Council tax bill relief for area's poorest families
THE poorest families in Neath and Port Talbot have been spared the misery of having to pay a council tax bill for the first time.
Around 14,000 households that don't now pay a penny would have had to start making a contribution from April because the national Government has cut back its allocation for council tax benefit.
Thousands more who get partial support would have seen that support reduced or lost altogether.
Now the Welsh Government is making £22 million available to bridge the gap during 2013-14, meaning those now on full support will continue to receive it.
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Neath Port Talbot Council says it is still working through the figures for the 5,500 households on partial benefits but they will continue to be supported at a level dictated by their circumstances.
"It is extremely good news for council tax payers," was how Neath Port Talbot Council finance director Hywel Jenkins described it when explaining the situation to the cabinet scrutiny committee.
"We are not entirely certain what will happen from 2014-15 onwards because it is only guaranteed for one year. For now, however, it is exceedingly good news."
But every silver lining has its cloud and, while praising the Welsh Government for its contribution, councillors also spoke of more trouble ahead.
For a start the Welsh Government support is only guaranteed for the 2013-14 financial year and will see Neath Port Talbot Council having to contribute between £400,000 and £450,000.
There's nothing to say the Welsh Government will contribute in future years. Neither could Neath Port Talbot, already facing a £21 million budget gap over five years, guarantee it could continue paying its share.
Then there are the wider benefit changes the Westminster Government is introducing from April, which Neath Port Talbot already fears will have a devastating effect on many families.
Deputy leader Peter Rees said: "I warmly welcome the support of the Welsh Government on this issue.
"However, this is a one-off as far as we're aware. We will have a problem next year.
"For the moment, let us thank the Welsh Government. Fourteen thousand people who would have had to pay some council tax for the first time, and the rest who would have had to pay full tax, have now been spared that burden for at least 12 months.
"But keep an eye on the ball. This is not going to go away — let's not be lulled into a false sense of security."