Northumberland’s reduced council tax support scheme is proposed to continue next year, but there is leftover Covid-19 cash to reduce bills further.

As part of its budget setting in early 2019, the Conservative-led authority agreed to reduce the maximum level of support from 100 per cent to 92 per cent, sparking a political row with the Labour opposition.

This cut meant that every household in the county had to pay at least eight per cent of their council tax requirement and saw 12,500 people receive a bill for the very first time in 2019-20.

That continued into the current financial year and the council is now proposing that the scheme for 2021-22, which has to be agreed by the end of January, remains the same. This applies only to working-age claimants as the pensioner element continues to be prescribed by the Government with a 100 per cent maximum.

However, in April this year, the county council received £3.4m from the Government to reduce bills further for those already receiving council tax support as well as new claimants, and to establish a hardship fund.

This meant that around 15,000 households in the county were entitled to up to £150 off their bills, with Coun. Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, telling councillors that 13,000 people ended up having no bill to pay this year.

He explained that £2.2m had been spent, but that £1.1m would be rolled over to next year, with the result being that the maximum level of support would be in the region of 97.5 per cent rather than 92 per cent, depending on the exact number of claimants.

Labour’s Coun. Lynne Grimshaw, who told the Monday, October 12, meeting of the corporate services committee that she remained ‘strongly opposed’ to any reduction at all, said that the proposal to continue with the current policy was premature.

She mentioned that a report on collection levels had not yet been received, changes to Universal Credit from next April, and the Government’s imminent announcements on possible further Covid-19 restrictions.

The council tax support scheme is forecast to cost £26.6m this year and a single person in a band A property receiving the maximum 92 per cent reduction is paying around £6.50 a month towards council services.