Bristol’s poorest families to pay extra on top of proposed cuts to council tax benefits

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Campaigners say the new charges are “nothing less than a declaration of war on the poor”

City Hall chiefs will charge Bristol’s poorest families an extra £1.3million on top of the proposed £3million cuts to council tax benefits – because they think over a third cannot afford to pay, it has been revealed.

The local authority approved slashing £3million from its Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS), which currently reduces bills by up to 100 per cent for households most in need, when it set the annual budget in February.

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However, the council acknowledges that some people on the CTRS benefit won’t or can’t pay, so it has factored in a higher figure to account for this predicted shortfall. It’s charging a total of £4.3million to CTRS recipients, in the expectation that it won’t see £1.3million of that money but will still make the intended saving.

Some of the recipients have never previously had to find the cash for council tax and face doing so during a cost-of-living crisis.

Campaigners at ACORN say the new charges totalling £4.3million – which were meant to be kept private but were mentioned during a public meeting – are “nothing less than a declaration of war on the poor”.

The community union has ramped up its threat to take Bristol City Council to court to stop the cuts and says its lawyers are now considering launching a judicial review.

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ACORN has also accused the authority of having already made its decision on the CTRS while the public consultation into 10 options, which ended on Sunday (November 26), was still ongoing – a claim the council denies.

A report to the cross-party resources scrutiny commission on Tuesday, November 21, calculated the number of Bristol properties to be billed and gave a very specific example of how the scheme would look from April 2024, when any changes come into effect.

It said: “The revised scheme will be means tested and result in each working age claimant making a 17 per cent minimum payment towards their council tax bill.

“It is estimated that this will affect 22,628 households, with 351 households no longer entitled to CTRS. This will generate a net saving to Bristol of £3million in 2024/25. This report assumes acceptance of the revised scheme.”

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Officers told the meeting that this was only an indicative example, and the council says all options and the consultation feedback are still being considered and that the decision will be made by cabinet, likely to be next week.

But ACORN claimed the specifics in the report showed this was already predetermined.

A spokesperson said it looked like Labour mayor Marvin Rees’s administration was making the decision in private before the consultation had closed.

They said: “We deserve better than a mayor who, during the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, moves to cut lifelines that the lowest income families depend on to keep food on the table.”

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Bristol City Council finance business partner Tony Whitlock told resources scrutiny members that the calculations for the total number of Bristol properties to be billed in 2024/25 assumed there would be a 35 per cent non-payment from current CTRS benefit recipients.

Finance officer Jane Hadley said: “We are expecting a much lower collection rate of those who are paying council tax sometimes for the very first time in very difficult financial circumstances but we have been careful to build that into this.

“If the change is agreed, that’s a seismic shift for a lot of people, and it’s really important we have the resources in the team who are able to help people to re-budget in the longer term.”

She said £300,000 would be invested in the revenue collection team to do this.

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Cllr Martin Fodor (Green, Redland) said: “Our previous discussions in this scrutiny commission of this proposal for the CTRS to be cut was that the net saving is £3million but it’s taking £4.3million out of the pockets of people paying it to run the collection of that saving of £3million, so it’s an extra £1.3million coming out of people’s pockets.”

A council officer then warned members that the figures were mentioned in a private briefing and were classed as exempt from being made public, by which point it was too late.

The proposals would affect working-age households as pensioners eligible for CTRS are protected by a national scheme.

ACORN’s spokesperson said afterwards: “Marvin Rees and his administration are calculating to take £4.3million out of the pockets of families already struggling to keep their homes warm and put food on the table for them and their kids during the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.

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“This is nothing less than a declaration of war on the poor from a mayor Bristolians voted to get rid of. ACORN members will not stand for it, we will fight until this vital benefit is defended.

"We fight for every child who’s cold at home this winter, for every parent who’s been forced to a food bank or cried over a bill. We will not rest while the mayor’s administration puts these families in further danger.”

They said ACORN’s solicitors had written again to the council demanding responses to a series of unanswered questions about the CTRS consultation and that if the council did not give a satisfactory reply, it would seek a judicial review.

“The council still hasn’t answered if the proposed cuts to this benefit are lawful,” they said. "Its own equalities impact assessment said that cuts to the benefit will disproportionately impact women, disabled people, people on low income, carers and BME people. Cutting the council tax benefit will deepen inequalities. This is completely unacceptable.”

The council declined to comment further.

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