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More than 6,000 households have had a combined £1.7m taken off their council tax bills

Apr 17, 2020 | Local News

More than 6,000 households in County Durham have had a combined £1.7m taken off their council tax as part of a local authority’s efforts to help residents through the Coronavirus pandemic.

Durham County Council is giving households in receipt of a partial council tax reduction a further cut of up to £300 from their council tax as it seeks to help residents who need financial support during the COVID-19 outbreak.

That is in addition to its scheme which already delivers a 100 per cent reduction for three quarters of eligible households.

The council has today announced that it has so far applied the reductions of up to £300 to 6,100 households, with this equating to the combined £1.7 million decrease in liability.

The authority is also reporting an increase in people applying to its council tax reduction scheme (CTRS) with 2,500 new claims being received last week. Staff are now prioritising processing these claims with the £300 credits to be applied where appropriate.

The council is being supported to deliver the reductions by the government through its allocation from the national £500m Hardship Fund.

Cllr Alan Napier, deputy leader of the authority and its Cabinet member for resources, said: “We fully appreciate that this is a very difficult time for our residents and that many are finding their work affected in some way.

“We are looking to do everything we can to support people who are enduring financial hardship by reducing their council tax.

“Our teams have worked really hard to process 6,100 reductions of up to £300 already and I know many of our staff have volunteered to work additional hours over the bank holiday weekend to ensure other households benefit as quickly as possible.

The CTRS provides discounts of up to 100 per cent to eligible households, with the council one of only a small number of local authorities nationally to provide this level of support. Almost 26,000 families receive a 100 per cent discount – 78 per cent of the total number signed up to the scheme.

Households who currently receive assistance through CTRS but still pay some money towards their council tax are receiving the further reduction of up to £300.

This means an estimated 1,600 extra households will benefit from having no council tax to pay this year, while a further 5,700 families will see their bills reduced by £300. The £300 reductions being applied to support people in receipt of CTRS is double the amount recommended by the government.

The council has already postponed debt recovery for anyone falling into arrears with their council tax bills and is encouraging anyone with concerns about their payments to get in touch.

A range of options are available to support residents who need help, including spreading payments evenly over 12 months or starting payments from June instead of April. Many have already taken up this offer.

The authority is also investing an additional £1m from the Hardship Fund into its Welfare Assistance Scheme, which provides short-term cash awards to people in crisis situations. This includes those impacted by benefit sanctions, vulnerable people who need help to cover daily living expenses and residents unable to purchase essential furniture and appliances.

Cllr Angela Surtees, Cabinet member for social inclusion, said: “We know that some of our residents are finding it very tough at this time and we want to reassure residents that we will do all we can to support them. We have a range of support measures in place to provide help to people who need it, including our Welfare Assistance Scheme which can provide further short-term support and assistance.”