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Almost 1,000 pensioners are losing out on help to pay their council tax in Redbridge

PUBLISHED: 07:09 04 March 2020 | UPDATED: 07:09 04 March 2020

In Redbridge, 5,473 pensioners were claiming support in the three months to December - a 14pc drop compared to the same period in 2015. Picture: PA/Joe Giddens

In Redbridge, 5,473 pensioners were claiming support in the three months to December - a 14pc drop compared to the same period in 2015. Picture: PA/Joe Giddens

PA Wire/PA Images

Almost 1,000 pensioners are losing out on help to pay their council tax in Redbridge, figures show.

Charities warn that vulnerable households may be missing out on the vital support they are entitled to, as the number of elderly people accessing support across England continued to plunge.

Low-income households and pensioners can apply for a discount or exemption on their council tax under the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.

In Redbridge, 5,473 pensioners were claiming support in the three months to December, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government figures show.

That was a 14pc drop compared to the same period in 2015, meaning 927 fewer people were receiving the help.

The scheme replaced the nationally-administered Council Tax Benefit in 2013, giving individual local authorities the power to decide who is eligible for support and what discounts to offer.

But Turn2us, a charity which helps people in financial hardship, says vulnerable households are struggling to navigate an increasingly complex and confusing system.

Campaigns manager Varuk Kanish said: "Not since the poll tax have so many low-income households had to pay local taxes.

"The localisation of Council Tax Support schemes has increased the complexity of an already confusing system, resulting in more people missing out.

"We urge the government to review this system and consider automatic entitlement for people who are struggling."

He added that a move towards online services - driven in part by budget pressures - may be impacting older people.

The government says it has protected pensioners, and that they continue to receive the same level of support as under the previous system.

Cllr Jas Athwal, leader of Redbridge Council, said: "We are committed to making sure our vulnerable or elderly residents have all the information they need about their rights to benefits.

"We run a welfare benefits advice helpline, which is available to all residents, and is publicised through organisations including Age UK.

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"Our Benefits team also regularly attend local voluntary group events to share information on what benefits are available to people.

"To make sure all local older people have the information they need we're also launching an awareness campaign on pension credits, targeting those approaching 75 years of age."

Out of 317 local authorities across the country, only one did not see a fall in pensioner claimants.

Caroline Abrahams from Age UK said it is important that anyone entitled to claim the benefit does so, as it can make a huge difference.

She said: "Given that there are 2 million pensioners in poverty, it is worrying that the numbers claiming council tax support have fallen.

"For those already struggling to meet essential costs, the prospect of this year's council tax bills arriving soon will be one extra thing to worry about."

Fewer working-age people were also claiming council tax support in Redbridge last year, with numbers falling even more sharply than in the case of pensioners.

Between October and December, 9,366 working-age people claimed a discount on their tax, down from 12,188 in 2015 - a 23pc drop.

The Local Government Association (LGA) says budget cuts have meant many councils being forced to reduce the support they give to residents.

Richard Watts, chair of the LGA resource's board, said: "Between 2010 and 2020, councils have lost almost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided for services.

"Council tax support schemes are no longer fully funded, with almost £2 billion - around half of the original funding - removed.

"No one wants to ask those on the lowest incomes to pay more but this has put councils in an impossible position."

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: "We're committed to levelling up across the country with councils in England having access to £49.2 billion next year - the biggest annual real-terms increase in spending power in a decade.

"Councils, not central government, are best placed to know what their communities need and are responsible for delivering services for residents, including providing an appropriate level of council tax support.

"People experiencing difficulty paying their council tax should approach the billing authority to discuss their situation."

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