West Norfolk Council accused of running ‘punitive’ council tax discount scheme

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Council chiefs in West Norfolk have been accused of operating a “punitive” system of tax relief which penalises its residents against others elsewhere in the county.

The claim was made during Thursday’s full council meeting, where discount rates for the coming financial year were finalised.

But the authority’s leadership insisted the scheme was fair to all residents.

Currently, West Norfolk Council offers a maximum 75 per cent discount on council tax bills to eligible residents, although some, including pensioners and other vulnerable groups, do not have to pay.

But Labour members criticised the programme, pointing out that the discount offered in West Norfolk is lower than any other district in the county.

Gary McGuinness told the meeting: “It is a punitive scheme and the most punitive in the county.

“It’s not unreasonable to suggest our borough’s most vulnerable and needy people are subsidising other districts.”

He also argued the council did not have enough time to debate the issue, given the deadline for submitting a scheme passed on Saturday.

And Charles Joyce asked: “Why should the hardworking people of West Norfolk subsidise the services of Norwich and Yarmouth?.

“If we’re getting the services, fine. But we’re not. We know that. I have sat in meetings with county councillors of different political persuasions who say you’re in bandit country beyond Swaffham.”

But the scheme was overwhelmingly passed with only the Labour group voting against it.

Council leader Nick Daubney claimed Labour was not comparing similar schemes.

He said: “We’ve protected all vulnerable groups. The best thing I can do for people with low incomes is to keep costs as low as possible.

“We have the lowest tax increases in the country. We haven’t raised tax at all since 2009 and that is the best thing we can do for working people.”

Alistair Beales, cabinet member for regeneration, said the cost of making sure the most vulnerable were looked after meant the overall level of support had to be lower.

He said: “There’s a difficult balance to be struck and I think this proposal walks a pretty fine line.”