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Legal challenge could follow Cornwall Council decision to introduce minimum 25% council tax charge

By RWhitehouse  |  Posted: January 29, 2013

Cornwall Council

Cornwall Council

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CORNWALL Council will investigate mounting a legal challenge against the Government's decision to shift responsibility for council tax benefit onto local councils.

Councillors instructed legal officers at County Hall to look into the possibility of launching a judicial review after agreeing to changes which will mean that every working age household in Cornwall will have to pay at least 25% council tax.

An extraordinary meeting of the full council on Tuesday saw the council chamber divided clearly on party political lines – while Conservative councillors were overwhelmingly in favour of introducing the scheme which will see the end of 100% council tax benefit Liberal Democrat councillors put forward an alternative.

Lib Dem deputy group leader Alex Folkes put forward an amendment which called for the council to fund the £4.2million needed to retain the current council tax benefit scheme by cutting expenditure on consultants and agency staff by a third.

Mr Folkes suggested that agency staff in essential departments such as social services should be protected from any cut but suggested that the council's current £1m expenditure on consultants and agency staff was too high.

But he said that it was needed to protect 26,000 families who would face hardship if they had to find money to pay council tax bills.

However the council was told that finance chief Cath Robinson had responded to the suggestion by stating that there was no specific budget available for consultants and agency staff so it would not be possible to simply identify such spending to be cut.

Conservative councillors accused Mr Folkes of coming up with his amendment "on the back of a fag packet" and suggested that introducing a minimum charges was the only way forward.

Mebyon Kernow leader Dick Cole said: "I have been contacted by a lot of people who would be affected by this and say they would be unable to meet this added cost.

"There are people who don't claim council tax benefit who have contacted me to say they would rather pay a bit more than see those who can't afford it be charged."

Mr Cole said that foodbanks in Cornwall were already struggling to meet demand and suggested that even more people would need their help if the minimum charges were introduced.

Former council leader Alec Robertson said he supported the decision to introduce a minimum 25% charge "reluctantly" and said that nobody in the council chamber wanted to accept the change.

He added: "This is not a choice that Cornwall Council has made or that the Cornish electorate has made."

Independent councillor Andrew Wallis successfully put forward an additional recommendation that council solicitor Richard Williams look into the possibility and cost of a judicial review being brought against the Government. A report is set to be brought back to the council on February 26.

Chris Goninan also put forward an additional recommendation that the council monitor the impact of the changes and that a report on the impact be brought before the council September. His motion was supported.

Mr Folkes' amendment was defeated 61 votes to 41 and the Cabinet recommendation to support a minimum 25% charges was carried 55 votes to 42.

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6 comments

  • Doitdreckley  |  January 31 2013, 1:10PM

    The Government's is not driven by calculations but by idelogy. If we cut tourism (Geevor etc) then we cut jobs and compromise even more people's ability to pay.

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  • windcube  |  January 31 2013, 11:51AM

    Why would those previously exempt from paying now miraculously be able to pay? Council Tax benefit has traditionally been means tested, i.e., only those who haven't the means to pay are exempt. Logically then, everyone who previously received 100% exemption and now needs to pay 25% of their Council Tax will In theory be unable to pay their bill. It's a guarantee that bailiffs will be visiting an additional few thousand households because of the decision. Or of course, if any of these taxpayers find that they can pay the extra, it must mean the criteria for awarding benefit and exemptions has been flawed for god knows how many years. Isn't this cast iron proof that the government bases its calculations on figures completely plucked from the air?

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  • Green Ginger Studios  |  January 30 2013, 9:35AM

    It was interesting that during their, er, "debate", very little mention was made of the way in which the core of Cornwall Council is run with regards to accommodation, salaries, expenses and allowances. And I'm sorry Chris but, as much as I like Geevor and everything it has achieved and everything it does as an education centre, I score protecting people from impoverishment (and the inevitable bailiff aggression that inevitably will follow) MUCH higher.

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  • Normski  |  January 29 2013, 8:33PM

    So now I have to find extra to pay the council tax increase? hang on how? my benefits aren't going up, I can't work due to ill health. I have no savings. slowly getting more and more in to debt. oh I know how about some of the money I've just read about the council are going to give to keep a dead poet's house?

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  • PaddyTrembath  |  January 29 2013, 6:48PM

    At least the council are now doing something to improve the unemployment figures. The Bailiff companies will now be having a big recruitment drive. Also, the Daily Mail readers will be glad to see a glut of 72 inch 3D televisions going cheap at auctions in Cornwall. Come September, see them all queuing up at their local auction house, cash in hand, waiting to pick up the bargains, cheap TVs, Microwaves, Cars.......................well, it's an ill wind and all that. Just how much straw do you think that camel can carry?

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  • Doitdreckley  |  January 29 2013, 3:24PM

    Why don't Liberal Democrat Councillors tell Nick Clegg that they won't stand for it? I don't understand why Liberals are complaining about something that other Liberals have been complicit in.

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