Whether the borough’s poorest residents should pay more tax, or less tax, is the question being given to residents as the council decides how to fund council tax benefit next year.

As the Government prepares to slash its funding by 10 per cent, Merton Council is now consulting on whether to fund the £1.4m shortfall from its own budget (its stated preference) or whether the new council tax benefit scheme should ask 10,000 residents who use the benefit to pay more. 

The scheme, which must be agreed by January 31, 2013, will come into effect on April 1 next year and can not be changed before March 31, 2014.

In a brief questionnaire, it asked residents to choose between two options: provide the existing scheme and “keep the contribution down for eligible applicants” or implement a new scheme which “offers less assistance and means certain groups will have to pay more towards council tax”.

Merton Council’s cabinet member for finance, Councillor Mark Allison, said: “At a time when many people are struggling financially, our top priority remains keeping council tax low.

“We, therefore, think it’s important not to cut the help we give working families, carers, and others on low incomes with paying their council tax.

“We are having to make lots of savings across the council at this time, but by spending residents’ money carefully we are trying to keep their cost of living down.

"This consultation is a chance for residents to have their say. We hope the people of Merton will back the proposal.”

As part of the Government’s spending review in 2010, councils were given responsibility for council tax benefit from April 2013, but also announced the money they would get would be cut by 10 per cent that means Merton will lose about £1.4m.

Any new scheme must not make pensioners worse off, encourage people to work, and support vulnerable groups such as children and the disabled.

For the questionnaire visit merton.gov.uk/hb-ctb.htm.

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