4,500 calls as tax payers see red

Blackpool Town Hall

Blackpool Town Hall

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TOWN hall phone lines were left jammed as thousands of frustrated Blackpool residents demanded answers on changes to Council Tax.

It came as one worker told The Gazette he would be faced with the choice of “having to give up eating or heating his flat” due to the crippling effect the new changes would have on his budget.

Hundreds of people who claim benefits and are employed in low income jobs across Blackpool woke up on Monday to find they now owe more money as a result of Government welfare changes.

As of 3pm yesterday 4,500 people had called the council in relation to the changes.

The Gazette attempted several times to get through on the line but was cut off each time.

The changes mean councils now administrate their own Council Tax Benefit schemes – but the amount of Government support has been reduced, meaning some people will receive less help towards paying their bill than before. Others who did not pay the tax will have to for the first time.

Cleaner John Lloyd, of Progress Court, Grange Park, claims the new system means he may have to make a choice between buying food or heating his home. Mr Lloyd, 36, told The Gazette: “I’m just devastated and I don’t know how I’m going to find the money.

“We haven’t got a spare penny to pay and it’s a nightmare.

“We’ve got to borrow from our family just to get by.”

Mr Lloyd, 36, and wife Rachael, 25, both work part-time shifts as cleaners six days a week and bring home a weekly income of around £112.

The first instalment of their council tax bill, totalling £23.18, is due on April 5, with monthly instalments of £28 required thereafter.

Mr Lloyd was joined by dozens of others outside Blackpool Council’s offices yesterday.

He said: “Me and my wife have both got part-time jobs because that’s all we can get.

“We don’t claim Job Seekers’ Allowance or anything like that to top our earnings up.

“We don’t want to claim because we like our jobs and we’re not lazy.

“My wife gets up six days a week and cleans in all weathers. It feels like we’re being kicked while we’re down.”

Others queuing outside the town hall shared their dismay.

Deborah Greaves, 56, of Loftus Avenue, South Shore, said: “I’m only on Job Seekers Allowance and now I’ve got this.

“I just won’t be able to live.”

Coun Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council, said: “This week residents will be receiving their council tax bill for the coming year. This always generates a large number of calls and visits to our Customer First Centre which is what we have experienced over the last few days.

“This year the Government has ended the national Council Tax Benefit scheme leaving local authorities to introduce their own scheme. In Blackpool this has been subject to considerable consultation with opportunities across the town for people to attend events and have their say.

“The main change will see working age residents receive less help towards their Council Tax bill than previously. This is a direct result of the cuts the Government has made to our budgets. We realise this will be concerning to many residents and our staff have been offering advice and assistance all day to help guide them through the process. Due to the volume of calls we understand people have had difficulty getting through on the phones and we appreciate their patience.”

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