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West Norfolk Council to offer 100% council tax support to most vulnerable despite worries this will create ‘cliff edge’

West Norfolk Council will now offer a 100% council tax rebate to the most financially vulnerable in our area despite worries that this will create a “cliff edge” for others who are struggling.

Borough councillors voted to approve the new policy at their full meeting on Wednesday evening. This will increase the amount saved on the tax by some residents from 84% to cover the entire bill.

However, the motion was met with criticism from some in the chamber, including Cllr Stuart Dark, the leader of the opposition Conservative group.

Cllr Stuart Dark suggested the new scheme will create a ‘cliff’ for others in need of support. Picture: West Norfolk Council
Cllr Stuart Dark suggested the new scheme will create a ‘cliff’ for others in need of support. Picture: West Norfolk Council

He suggested that the scheme will only serve to help those suffering the absolute most hardship, and not those who only only slightly better off.

“We have a scheme here whereby we are supporting a very few people to 100%, and people immediately above them have got no access to support,” Cllr Dark said.

“We think that is the wrong approach.

West Norfolk Council leader Terry Parish. Picture: West Norfolk Council
West Norfolk Council leader Terry Parish. Picture: West Norfolk Council

“We are asking for this to be done differently to get more help to more people.”

Cllr Terry Parish, the leader of the Independent-led administration, had outlined the policy beforehand.

Wednesday evening was the deadline for a decision to be made on it in order for it to be implemented by April 1. Councillors therefore had the choice of accepting the 100% offer or maintaining the 84% policy currently in place.

The new policy had been recommended by the borough council’s cabinet following its meeting on December 5, and it received support from Labour group leader Cllr Francis Bone on Wednesday.

He said it will “support the most vulnerable people in our borough”, and added: “Labour has been pushing for this for years.”

Fellow Labour councillor Joshua Osborne, who represents the Old Downham ward, said: “This option, if we vote for it, will help quite a lot of people.

“On average we are talking about £215 a year to these households, and these are people in need.”

Cllr Osborne said the scheme will give those households “one less thing to stress about”.

Cllr Alex Kemp, cabinet member Cllr Jim Moriarty, Liberal Democrat Cllr Josie Ratcliffe and Cllr Andrew Jamieson, the deputy leader of Norfolk County Council who attended the meeting, were also among those to voice their support for the motion.

However, former Labour group leader Cllr Charles Joyce said more should be done to help everybody struggling to pay their council tax bill.

“This is not a pleasant situation for anyone to be in. It is a vile situation,” he said.

“We are where we are, but this scheme is abominable. There is no polite word for it.”

Cllr Dark suggested the 100% help for a smaller amount of people will generate a “rosy headline” for the council, but called for more support for more people.

“It is good for headlines, but it actually creates a cliff to people who need it,” he said.

Cllr Brian Long, also on the Conservative group, added: “I believe that people should welcome paying towards the local services that they all enjoy.

“Given the proposal to move to 100%, as Cllr Dark says, there is a cliff edge. You either qualify for 100% or you qualify for nothing.

“I would say that there ought to be some leeway within the scheme to have a fund to support those that, through no fault of their own, find themselves in a difficult situation.”

However, a majority of councillors voted in favour of the new policy being adopted, and the motion was therefore carried.

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