COUNCIL tax benefit is set to be slashed by up to 20 per cent for working-age claimants in Pendle - and eight per cent in neighbouring Burnley.

The Pendle scheme has been condemned as a ‘fundamental attack on the poor’, as 4,900 wait to hear the new charges they will face in 2013, which could be around £150 per year.

Burnley’s alternative has been tempered by using a transition grant, offered by the government, and income from reforms to council tax payments for empty homes.

Coun Joe Cooney, Conservative leader of Pendle Council, described the authority’s plans as ‘fair and reasonable’ - and supported by a public consultation exercise.

But Coun Mohammed Iqbal, Pendle’s Labour group leader, said: “This is a fundamental attack on the poor and vulnerable working-age people of Pendle.

“Even an extra £2.74 per week is not insignificant for people who are on the poverty line and has no prospect of work. The Tories and Liberal Democrats should be ashamed of themselves Coun Ann Kerrigan, a Lib Dem, added: “What frightens me about this it is not rewarding people who work, it is punishing people who cannot find work.”

Introducing Burnley’s scheme, Coun Mark Townsend said it was apparent, from consultation work, that the majority felt working age claimants should pay at least something towards their council tax bill.

He told a full council meeting that a hardship fund would also be created to consider requests for assistance from the worst-hit households. Around 7,000 claimants are affected.

Coun Anne Kelly (Lib Dem), said that an extra £3 per week payment for council tax would not mean families going hungry or children going to school without shoes “I think there are very few families that will not be able to find £3 per week. But I think that there could a problem with collections for very small amounts,” she added.

Coun Marcus Johnstone said that the extra payments followed government moves to place more people on cheaper job seekers allowance payments and the prospect of a new ‘bedroom tax’ for under-occupied homes.