WEST Berkshire Council has approved plans to reduce the level of council tax support it gives to hundreds of people.
The change, which comes into effect in April 2017, means hundreds of the district’s lowest earners will end up paying more towards their bills.
Residents who have savings of more than £6,000 will no longer be entitled to assistance.
Currently, those with savings of £16,000 or less can receive some support towards their council tax payments.
The council will also increase the minimum contribution that working-age claimants have to pay – from 25 per cent to 30 per cent.
Council tax support for those living in Band D properties will also be removed, while the minimum contribution will rise from £3 per week to £10 per week.
At a full council meeting last week, when the plans were approved, opposition leader Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) said: “An increase of £7 per week might not sound much to a lot of people sitting in this chamber.
“But to a lot of people that is a lot of money.
“It can be the difference between having electricity and not having electricity, or being able to afford more nutritious food.”
At the meeting, James Fredrickson (Con, Victoria) said that the council was “protecting the most vulnerable in the district” by not taking up an option to redefine the vulnerable group.
Redefining the vulnerable group would have seen some residents with a long-term illness or disability lose their entitlement.
Mr Fredrickson added that it was “right” to ask people who were able to work to pay more council tax, rather than punishing those who couldn’t.
The changes will affect hundreds of households across the district and save the council £545,000.
In total, 6,709 people in the district claim some form of council tax support, which costs the council £6.4m a year.
The council is trying to reduce that cost as part of its ongoing plan to find millions of pounds of savings.
The proposals went out to a six-week public consultation, to which 71 people replied.
In its assessment of the impact the changes would have, the council admits: “A reduction in the level of support to those on low incomes will inevitably place a financial burden on those affected and will force them to make choices not previously faced.”