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Vow to fill gap in benefit cash
Oxfordshire’s hard-up councils have vowed to bridge a £3.2m benefit shortfall created by Government cuts.
Responsibility for council tax benefit will be handed to local authorities next year, but they also face a 10 per cent funding cut.
The council tax benefit bill for the county this year is estimated at £33.5m, but funding will be cut to £30.3m next year. It means an extra £20,000 a week will need to be found to fund benefits for Oxford’s 10,480 claimants alone.
Some councils plan to axe some payments to bridge the gap, but Oxfordshire’s five districts and the county council say they will all find savings elsewhere to cover the costs next year.
However, a consultation has been launched to look at how to fund the benefit in the future.
Oxford City Council ’s executive member for customer services, Val Smith, said the joint approach had been adopted to avoid a ‘postcode lottery’ and protect people on low incomes.
She said: “We didn’t want to to make any decision which would mean one part of the county is using a different system to the others.
“We’re very determined to safeguard people who are already clearly hard-pressed to find more money.”
Oxfordshire County Council needs to find £2.5m and the city council needs £188,000 to plug the shortfall.
The other districts will have to find hundreds of thousands of pounds between them and Thames Valley Police face a funding gap of £332,000.
City council benefits manager Paul Wilding said: “The decision we’ve had to make is, do we try to save the money or do we try to collect it from people who at the moment receive the benefit.
“If we were going to collect it, it would be a case of introducing council tax for people who don’t already pay it, or increasing the amount some people already pay.”
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