More than 1,000 pensioners miss out on council tax support in South Tyneside
Over 1,000 pensioners in South Tyneside have lost the help theu were receiving to pay their council tax, as charities warn benefit changes are pushing people into poverty.
There were 8,166 pensioners claiming council tax support in South Tyneside in the three months to December last year, according top official figures - a drop of 1,333, or 14%, compared to the same period in 2015.
Turn2us, a charity which helps people in financial hardship, says cash-strapped councils are opting to move services online, which is impacting older people.
Campaigns manager Matthew Greer said: “We speak to thousands of people each week through our helpline, many of whom are pensioners, struggling to navigate a complex and increasingly ‘digital-first’ welfare system.
“The fact that so many are now not receiving the correct support for council tax is unfair. People who are already struggling to get by end up being sucked further into poverty.”
South Tyneside Council says it is working to ensure people are aware of the support available and how to access it.
Coun Ed Malcolm, lead member for resources and innovation, said: “We introduced a local council tax support scheme in 2013 to replace the Council Tax Benefit scheme which was abolished as part of the Government’s welfare reforms.
“The changes resulted in the council losing more than £1.7m in Government support – a shortfall the council had to meet while still protecting the borough’s most vulnerable residents.
“Despite being one of the authorities hardest hit by Central Government cut backs, we have continued to support those affected by the welfare changes and are fully committed to ensuring residents are aware of the help available so that they can get the support they are entitled to.”
He added: “Details of how to apply for this support is publicised in leaflets sent out with every Council Tax bill and on the council’s website.
“We would encourage people to contact our benefits advisors who can provide comprehensive advice on the qualifying criteria and supporting evidence required.”
Fewer working-age people are also claiming council tax support in South Tyneside, although their numbers have fallen less sharply than in the case of pensioners.
Between October and December, 11,928 working-age people claimed a discount on their tax from the council, down from 12,043 in 2015 – a drop of 1%.
The Government says it has protected pensioners, and that they continue to receive the same level of support as under the previous system.
However, there are now 245,000 fewer pensioners claiming support in England compared to three years ago – a drop of 13%.
Caroline Abrahams from Age UK said it was important for eligible pensioners to have access to support.
She said: “It is shameful that, despite millions of older people struggling financially, at least £3billion in social security benefits remains unclaimed every year. This extra income could make a huge difference to their lives,”
Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak MP said councils were best placed to make decisions about the appropriate level of support to provide in their area.
He added: “We have given councils access to £46.4billion this year to allow them to meet the needs of their residents.”