BARNSLEY Council leader Sir Steve Houghton has defended the local authority's decision to phase out a council tax discount for pensioners.

The council has paid a discount averaging around £47 per household for the past three years to all pensioners not receiving benefits.

This was paid for by the council from its own funds - but it will now be phased out over the next five years.

Sir Steve says Barnsley can be proud of the fact that it's done more than any other local authority to try to help pensioners pay their council tax.

He says Barnsley is currently one of only three councils in the UK to finance such a discount.

He added the other two, a London borough and the Wirral, are ending their discount schemes this year which means only Barnsley will continue to offer some discount to pensioners for the next five years.

Cllr Houghton said: "It was always supposed to be a temporary measure to help older residents during a period of severe austerity.

"It's a testament to our commitment to help our older residents that we've kept the scheme and are now phasing it out over five years and not simply stopping it here and now."

The council currently spends around £500,000 on the discount - a figure set to increase annually as the population ages and more people qualify for the discount.

"We will have been offering a discount for eight years by the time it's totally phased out - I think that's something we can be proud of," he added.

"We have to slash millions from our budget and have taken the decision this cannot carry on indefinitely at an ever growing cost.

"Both the government and the opposition have made commitments to financially look after pensioners and the economy is recovering."