shake-up of Enfield’s council tax support scheme, which helps around one-in-three of the borough’s households, could see the local authority cut the maximum discount it provides from 75.5% of bills down to 50%.

Last year, the council ruled out increasing the minimum payment made by residents supported via the scheme. Instead, it introduced a banding system based on income that still saw some households lose up to £1,455 per year. But with budget pressures continuing to grow, it has now proposed upping minimum payments.

The council says higher interest rates and inflation have pushed up the cost of running the discount scheme from £30million in 2018 to more than £40m today, with the figure set to rise to £50m by 2026. It claims the changes will bring it into line with the London average, and it plans to invest £1m into a hardship fund to help residents who are most in need.

But a political row has already broken out over the proposed changes. James Hockney, the Conservative group’s shadow cabinet member for finance, blamed the Labour administration’s “financial mismanagement” for “heaping pain on those who can least afford it”.

He said: “Labour decided to become one of the most indebted London councils – despite our repeated warnings of the risks. Debt interest from the frontline services budget has surged to £32m this year and will continue to rise each year to £46m in three years’ time. The Labour administration’s actions mean ten of millions of pounds is tied up in a debt bubble rather than on frontline services.

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“This is why they don’t have the money for council tax support [….] with these cuts falling heaviest in the lower-income households in Edmonton and the east of the borough. Labour say they care about the hard-pressed taxpayer – but their actions say otherwise.”

Tim Leaver, the council’s cabinet member for finance and procurement, hit back at the comments, saying: “Enfield Conservatives still don’t get it: after 13 years of austerity, a government that wrecked the economy and has failed to stop inflation – Conservative mismanagement is costing us all.

“The government used to fund council tax support schemes until the Conservatives slashed it, and then cut Enfield’s budgets by £82m a year.

“Despite Conservative cuts, our Labour-run Enfield Council has consistently managed its budget robustly and responsibly. The cross-party Local Government Association recognised this in their recent review of Enfield Council, specifically commenting on the resilience of council finances.

“And whilst Enfield Conservatives continue to oppose any strategic borrowing to see improvements in our borough, Enfield Labour will continue to invest for the future, including to deliver much-needed affordable housing.”

Further proposed changes to the support scheme include capping the maximum discount at band C property levels and changing the calculations on multiple non-dependent adults in one property.

Members of the council’s cabinet will decide whether to launch a twelve-week public consultation on the proposals in September.

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