Eric Pickles in row over 'widows tax'

JON SUPER/PA

The single-person council tax allowance is under threat from Labour-run councils.

Plans to scrap the 25% council tax discount for eight million people, forcing those living alone to pay the same rate as couples, have been condemned by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

Local authorities throughout the country have written to Mr Pickles suggesting that he scraps or reduces the Single Person's Discount for council tax. It is estimated that 7.7 million people receive the relief, costing town halls roughly £2.7 billion a year.

Removing the 25% discount would push up bills by nearly £360 a year on the average Band D home.
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Local authorities who have suggested changes to the Single Person's Discount include those in Liverpool, Sheffield, Nottingham, Burnley, Islington, Southwark, Oxford, South Tyneside and Exeter.

Punishing
Mr Pickles has hit out at the proposals, saying the unfair "widows tax" would affect millions of pensioners living alone after the death of their spouse.

"There is clearly a well-orchestrated campaign being run by the Labour Party to target the elderly, single mothers and the most vulnerable," Mr Pickles said, according to the Daily Telegraph.

"They want to punish people who have worked hard all their lives and paid their taxes simply because they live on their own. There is a gross sense of injustice at raising taxes that could force people out of their homes. This is a widows tax and shows how out of touch Labour is."

Means-tested
The call from Labour-run town halls to scrap the discount, which has been in place since council tax was introduced in 1993, emerged from a Government consultation on how to save 10% of the cost of council tax benefit.

In scores of letters from Labour councils, town hall bosses argued that working single people or pensioners not on benefits could afford to pay the full council tax bill, with many councils suggesting that the SPD should be means-tested.

Unfair hikes
Mr Pickles has attacked a growing group of town halls that have announced council tax bill increases later this year. Local authorities in Brighton, Darlington, Leicester, Middlesbrough, Preston, Redcar, Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees, Stoke-on-Trent, Nottingham and Scarborough have all said they intend to raise council tax by 3% or more later this year.

In a speech to town hall finance directors on Friday afternoon, Mr Pickles called on councils to think of public sector workers, who have endured a pay freeze and face having to pay higher pension contributions.
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