COUNCIL tax benefit is to be replaced by a “support” scheme in a government cost-cutting scheme.

Huntingdonshire District Council, which administers the benefit, has launched a public consultation on the new scheme, which will be adopted from April 1 next year.

Council tax benefit currently costs £8.6m annually but changes proposed by HDC could reduce the cost of the scheme to £7.5m.

HDC will receive £7m in funding towards the scheme from central government but will have to find the remaining half-a-million pounds from other sources. One option would be to reduce the discounts and exemptions offered to the owners of second and empty homes.

Pensioners currently in receipt of council tax benefit will be fully protected from any change but working-age claimants will be affected and, as well as cutting the cost of benefits, the government and HDC hope that the new scheme will encourage people back into work. Families with children under five will also be protected from the changes.

The proposed support scheme works in a similar way to the existing benefit and will be dependent upon the income and savings of claimants. All working-age households who are not considered vulnerable will be expected to pay something towards their bills, providing protection for the most vulnerable while supporting people moving into work and helping those in low paid work.

Councillor Jason Ablewhite, executive leader of HDC, said: "We're playing our part in trying to reduce the cost of benefits, which means we have to make some really difficult decisions about the level of support that can be offered. We want to check that our residents consider the proposals to be fair as the changes being made could affect everyone, whether you currently claim council tax benefit or not."

The consultation closes on Sunday, October 14, 2012.

Drop-in sessions will be held at:

- Monday, September 17, Town Hall, St Ives, 9am-1pm

- Saturday, September 22, Civic Suite, Pathfinder House, 9am-12pm

- Tuesday, September 25, Priory Centre, St Neots, 9am-1pm

- Saturday, September 29, Priory Centre, St Neots, 9am-12pm

- Tuesday, October 2, Ramsey Library, 25 Great Whyte, Ramsey, 9am-1pm

INFORMATION: To view the proposals and take part in the consultation go to www.huntingdonshire.gov.uk/benefitchanges. A paper copy can be requested on 01480 388373.