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A massive 37% more working age households applied for council tax support in Cheshire East during the pandemic, writes Belinda Ryan.

In May 2019, 9,306 working age households applied for the support.

But by March 2021 that figure was 13,042, and in May it had dropped slightly to 12,827.

The figures were presented in a report to the council’s corporate policy committee at Crewe Municipal Buildings.

Councillors agreed to go out to public consultation on proposed changes to the scheme which, they hope, will benefit more people.

Cllr Nick Mannion (Lab, Macclesfield West and Ivy) said many people were unaware they were eligible.

“I support the proposal to review the current scheme,” he said.

“The reasons for doing so are, while we’re hopefully starting to emerge from the pandemic, it’s clear that many households are really struggling financially and will continue to so for the foreseeable future.

“It’s a concern to me that there is a widespread misconception that if a member of a household is in employment they will not be eligible for support.”

He said this had become evident from residents who had contacted him.

“So whatever eventual scheme we settle upon, I think the council needs to ensure it devotes appropriate resources to reach out to this group of residents experiencing what is called in-work poverty and to increase the claim rate from that sector of our communities,” said Cllr Mannion.

Alex Thompson, director of finance and customer services, told the meeting that by increasing the support under the scheme, there had been less non-payments of council tax.

“Claimants, in the main, are actually in low paid work, so this is not just a support for people who are not in work,” he said. “This is very much an in-work scheme.”

At present the scheme is banded according to income levels, so a single person with an income of less than £90.45 a week, for example, or a couple on less than £140.70 a week can get a 75% discount on their council tax.

At the top end, an individual with an income of between £165.84 and £190.95 or a couple with between £301.51 and £321.60 get a 15% discount.

Families on low incomes are also eligible for support.

The existing scheme is capped and will only pay the proportion of support payable for a Band A or B property.

Cllr Mannion said: “I’d like to see the Band B cap consulted on at least to Band C, preferably up to Band D. We need a proper communication and information campaign … that will alert occupiers of such properties of the schemes existence and that they may be eligible for support if they formally apply.”

Knutsford councillor Stewart Gardiner (Con) agreed.

“People who live in a house in a C or D band and then they lose their job, they can’t just up and move,” he said.

Cllr Rod Fletcher (Lib Dem, Alsager) added: “The last 18 months have been awful for a lot of people and it’s not just people in Band A and Band B houses that are having these problems.”

Councillors agreed there should be a public consultation on the council tax support scheme to see how those in need could most benefit. A date for the consultation has yet to be determined.

Speaking after the meeting, committee vice chair Cllr Amanda Stott (Ind, Bollington) told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We want as many people to respond to the consultation as possible, especially anybody who may feel they are eligible.

“A lot of people could be eligible but they don’t think they are because they are working, but they could be if they are on a low income.”

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