PENSIONERS could have to pay up to £300 more under Labour plans to slash the Southampton council’s budget by nearly £20m next year, the Daily Echo can reveal.
The city’s elderly residents will be hit in the pocket with a series of tax hikes, new charges and service cuts to tackle the city’s worst ever financial crisis. A record cull of up to 327 staff is also planned.
The biggest financial blow will be the loss of a controversial ten per cent council tax discount brought in by the previous Tory administration, claimed by 8,250 pensioner households.
Coupled with a planned two per cent tax rise next year, over 65 households will be billed at least £100 more, rising to £248 for pensioners in larger houses.
Many pensioners will also be hit with new £44 charge for garden waste collections, a new £30 charge for a resident’s parking permit and hikes in other parking charges.
There are also five per cent increases in charges for burials and cremations which officers said would make it difficult for the elderly to fund funeral arrangements.
Some elderly residents may also have to pay more for home care visits under a new charging policy.
Officers warned councillors the rising costs could “impact negatively on their health and well-being”.
Budget impact assessments prepared by council officers warn that £405,000 of cuts to bus services, such as the Bluestar P1 route from the city centre to Glen Eyre , which is popular with pensioners, could lead to “social isolation” along with the merger of two mobile library services and the axing of a Saturday service to save another £197,000.
Those most affected by the cuts will be elderly couples living in their own homes, single elderly people who rely on public transport, and poorer elderly couples in council flats nearing retirement, according to council analysis.
Age Concern Hampshire chairman Rick Smith said: “It is a horrible place to be right now. We all know what it is going to mean.
“I shudder to think what position it will put some people in – my heart goes out to them.”
Reg Taylor, chairman of the Itchen Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, and a pensioner himself, said there were many older people on the estate who claimed the tax discount. He said: “I personally feel it’s going to cause a lot of hardship, quite seriously.”
He also said the rising cost in burial fees would also take a toll.
“Pretty soon the situation will arise when we will not be able to afford to die,” he said.
Pam Matthews, chairman of Blackbush, Pembrey and Wittering Road Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, said the loss of the council tax discount would hurt many senior citizens in her neighbourhood.
She said: “It is not a rich area and it would make a whole lot of difference to people.
Losing that amount will be worrying to some.”
The council is also seeking to end a £19,000 payment to Age Concern Southampton towards an advice service that helps the elderly apply for benefits. It held more than 650 face-to-face meetings last year.
Tory opposition leader Cllr Royston Smith called the budget a “pernicious” attack on elderly residents.
He said: “Labour have gone after the older population. It’s a budget that is clearly designed to hit the eldest hardest. They’re taking everything the elderly have got in one fell swoop.”
About 9,500 over-65s in the city do not get the pensioner discount because they claim council tax benefit.
Labour and trade unions have attacked the discount as a giveaway to the rich but pensioners’ groups say many who claim it are on low fixed incomes.
Council finance boss Cllr Simon Letts said pensioners and young people were always more affected by budget cuts than other groups as they were more reliant on council services.
He denied pensioners had been singled out, adding charges for evening and district centre parking, residents’ permits and garden waste had already been brought in by other councils, and were not unfairly levied on the elderly.
He added the ten per cent tax discount was a “luxury the council can no longer afford” in tough times, and said poorer pensioners, as assessed by Government rules, would continue to get council tax benefit.