Council tax benefit cut delay is welcomed

THE average Band D householder in the Borders has saved £460 in the five years since council tax was frozen.

The revelation by Scottish finance secretary John Swinney came before his government at Holyrood confirmed that, in conjunction with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA), it will, in 2013/14, cover the cost of abolishing council tax benefit.

The Westminster government is scrapping the benefit in April next year, but the estimated £40million cost of this to Scottish householders will be underwritten, with the Scottish Government providing £23million and CoSLA chipping in with £17million.

The latter announcement was welcomed by the SNP’s Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame.

“More than 10,000 people in the Borders will be affected by the abolition of council tax benefit and they are among the most vulnerable in our region, so I am delighted this agreement has been reached,” said Ms Grahame. “In the coming months, the Scottish Government will establish a national schedule of reductions to council tax which means anyone receiving the benefit will not have to pay more [council tax] in the next financial year.”

At Holyrood last week, Mr Swinney released a table of the local authority areas which had benefited from the council tax freeze, with the average Band D household in the Borders making cumulative savings of £460.

But Mr Swinney reiterated his opposition to the tax, telling Labour MSP Margaret McDougall: “The current council tax system is unfair and the Scottish Government will consult with others to produce a fairer local tax, based on ability to pay, later in this parliament. All potential approaches will be considered as this work is progressed.”

Ms Grahame commented: “It is clear that the council tax freeze has been tremendously beneficial for Borders residents, many of whom are on below average wages and struggle to cope financially.”