Council Tax levy in Wales – Labour proposing to penalise the most vulnerable

As part of the 2010 Spending Review the Government announced an intention to localise support for Council Tax from 2013-14 and to reduce expenditure on this benefit by 10%. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 provides for the abolition of Council Tax Benefit (CTB). Provisions for the localisation of Council Tax support are included the Local Government Finance Bill which is currently before Parliament. It is expected that a one-off transition to the new localised schemes of support will take place in April 2013. The move to localised assistance, coupled with the 10% reduction in expenditure, is expected to deliver savings of £410m in England (£470m nationally).

The Welsh Assembly has been recalled on 19 December to decide on a Council tax levy to cover the shortfall in funding Council Tax support. Labour proposes a ‘home levy’ amounting to £9.22 per month (about £110 a year), on each Council Tax Benefit claim.

The Scottish Parliament has decided to cover the Westminster Government’s reduced funding (to 90% of previous year). The Green Party is asking for a fair sharing of this burden; Natalie Bennett (Green Party Leader) and the Association of Green Councillors have critisised the unfair ‘postcode lottery’ that is emerging.

The Welsh Government’s Labour administration, however, want a universal amount levied and won’t consult. This would include Pensioners (exempted in England), and levy single person households on low income (e.g.. Job-seekers allowance £71 per wk) with small income/rents/benefits, just as much as multi-person households.

Such an equal levy (like the infamous Poll tax) is never ‘fair’; the collection costs will be high and it’s doubly unfair to make the poorest in our communities bear this burden. It would certainly be better, fairer and simpler to have a small levy on all Council tax bills, rather than further squeeze the poorest and most vulnerable members of our communities.

The failure to meet the Coalition Government’s hope that councils will design schemes which protect vulnerable groups beyond just pensioners, and which maintain strong work incentives, will have to be laid firmly at Welsh Labour’s door if their proposals are carried.

The Welsh Government should delay any decision to allow for wide consultation on the many alternatives that could protect vulnerable groups and allow for a fairer fair sharing of the burdens being forced upon us my the ConDem government. Only fools rush in, and the WG and WLGA insistence on a quick decision so they can send out bills in January is crass at best. It is their fault for not consulting earlier as these changes were announced way back in 2010 as part of the Spending Review. In the immediate short term, they can and should cover the cost this year (£30 million for 330 000 households), like they have chosen to do in Scotland, and get a fairer system, after rightful consultation, ready for next year.

Welsh Labour will therefore define themselves with this decision. We will either be able to condemn them as essentially the same as the ConDems in Westminster, or be able to compare them favourably with the distinctly different administration of our Celtic cousins in Scotland. Indications at the moment suggest that will take the former route and (yet again) betray their faithful core voters, who deserve so much better.

Andy Chyba
Chair Bridgend Green Party

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