Local Council Tax Support Scheme (Agenda Item 8)
To receive a presentation.
The Assistant Director of Commissioning gave Members a presentation on the changes to Council Tax Benefit which would take place from 1 April 2013.
Council Tax Benefits would be abolished and replaced by a Local Council Tax Support scheme. The Council was required to have adopted a scheme by 31 January 2013 to implement on 1 April 2013. That scheme would operate on 10% less funding than was currently received. The exact grant settlement was not yet known and the new scheme was being developed using models based on estimated figures.
The key elements of the new scheme would be:
· that the benefits of Pensioners and vulnerable groups would be protected;
· that it would continue to support and give incentives to those in work; and
· that it would be affordable for the people of Breckland.
A key issue was that currently CT Benefit matched the maximum Council Tax charge. One way to address the 10% funding gap would be to cap Council Tax allowance. That would affect all the current CT Benefit claimants.
Other, technical changes had also been consulted on. They included questions about Council Tax on second and empty homes. The proposal was to charge 100% Council Tax on second homes (currently it was 90%) except for military personnel. The exemption period on empty properties would be reduced to three months, followed by a 60% allowance for a further three months, then charging full Council Tax after that time. It was hoped that that would also encourage empty properties to be brought back into use.
Members were shown the questions in a survey carried out with two groups of people: those on benefits who would not be affected and those on benefits that would be directly affected by the changes.
Of 770 people surveyed 48% had responded. 258 of those responses were from people directly affected by the changes. Members were shown a table of findings comparing the responses from the two groups. It showed broad support for the majority of the proposals. The only exception was the proposal to cap the level of support which only 53% of those directly affected supported as opposed to 80% of those not directly affected.
Other preceptors had also supported the scheme as it was cost neutral.
The scheme was being developed in an atmosphere of constant change with new announcements regularly being made by Government. There would be a £100 million grant for the transition to specific scheme requirements, but it could only be applied for once the scheme was adopted and it was not guaranteed.
The Operations Manager (ARP) was in attendance to answer any technical questions.
Mr Bambridge noted that it was a big difference of opinion regarding the cap. The Assistant Director for Commissioning agreed and said they were not underestimating the impact of the changes. There were difficult decisions to be made but the 10% gap had to be made up somewhere.
Mr Joel asked how ‘vulnerable groups’ were defined and was advised that the same rationale would be used as with the current system. The people in those groups were those with dependent children, carers and those in receipt of disability living allowance.
With regard to empty properties, the Vice-Chairman asked what would happen if a property was empty for three months (receiving the full Council Tax exemption) then occupied for a short time and then empty again. Would it qualify for the full exemption again?
The Operations Manager (ARP) advised that under current arrangements there was a minimum period of 42 days of re-occupation before the exemption would be re-applied.
Mr Bambridge requested that a copy of the slides from the presentation be circulated to Members. The Chairman agreed that the slides from the Executive Member’s presentation should be circulated, but he suggested that the Council Tax slides should not be sent out until the presentation to Council on 6 December – as there might be some changes in the meantime.
He thanked the officers for their presentation.