Replacement schemes will lead to some tough choices

COMMENT: Sell alcohol to kids and you will face consequences

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As far as dilemmas go, it’s about as difficult as they come. Just how do you create a system that’s fair to all when you’re staring at a cash shortfall you can’t afford not to plug?

There are bound to be those who feel that some of the new proposals surrounding council tax benefit payments will unfairly penalise the poor.

Just as some second home owners will argue that their success shouldn’t be used against them by forcing them to cover those on the lowest incomes.

Yet the fact of the matter is that government cuts mean all our councils will now have to negotiate a tricky path through these changes in order to balance the books – and that’s an unenviable task for our decision-makers.

Replacement schemes designed to cope with the fact that only pensioners and the disabled will be entitled to 100 per cent exemption from the charges in the future will differ from council to council, and that will undoubtedly lead to some inequalities from the outset.

While someone living in Gosport, for example, might have to pay up to 20 per cent of their council tax bill from April, a few miles down the road in Havant, the proposal is for that figure to rise to at least 30 per cent.

In Portsmouth, the plan is to charge second home owners more and so long as certain checks and balances are made, there’s a reason for thinking that would be the fairest way to proceed.

Times are tough and there simply isn’t enough money to go around. Many families are already struggling to make the budget stretch and will face genuine hardship if they are suddenly forced to make a significant contribution to council tax.

While everyone must pay what they can, it seems right that those in the fortunate position of owning a second property should shoulder more of the burden.

Those people who currently pay no council tax at all will have to start contributing something in the future and that means they’ll have to make sacrifices of their own.

But no-one should be plunged into poverty because of these changes.