ALMOST 6,000 of Exeter's poorest households are facing a bills bombshell when council tax benefit is scrapped.
The city council has revealed those affected will have to pay an average of £277 a year – or £5.32 a week.
And thousands of people previously exempt from paying the tax will receive bills for the first time in April.
The authority claims it has no choice but to make families on low incomes pay more after the Government left a funding shortfall of more than £1m for a new council tax support scheme.
Exeter Citizens Advice Bureau is bracing itself for a surge in calls for help amid warnings that hard-pressed families will have less money to spend on their children's needs.
The council has confirmed that more than 4,000 homes will have to pay council tax for the first time, including lone parents and families where someone has a disability.
All working age claimants of council tax benefit will have to pay more – on average an extra £277 a year, or £5.32 a week, from April. Pensioners are protected from losing any of their council tax benefit.
Steve Barriball, director of Exeter CAB, said many of those affected are not yet aware of the changes.
"We haven't had a huge number of people yet who are aware of what the impact will be on them, and that's a real worry," he said. "People will get caught out and be surprised when they get a council tax bill which means they have to pay something for the first time.
"Outgoings are already outstripping income for many people, so it's going to be even more challenging for households to be able to balance their budgets."
The increased burden on some of the most hard-up families is a result of the Government's decision to abolish council tax benefit.
In its place, local authorities have been tasked with devising their own council tax support schemes – but with 10 per cent less funding.
The shortfall in Exeter totals more than £1m a year, and the pain will be shared across all working age households who get help with their council tax. They will lose around a quarter of their current support.
Those in Exeter set to be affected include:
2,816 households with one or more children.
1,739 households where the claimant, partner or a dependant child is disabled or a carer, including 158 with a disabled child.
1,866 lone parents, including 649 with a child under five.
748 unemployed people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance.
The council's own impact assessment of the new scheme states: "5,709 working age claim households will be asked to pay more towards their council tax.
"More than 3,000 of these households do not currently pay anything and may be asked to make payments of council tax for the first time."
It goes on to warn: "All families will see a reduction in the help they receive with their council tax and some will be expected to pay for the first time. This will leave less of the family's income available to be spent on the children's needs."
It comes as other benefits are being cut in real terms.
The report adds: "Tenants in both the private and social sectors may also see reductions in the amount of housing benefit available to them as a result of other welfare reforms.
"These households could therefore face multiple pressures on their budgets."
Under Exeter City Council's new scheme, the highest level of support will be 80 per cent, meaning all working age households will have to pay at least 20 per cent of their council tax bill.
An exceptional hardship fund will be set up to help the most vulnerable residents. Exeter's Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said: "Many people in Exeter are in for a big shock in April when they find themselves having to pay for the Government's economic failure.
"The Government's cut in council tax relief will hit people in work on low incomes to the tune of £250 a year at the same time as millionaires are getting a tax cut.
"Exeter City Council is doing what it can to reduce the impact of the change while maintaining services, but like all local authorities, it has been put in an impossible position by the Government."
Councillor Ian Martin, lead councillor for business transformation and human resources, said: "People need to be clear that these changes have been forced upon the council because of a large reduction in government grant.
"We always knew that we would have to make some difficult decisions about who gets financial support and how much they get and that is why we recently consulted the public on the impact of these changes. Consultation was thorough and resulted in some 1,400 responses from the public."