Calls for council to reverse discount cuts

Redbridge Council is facing calls to “reverse” cuts to council tax discounts for disabled and low-income residents.

In December, Labour leader Jas Athwal’s cabinet approved a plan to cut spending on its council tax reduction scheme by £1.2m per year.

Council tax reductions of up to 85 per cent are awarded to about 17,000 residents of working age who receive disability benefits or have children and a low income.

The cuts have prompted Bob Archer from the Redbridge Trades Council to start an online petition calling for the cuts to be reversed.

He wrote: “This is a significant loss for people on the lowest incomes and can mean the difference between eating or not.

“It’s clear that poor residents won’t be able to pay these increases, so will default and will be pursued by debt collectors, further increasing their stress and debt levels.

“It should be noted that you can be jailed for failing to pay council tax.

“As some other boroughs provide 100 per cent support, so should Redbridge Council by re-prioritising where the cuts should fall.

“If they can afford to budget to build a lido and give an hour free parking to motorists, they surely can afford to help our poorest residents.”

The cuts will mean that a couple receiving disability benefits and living in a council tax band D property will see their bills nearly double to £530.

The eligibility level for a discount will be doubled from £260 per year currently to £520.

About 11,700 working age residents and 5,200 pensioners receive council tax support.

Bob said the cuts would “literally take food out of residents’ mouths”.

He pointed out that a disabled or unemployed single person will see their council tax bill more than double from £7.21 to £19 per week.

According to the cabinet report on the cuts, progressive cuts in government funding mean the cost of the scheme has increasingly fallen on cash-strapped Redbridge Council.

Since 2013/14, funding for the scheme has fallen from £16.5m to £9.1m and Redbridge now pays about £5m per year for the scheme.

The council says it will continue to make £1m available each year for “vulnerable residents” through its discretionary hardship fund.

However, it has also admitted that in 2022/23 it only shared out £96,000 from the fund to residents.

Redbridge Council also provides an “intensive package of support” to residents in financial difficulties and tries to help people into work through its  Work Redbridge scheme.

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter