10th Jul, 2020

Council tax discounts for Solihull residents could stretch borough's budget

John Carlon 1st Jun, 2020 Updated: 2nd Jun, 2020

MORE than 5000 Solihull residents could receive £150 towards their council tax bills.

But council officers have warned the scheme for residents facing hardship will cost more than the government’s grant to Solihull of £1.57 million.

Pledging to help residents on the lowest incomes during the coronavirus pandemic, the government said all working age people eligible for a council tax reduction this year will see money discounted from their council bill.

However, in a report to resources portfolio holder Coun Bob Sleigh, officers warned the tranche will not cover costs.

Joanne Robinson, head of income, wrote: “Based on current caseload trends, [funding] will not be sufficient to continue to make hardship awards to those of working age who become entitled to the discount this year.

“It is impossible for us to predict how many further awards we will make however we have estimated a further 5,200 working age claims from May 2020 to March 2021.”

“This is a further cost of £780,000, which would take the total Covid-19 Hardship Fund spend to £2,065,256, an additional £493,385 over the government’s allocation.

“Officers have made contact with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government regarding the predicted overspend of the Covid-19 Hardship Fund as a result of the increased caseload.

“The department confirmed that they are not in a position to offer any guarantee of future funding.”

Subject to Coun Sleigh’s approval, the council will pay the £150 hardship payments directly to residents’ council tax accounts.

Trevor Eames, secretary of Solihull Ratepayers Association, said: “We very much welcome any assistance that can be given at the present time to those people who are struggling.

“We are hearing from a number of people who have lost their jobs or who were self-employed, they are finding it is very difficult to click-in to the state system of benefits.

“Any assistance that can come along. even if it is a comparatively small amount, can actually help pay for the groceries.”

Residents facing difficulties apply either through Solihull Council’s website or are referred by the Jobcentre for help.

A spokesman for the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We’re giving councils an unprecedented package of support worth £3.8 billion to tackle the  pressures they have told us they’re facing plus a £500 million Hardship Fund to provide council tax relief to vulnerable people and households to help those affected most by coronavirus.

“Solihull Council has received more than £11.5 million of emergency funding and its core spending power has increased by almost £9.4 million this financial year even before additional emergency funding was announced.

“The Government will continue to work closely with councils to develop an ongoing assessment of costs as they support their communities through this national emergency.”

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