Almost one in three households in Lincoln receive housing or council tax benefit, or both. This means the Government’s welfare reform could have far reaching consequences. In the final feature of our series, Paul Whitelam looks at the City of Lincoln Council’s plan to continue helping people...
As part of the Government's welfare reforms, the city council is facing a funding gap of £137,000 in 2013/14.
Doing nothing would lead to the loss of £860,000 in council tax benefit payments to 7,442 working age people in Lincoln. They would have to fork out up to £250 extra a year unless the council steps in.
In order to bridge the gap, the authority is exploring different options such as charging 150 per cent council tax on empty, private properties.
The current six month payment holiday on unfurnished vacant homes could be cut to two months. Councillor Ric Metcalfe, leader of the City of Lincoln Council, questioned the impact of reform.
"Our thinking as a council is 'why are benefits being taken from the poorer sections of our community?', bearing in mind that benefits are only at a subsidence level and people are struggling already," he said.
"If you inflict further reductions this will only mean further hardship.
"I think we are the only council in Lincolnshire that has said we will fully protect council tax recipients in terms of what they get."
Martin Walmsley, head of shared revenues and benefits, said: "There's a whole raft of national changes we have very little control over in terms of implementation.
"But there are certain discussions we can have in terms of helping people with their benefits.
"We are hosting an information event about welfare reform at the New Life Conference Centre, in Lincoln, from 4pm to 7pm on Wednesday, November 7.
"People can come along and find out what the changes are and our officers can go through people's individual cases.
"Do not ignore the changes because they will affect you – seek advice now."
Sue Bannister, 46, secretary of Tower Action Group, who lives in Hillside Avenue, Lincoln, welcomed the pledge on council tax benefit for working age people.
"For people that really deserve council tax benefit it is good news that the system appears unchanged," she said.
"But I do think the current benefits system overall needs changing.
"There are people that are abusing the system and there are people in real need so the system should be made fairer."
For more information visit www.lincoln.gov.uk/welfarereform, call 01522 873355, or email firstname.lastname@example.org