COUNCIL chiefs are sending out 55,000 letters to residents across the district as part of a consultation process following council tax benefit cuts made by central Government.
Ashfield District Council has begun consulting with homeowners on how it should respond to a 10 per cent reduction in the national budget for council tax benefit, which will reduce each individual council’s budget by a similar percentage.
Whitehall has decided that each authority should introduce its own scheme to help those on low incomes pay their council tax.
The Government has also said that there should be no changes made to the support given to pensioners.
Council bosses have proposed to make only minimal changes to the benefits it awards, and instead use the new arrangements to charge council tax to owners of second homes and empty homes.
Second home owners would in the future pay full council tax on those homes, rather than receiving 50 per cent discount, as at present.
Ashfield District Council leader John Knight said: “We believe that the council’s response to yet another cut in Government funding will encourage owners of empty homes to make an effort to bring back those homes into use.”
Those homes which have been empty between six months and a year, the council proposes, should now receive only a 25 per cent discount, rather than the full 100 per cent which is currently granted.
Homes which have been vacant for more than two years will now attract both the full council tax and a 50 per cent premium (additional council tax.)
Currently around 9,000 people across Ashfield claim housing benefit and 13,000 are entitled to council tax benefit.
There are currently around 900 empty homes across the Ashfield district.
Coun Trevor Locke, portfolio holder for finance and partnerships, added: “At a time when those in our community who are less well off are being affected by many different benefit changes, we believe it is important not to further cut these benefits, especially when there is an alternative solution.”
The two main changes to council tax reduction are a new limit of £8,000 on savings (currently £16,000) over which benefit cannot be claimed.
But the council proposes to award council tax reduction for six weeks after a claimant starts working, rather than the current four.
The consultation lasts until 31st October and can be completed either in paper format or online.