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October 3 2012.

In a move condemned by local MP Norman Baker, Lewes District Council is proposing to make cuts to council tax benefit in a way that he says will severely impact working people on low incomes. He is calling for the council to make savings by alternative means that protect this group.

Local authorities up and down the country have been tasked with reducing their council tax benefit bill by 10%. How they achieve this reduction is almost entirely up to the individual council and they have a number of options available to them, including:

• Scrapping the second home discount
• Reducing the exemption period on empty properties
• Lowering the savings limit on council tax support
• Introducing a minimum entitlement level
• Introducing a maximum level cap
• Raising the council tax by a small amount for all

Tory controlled Lewes District Council is proposing to cap the benefit at £20 per week and introduce a minimum entitlement threshold of £5 per week. As many who receive the benefit are families in low income employment who just require a little bit of support, sometimes as little as £4 a week, it will be this group who are amongst the worst affected by the council's proposals.

Norman says: "I entirely appreciate that the council has been tasked with reducing the council tax benefit bill, but they are quite wrong to focus their attention on people in low income employment who are trying their best to make ends meet and should actually be supported for that. They must instead devise a scheme that ensures that those with the broadest shoulders carry the most weight. They must start by scrapping the discount for second homes and shortening very substantially the exemption period for empty properties. They should also be pressing for an end to the single person discount for those living alone in very expensive properties. They must not balance the books on the backs of those that are less well off.

"I am therefore calling on the council to consider what other options might be available and work with East Sussex County Council to find an approach which does not directly target hard working families on low incomes."

Lib Dem Cllr James MacCleary, Leader of the Opposition Group on the District Council, added: "Fairness is the bedrock of our party's philosophy and it is not fair to dump our nation's financial problems on those who are least able to afford it. I am therefore exploring various options with the District Council with the key priority of ensuring that the impact of this cut does not fall entirely on those who can least afford. As Leader of the Opposition, I will be making that position clear to the Conservatives on the council with whom this decision ultimately lies."