Landlords, second home owners and more than 400 residents of working age could be forced to cough up more council tax under new proposals.
Kingston Council’s new council tax benefit scheme aims to charge higher rates to those who can afford it, while protecting the elderly, disabled and vulnerable in a bid to make up a £1m shortfall.
The deficit comes after central Government decided to abolish the national council tax benefit scheme and cut funding by 10 per cent by April 1 next year, leaving the local authority in the lurch.
Currently 9,600 Kingston residents are claimants of council tax benefit, that is means tested and helps people with low or no income to pay their council tax.
The plans aim to encourage people to work by rewarding those who do, while still protecting people on low incomes who are already struggling to make ends meet.
Under the new scheme £100,000 will come from 400 people of working age who live with other working adults and will be asked to contribute more.
The rest of the shortfall will be met by removing council tax exemptions and discounts on certain properties, including those that are not occupied as a main home.
An empty homes premium of 50 per cent will also be charged on properties left empty for more than two years.
Councillor Rolson Davies, lead member for finance and resources, said: “We understand that our proposals will not be popular with those who we would be asking to pay more, but we have a responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable, including those people relying on our frontline services.”
Tenants may have to pick up the shortfall after changes to council tax benefits, according to Chris Norris, head of policy at the National Landlords Association (NLA).
However, Mr Norris said good communication with both groups and the council could minimise any negative effect.
He said: “Landlords will be keen to sustain long-lasting tenancies, so it is important that tenants and landlords work together to agree the best way to continue rent payments and sustain their tenancies.”
Pippa Mackie, chief executive of Kingston citizens advice bureau, said one problem area could be for former owners of repossessed houses, as building societies will be taxed after repossession and they could try and pass the cost on.
She said: “I think that most people who are reliant on welfare benefit are concerned about the impact that changes might have on them.
“There are going to be changes which may cause confusion so we will be working to make sure that as much information as possible is out there.”
People who are of pension credit age or who are receiving a disability related benefit will not be affected by the changes.
A consultation on the proposed changes will start on July 2 and run until September 9, before being considered by the council’s policy and resources committee and full council in December.