THE Forest of Dean District Council has agreed to end its Council Tax discount scheme which, it is claimed, will people who are already struggling financially.

The move was condemned as “inflicting more pain although reaping limited rewards.”

The council’s independent-led administration had to rely on Conservative backing to get the move through and it was eventually agreed by 18 votes to 12 with two abstentions by the full council.

There will be a hardship fund and council officers will also advise people on how to manage their budgets, said the councillor responsible for finance, Cllr Richard Leppington.

The move was blasted by Labour councillor Di Martin (Cinderford East), who said when the cut was first mooted, the hardship caused. by the Covid pandemic could not have been foreseen.

She said: “Families already struggling have been taken to the edge. This council is proposing to inflict even more pain although reaping limited rewards – there has to be a better way of raising funds.

“Chasing around for small amounts of money from people who haven’t got small amounts of money is very costly, labour-intensive and unproductive.”

“I feel passionately that this is wrong, particularly during an unprecedented time causing more financial hardship.”

Tory group leader Brian Robinson (Longhope and Huntley) said they would support the move “with heavy hearts”.

He said: “We recognise that since the government funding was removed several years ago that we were going to have to move to this position at some point

“But the timing of this when the people who are going to be most affected are going to have to face one of the most difficult times of their lives just seems inappropriate.

“We recognise you have a hardship fund but the bottom line is this is going to take over £500,000 from the part of the community which is the least able to give and it would have been much better to do this when times were good.

“We don’t like the timing but we recognise the council has some huge challenges and so on this occasion we are going to be supporting the Cabinet but we would like to make sure that they take on board the need to be sensible with spending commitments elsewhere.”

Cllr Philip Burford (Ind, Hartpury) said the cut had to be viewed in the wider context of other spending and he criticised other decisions such as paying over the over the odds for “green” electricity.

He said: “The question is about choice and priorities – this is not the time to bring this in when the worst-off people in society are finding things extremely difficult.”

Cllr Leppington said nobody “takes any joy” in the decision, which will save the council about £58,000 a year and which will start in April.

He said: “It’s probably the hardest decision this Cabinet has ever made. Officers will signpost anyone in difficulties to appropriate places, work with people to manage budgets and make use of the hardship fund.”

Currently, those on very low incomes may get all their Council Tax paid but the authority will now introduce two sliding scales, one for those of working age and another, at higher rates, for those in ‘protected’ groups which includes the disabled and war widows.

Pensioners will not be affected by the changes which will see a maximum rate of 90 per cent for those not in the protected groups.