A SHARP increase in the number of people seeking financial help with bills has seen BCP Council’s council tax income fall for the first time “in memory”.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, claims for council tax support have risen by more than 13 per cent, reducing income by more than £3 million.

Council leader, councillor Drew Mellor, said the drop was “extreme” and the first time he could recall a fall in the figure but added it was “not unexpected”.

At the start of the 2020/21 financial year, BCP Council’s council tax base was calculated to be £143 million but it is forecast it will be less than £139.2 million.

This has been caused by a rise in the number of people being given local council tax support (LCTS) and a predicted drop in the number of people paying their bills.

“The cost of the LCTS is estimated at £29.062 million (£25.697 million 2020/21) which is an increase of £3.365 million or 13.1 per cent compared to last year,” a report considered at the council’s cabinet meeting on Wednesday said.

It also estimated that the council tax collection rate would fall from 99 per cent to 97.2 per cent.

The report also said there was a continuing increase in the number of single person households, which receive a discount, being reported.

It said “resources” were now being allocated to check their validity and discover any fraudulent claims.

Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting, Cllr Mellor said the fall in the council’s tax base “was not unexpected but is extreme”.

“This is the first time – certainly in my memory and that of our financial officer – that our council tax base has gone down. It tends to go up every year due to population growth,” he said.

“This has happened because council tax support payments have risen by 13.1 per cent which equates to £3.4 million. This should be a one-off.”

The figure is used as part of calculations by the council for its annual budget, details of which are expected in the coming weeks.