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Suffolk districts look for equal benefits as they ponder merger proposal

PUBLISHED: 11:34 10 November 2017 | UPDATED: 11:48 10 November 2017

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Council tax relief in Babergh and Mid Suffolk could be paid at the same rate from next April as the two authorities move closer to each other – possibly leading to a full merger.

In 2013 council tax relief was changed – until then the poorest households did not have to pay anything but from then councils were told they could offer relief of up to 95%. The government wanted all households to pay a small amount of council tax.

Babergh council decided the maximum relief it would offer was 91.5% – but Mid Suffolk offered to pay up to 95%.

Now both councils are consulting on new relief rates that will come in at the start of April next year.

This would see the maximum relief in Babergh raised to 95% in line with Mid Suffolk.

The councils are also proposing to change how they pay the relief to allow for changes to housing benefit and the introduction of universal credit.

They are bringing their benefits into line with each other as they prepare to start consultations on a merger – although the Babergh consultation has been delayed after its scrutiny committee asked for the issue to be debated by the full council.

John Whitehead, Mid Suffolk cabinet member for finance, said: “Our Council Tax Reduction scheme helps residents in the greatest need and we’re proud to be able to support them in hard times, but sometimes the administration of different schemes can produce a headache for claimants when they least need them.”

Peter Patrick, Babergh cabinet member for finance, said: “Our Council Tax Reduction scheme can form a lifeline for residents in difficult circumstances, and we need to make it as simple as possible: by aligning the criteria with our housing benefit scheme we will make the scheme easier to understand and quicker to access.

“This, along with increasing our maximum reduction from 91.5% to 95%, will help our most vulnerable residents when they need it most, all at a cost of just £8,000 a year to Babergh.

“We want to make sure these are the right changes to help people, so please take a look at these proposals and participate in our consultation.”

Residents have until November 27 to comment on the proposed changes which will be discussed at full meetings of the councils early next year.

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