CASH-STRAPPED Sandwell Council has been reprimanded by a judge after banning council tax support to residents who have not lived in the borough for two years.

The council brought in the rule last year to stop a feared wave of benefit claimants moving from pricey London to Sandwell after the national benefit cap of £26,000 was introduced.

However, Sandwell Council's policy hit vulnerable local residents and the authority was taken to judicial review by the Child Poverty Action Group.

Mr Justice Hickinbottom ruled Sandwell Council failed to comply with Government policy and ensure local council tax support schemes provided for the most vulnerable.

The judge described the policy as "irrational", discriminatory on grounds of race and gender, and the council did not hold a proper public consultation before it introduced the ban.

He also pointed out there was "no evidence that 'benefit tourists' from the south of England were or were likely to be a problem, and thus no evidence that the measure was necessary".

The judge added: "There is no evidence of a single individual who has been refused a council tax reduction on residence grounds, who has moved to Sandwell voluntarily from anywhere further away than Birmingham."

In 2012 at full council, the authority's financial supremo Councillor Steve Eling raised the spectre of Cockney benefit claimants moving en masse to Sandwell.

“Due to the benefit cap, London authorities are dumping their residents all over the country.

“In Sandwell, we just cannot afford to cope with the influx of new people claiming the council tax discount which we will not get back from the Government.”

He added: “This is going to be a massive problem next year and this two-year residency clause in the council tax discount will put Londoners off coming to live in Sandwell.”

The CPAG successfully proved, by using the example of three women, that the policy, which came in force in April 2013, was hitting the most vulnerable in society.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of CPAG, said: "This ruling confirms what should have been obvious to the council from the start: it cannot be sensible or right to charge people on low incomes a higher rate of council tax simply because they are new to the area.

"If Sandwell Council had given any thought to this policy, or held a consultation it might have realised this earlier. Instead thousands of people have been threatened with arrears and some people, even those who like these claimants were originally born and bred in Sandwell, have been forced to move away."

Now people who were refused council tax support could be eligible to claim the money back.

Sandwell Council leader Cllr Darren Cooper was disappointed with the ruling and is considering whether to appeal.

He said: "Our aim was to prioritise support to vulnerable people who've lived here continuously for two years or more at the point of making a claim and discourage people from other parts of the country moving here to take advantage of cheaper housing and adding further demands to our reduction scheme."