FEARS have been raised that poor and vulnerable households in Cornwall will be placed under severe financial pressure after Cornwall Council's Cabinet agreed that every household should pay at least 25% of their council tax bills.
The new charges are set to be introduced in April in response to the Government shifting the responsibility for council tax benefit onto local councils.
Council tax benefit currently allows families and individuals on low income claim for help with their council tax bills up to a maximum of 100%.
However Cornwall Council's finance officers said that continuing the scheme in its current form could cost the council more than £4m.
Initially officers had said that households should be forced to pay at least 30% of their bills, but that has been reduced to 25%.
But some councillors warned that the plans would place severe financial pressure on families and vulnerable people and create hardship.
Liberal Democrat councillor Alex Folkes told the Cabinet at its meeting this morning: "There is a chance that poorer families could be forced out of their homes as a result of this."
He added: "This benefit is not like winter fuel allowance or free TV licences which are universally available to those who qualify – you can only claim for it if you absolutely need to.
"We could have an endless cycle of this council chasing people for money that they haven't got."
He continued: "This measure will impact significantly on the poor people of Cornwall. I would ask the Cabinet whether it is right that we force people into the arms of the foodbank?"
Mr Folkes suggested that money raised by a council decision to scrap council tax discount for second homeowners and other council tax changes should be used to fund the council tax benefit scheme to remain as it is.
However finance officer Cath Robinson told the Cabinet that the income which was expected from second homeowners had already been allocated in the budget and if it was used to fund the council tax benefit scheme there could be a need to cut services.
The Cabinet said that the decision to shift responsibility for the benefit onto councils had forced them into making a difficult decision but said that they had to "balance the budget".
Cabinet member Bert Biscoe asked that the council monitor the impact of the benefit changes and other welfare reforms being made by the Government and provide updates to the Government to indicate the effect they have on people in Cornwall.
Cabinet member Fiona Ferguson also said it was important that the council offer advice and help for those people who are affected by the changes.