New fines will be introduced in Reading for failing to tell the council about information related to housing benefits and council tax.

Under the new policy, approved on Monday evening (February 15), a £70 penalty will be handed out for failing to supply the council with the necessary information to establish your council tax liability.

You could then be slapped with a further £280 fine if you do not respond to an additional request for information after this £70 charge.

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There is also a £70 fine if you do not notify Reading Borough Council (RBC) of changes to your circumstances which affects your entitlement to a council tax reduction, discount, or exemption.

Additionally, you could be fined £50 if you do not tell the council about changes to circumstances which affect your housing benefit.

Councillor Ellie Emberson said residents have at times been fraudulently applying for benefits or council tax reduction, sometimes without knowing, and “it is important to send a message”.

Extenuating circumstances will be considered on a case-by-case basis, “for those residents who have no deliberately misled the council”.

Lib Dem councillor Ricky Duveen raised concern about the Policy committee meeting, where the new deterrents were approved.

He said: “I’ve got a real problem if we levy penalties on people who can ill-afford them.

“For someone on the breadline it may just be a bit too much.”

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He urged the council not to fine people who are in a bad way financially and have no real hope of raising the money to pay it.

Councillor Jason Brock, leader at RBC, said Cllr Duveen’s note of caution is “helpful” but added he has confidence in the council’s officers to be mindful of people’s individual situations.

Conservative councillor Jeanette Skeats said she shared concerns with Cllr Duveen but has been assured by the response from the council.

In 2019/20, housing benefit overpayment invoices totalled £1,793,332 as a result of claimant error, either due to delays in notifying the council of changes that affected entitlement or incorrect information being supplied.

In addition, council tax support totalling £326,268 was cancelled under the same circumstances and had to be re-billed and recovered.

The new policy “aims to encourage council tax payers and benefit claimants to contact the council as soon as there is a change in their circumstances, so that the correct council tax bill or benefit payment can be made, and to reduce instances of fraud”.

Any income from the fines will be re-invested into the revenues and benefits service.