Thousands of households across County Durham will continue to receive help in covering the cost of their council tax bills after councillors agreed to the extension of a scheme.
Durham County Council provides council tax discounts of up to 100 per cent to eligible households through its Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme (LCTRS) and is one of only a small number of authorities to continue to offer this level of support.
There are currently 56,250 LCTRS claimants in County Durham, of which 21,150 (38 per cent) are pensioners and 35,100 (62 per cent) are working age claimants.
Almost 80 per cent of all working age applicants receive maximum help, leaving them with no council tax to pay, with LCTRS support forecast to be circa £62m in 2021/22.
Durham is the only local authority in the North East and one of a small minority in the country to continue to offer the same level of support to all claimants as was available under the former Council Tax Benefit (CTB) scheme. The LCTRS is open to residents on a low income, whether in work, unemployed or retired, who have less than £16,000 savings.
There was in an increase in claims for Council Tax Reduction last year as a result of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on household income levels.
At the peak in May 2020 the working age LCTRS caseload was almost 3,000 higher than in January of the same year.
In order to ensure that low-income households continue to access this vital support, the council has this week approved the continuation of the current LCTRS for a further year into 2022/23, which will continue the protection afforded to all claimants in line with what their entitlement would have been under the former CTB system.
Cllr Richard Bell, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, said: “We have one of the best schemes in the country for helping people with council tax support and are pleased to be able to continue this.
“Following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic our staff have been working hard to ensure those eligible to receive additional help to pay their council tax bills are able to access this as soon as possible.
“We want to ensure that our residents are aware of the support offered through the scheme and that we can also provide assistance to anyone who thinks they may be eligible, to progress a claim.
“We are mindful of the continuing detrimental impacts that the pandemic is having on many low-income households and the fact that the additional council tax liabilities for working age households could have a significant impact on affected household budgets by around £100 to £350 a year based on a scheme whereby entitlement for working age claimants is set at a maximum of 90 per cent entitlement.
“We are now the only authority in the North East whose scheme continues to mirror entitlement under the former Council Tax Benefit system.”