A new plan to alter Council Tax reduction in Lewes district has been criticised as being open to abuse, taking money from one group to give to another and leading to lower standard rented accommodation.

Lewes District Council agreed last night Feb 24th to introduce a controversial scheme to extend Council Tax exemption while penalising landlords who wished to improve properties.

While welcoming any move to alleviate poverty and help the most disadvantaged, the Conservative group on the council had strong reservations about two amendments introduced to the new scheme which is being introduced by the ruling Alliance.

A 140-page report was presented to the meeting but during the debate several Conservative councillors felt that the policy had been misconstrued and poorly executed.

The Conservative Group Leader said that its policy had always been that residents should make some contribution towards the services they receive, subject to their means. “There have always been concessions for those unable to pay the full amount”, explained Cllr Isabelle Linington, “and that is right and proper. What is being implemented here is unworkable and wide open to abuse.”

An example highlighted was  reduction for those running unprofitable small businesses to avoid Council Tax. “Now anyone can notionally form a business just to avoid paying their way”, said Cllr Linington. “This would not only be abuse of a system intended to help the genuinely disadvantaged, but wholly unenforceable while increasing the burden on those who do pay.”

The Conservatives said that the loss of Class C discount means that landlords lose their current month’s exemption between tenancies, the time they re-decorate and improve properties. Cllr Roy Burman (Conservative, Newick) said this removed any incentive for renovation and home improvements and would lead to lower standard properties being offered for rent. 

Pointing out that there were already schemes in place to help those in need, Conservatives will be asking council officers left to implement the complex scheme to ensure that the new system is properly regulated and fair to all concerned, with abuse dealt with firmly and promptly.