Richmond Council will begin a public consultation on changes to council tax ahead of next year’s March budget.
Following the Liberal Democrats’ triumph in this year’s local elections, the council has pledged to remove the minimum council tax contribution for Richmond’s poorest residents, at a cost of about £400,000.
Alongside this will be a £20,000 hardship fund for those in financial distress, aimed at aiding residents affected by the roll-out of Universal Credit.
Residents have a legal right to be consulted before such changes take place. The consultation will be advertised on social media and on the council website, with residents encouraged to give their views on the proposed tax changes.
Councillor Robin Brown, Richmond Council cabinet member for finance and performance, said that the changes were in keeping with the Lib Dem pledge to ‘ensure fairer finances for all’.
Cllr Brown said: “We said in our manifesto that we would reverse the previous changes to the council tax reduction scheme and we are delivering on that commitment.
“Putting more pressure on financially vulnerable residents who already face genuine hardship isn’t fair.”
The Conservatives have criticised the decision, arguing that a minimum contribution is necessary because of central government funding cuts.
Councillor Geoffrey Samuel, who introduced the changes as cabinet member for the budget, defended his policy as being fair to all Richmond residents.
He said: “It is perhaps illogical that those on benefits can be accurately described as ‘vulnerable’ whilst hundreds of struggling families receive too little attention.
“None of us is happy at the measures we have had to take in the light of such a massive loss of grant.
“We believe that a 15% charge for those on benefits is regrettable but fair: we are determined that the burden should not fall too heavily on our ‘just about managing’ families whose interests we are also determined to protect.”
Green Councillor Andree Frieze said: “The Green councillors support the Lib Dem proposal, and applaud them for acting so quickly on their manifesto promise to reduce the financial burden for those in our borough who are already struggling.”
Richmond Council increased its council tax by 3.99% in 2018/19 — the maximum allowed without a local referendum.