Council says ‘hardship fund’ stays

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Rother District Council head office

Rother District Council (RDC) has confirmed it will continue the Exceptional Hardship Payment Scheme for residents on low incomes and who struggle to pay their Council Tax.

The move follows a change in the way Council Tax rebates will be allocated across Rother in 2019. The hardship scheme was created to ensure that financial support is available to local residents most in need – but it will only be granted on a short-term basis.

Following a consultation last year RDC has decided to streamline its Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS) – though admitted there were “winners and losers”, in that a number of families on very low incomes will be paying more Council Tax in future. The need to amend the CTRS is, in part, due to the approaching introduction of Universal Credit and the complications it has generated in means-testing other benefits.

The consultation on the changes ran for six weeks in 2018 and saw a poor response with only 159 submissions. Rother believed that the complexity of the proposals may have affected the response rate. The majority of respondents, 71%, agreed to the proposed changes but one local resident took the opportunity to lambast the Cabinet at its meeting on December 17 saying the changes is “pushing 200 struggling Rother families currently surviving on the margins, into invidious choices between eating, heating and debt this winter”.

In response, Rye Councillor Lord Ampthill said: “The proposals are intended to meet the challenges being faced in the administration of CTRS and the collection of Council Tax because of the roll-out of universal credit. They are not intended to make savings from the scheme itself, therefore extensive modelling of all the different scenarios has taken place in order to limit where possible any financial impact on the residents. However, as has been made clear there will still be some winners and losers.”

Lord Ampthill confirmed that Rother staff will be contacting residents who will be adversely affected by the changes to inform them of the exceptional hardship fund.

Earlier this week Rye and Hastings MP Amber Rudd, acting as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, announced she was delaying the roll-out of Universal Credit, the government’s controversial welfare reform programme. The roll out has been delayed after it was blamed for increasing poverty in areas where it has been introduced. In Hastings it has coincided with a doubling of people accessing food banks in the town.

More information on the Exceptional Hardship Payment Scheme can be found here.

Image Credits: Rye News library.

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