Thousands of households across County Durham are set to benefit from extra help in covering the cost of their council tax bills during the coronavirus pandemic.
Durham County Council already provides council tax discounts of up to 100 per cent to eligible households through its Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS) and is one of only a small number of councils to provide this level of support.
Following the government’s announcement last week of an additional £500 million Hardship Fund to support people across the country struggling to pay their bills due to coronavirus, the council is now offering additional support.
Households who currently receive assistance through CTRS but still pay some money towards their council tax bills will receive a further reduction of up to £300.
This will mean an estimated 1,600 extra households will now benefit from a 100 per cent reduction on their council tax bills, while a further 5,700 or so families will see their bills reduced by an additional £300.
Cllr Alan Napier, deputy Leader of Durham County Council and cabinet member for resources, said: “We have one of the best schemes in the country for helping people with council tax support. Our staff have been working hard since the government’s announcement to ensure those eligible to receive additional help to pay their council tax bills are able to access this as soon as possible.
“We are already one of only a handful of councils across the country that do not cap the level of support available to residents, with almost 26,000 families receiving a 100 per cent discount on their bills – that’s 78 per cent of the total number of households signed up to the scheme.
“This additional funding from government means that an expected 7,300 more households will now see their bills reduced, with a significant number now having nothing to pay.
“This means we are providing double the support to people in receipt of CTRS than the Government is recommending. This is only possible because of the level of support already available through our existing scheme.”
The council has already postponed debt recovery for anyone falling into arrears with their council tax bills and is encouraging anyone with concerns about their payments to get in touch.
A range of options are available to support residents who need help, including spreading payments evenly over 12 months or starting payments from June instead of April. Many residents have already taken up this offer.
The authority is also investing an additional £1m from the government Hardship Fund into its Welfare Assistance Scheme, which provides short-term cash awards to people in crisis situations. This includes those impacted by benefit sanctions, vulnerable people who need help to cover daily living expenses and residents unable to purchase essential furniture and appliances.
Cllr Angela Surtees, cabinet member for social inclusion, said: “It’s always important that we provide help to those who most need it but particularly at times such as these. I’m pleased that we are able to use some of the money awarded through the government’s Hardship Fund to further support our Welfare Assistance Scheme.”
For more information, visit www.durham.gov.uk/counciltaxreduction.
Meanwhile, the council has updated information on other service areas affected:
• Pathways Day Centres at Stanley, Spennymoor, Peterlee and Newton Aycliffe are closed until further notice. Durham Pathways at Abbey Road, Pity Me, remains open but is providing a restricted service.
• Following reports of scams related to coronavirus, the council is advising people to report concerns to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. Advice is also available from the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133.