Thousands of households across Babergh, Mid Suffolk and Ipswich will be eligible for a reduction in their council tax bill after councillors approved further support for residents facing financial difficulties.
Last year, the government announced a new Hardship Fund to help households already in receipt of means-tested working-age Local Council Tax Support (LCTS). This enabled a reduction of up to £150 to be automatically applied to council tax bills for these households – ensuring the districts’ most financially vulnerable residents had nothing to pay in 2020/21.
Councils were required to hold back enough Hardship Fund to make this same relief available to any new customers who claimed LCTS throughout the council tax year. However, as the year-end approaches, there is still some funding remaining and so the councils have taken the decision to reduce council tax bills even more.
Following Ipswich Borough Council approving an amendment to the existing Hardship Fund to enable the maximum amount of funding to be allocated to working-age council taxpayers most in need of support, Mid Suffolk also gave the go-ahead at its Cabinet meeting on Monday 8 February. Babergh’s Cabinet voted unanimously in favour of the amendment at their meeting last week.
All three councils will now award further Hardship Relief to eligible residents who have received LCTS against their council tax liability for 2020/21. Households who are affected will automatically receive an adjusted bill – there is no requirement to apply.
Any Hardship Fund remaining, after applying the additional award, will be used to fund Discretionary Financial Assistance for residents in exceptional circumstances. Further information about this support can be found on the councils’ websites.
Babergh District Council Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, Cllr John Ward said:
“We are now a year into the coronavirus pandemic, and we know how worried people are about the ongoing financial impact of this. Last summer, we automatically applied a reduction of up to £150 to council tax bills of more than 4,000 working-age households in Babergh and Mid Suffolk. This made a real difference to our most vulnerable residents and I am pleased that further financial support is now available.
“Our councils appreciate that some residents may not feel that this help extends far enough, but council tax is an essential source of income for us, Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Police, and our town and parish councils, without which we’d be unable to support communities during this difficult time.”
Mid Suffolk District Council Cabinet Member for Finance, Cllr John Whitehead commented:
“It is quite clear that Covid-19, and its impact, will be felt for some time to come. We, therefore, welcome the generous funding provided by the government as this financial support will provide a lifeline to struggling households. Beyond those that we’re already aware of, we want to help all residents who genuinely need it. If your household income has reduced, you may be entitled to a reduction in your council tax bill and information on this and other support is available on our website.”
Ipswich Borough Council Portfolio Holder for Communities, Cllr Sophie Meudec said:
“Many of our residents are facing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic and we are pleased that we are able to offer further financial support for the most vulnerable members of our community.
“The initial reduction of up to £150 introduced last year helped over 9,900 struggling households that we were already aware of, but we know that situations change. If you do not already receive support but your income has reduced, you may be eligible for a reduction in your council tax bill as well as this additional support. We encourage residents to visit our website to find out more about what support may be available to them.”
Residents whose financial circumstances have been affected by the coronavirus can contact the Suffolk Advice and Support Service on 0800 068 3131 for free confidential advice on one-off grants, rent arrears, mortgages, credit cards or other debts. The service, launched in response to Covid-19, can also help with access to food and other coronavirus related concerns.