Local Council Tax Support Scheme (Agenda Item 5)
To receive a presentation on the draft scheme.
The Assistant Director for Commissioning gave Members a presentation (copy attached). He was accompanied by the Head of Shared Service (ARP).
The presentation provided an update on the forthcoming changes and explained the next steps in the process. No formal decision would be needed until the next meeting in January.
Council Tax Benefit would cease with effect from 13 April 2013 and a Local Council Tax Support Scheme would take its place. That change would be accompanied by a 10% reduction in funding, although the final figures of the grant from Government would not be known until 19 December 2012.
The changes would have to be implemented on 1 April 2013 and the Council was required to have adopted the new scheme by 31 January 2013, hence the tight timescale.
Part of the required process had been to consult with other preceptors and with those directly affected, along with those on benefits that would not be directly affected by the changes and a demographic panel representative of Breckland residents.
The draft scheme maintained the same principles as the current scheme in that it sought to:
· protect pensioners and vulnerable groups;
· protect those in work; and
· be affordable for Breckland.
To meet the 10% funding gap the main change was a proposed cap to the level of funding paid.
There were also some technical changes proposed with regard to second homes and vacant properties. The Council Tax discount on second homes would cease for all except military personnel and the discount on empty properties would remain at 100% for three months (reduced from six months currently) with a further three months with a 50% reduction. After that period full Council Tax would be due.
The consultation results showed strong support for all the proposals. The only discrepancy was between the Panel responses and those from people on benefits regarding the proposed cap. That was not surprising as the cap would directly affect those responding.
A recent announcement from the Government was that there would be a Transitional Grant for 2013/14. £100 million would be available to Authorities that met the required criteria. An application for the grant could only be made once a scheme had been adopted, after 31 January 2013.
The next steps in the process would be to prepare a final report which would go to Cabinet in early January and then to Council in late January.
Mrs Canham thought it was a good report but was very concerned that the people most affected would be those that could least afford a reduction to their payments. She asked what the Council could do to protect them.
The Assistant Director for Commissioning advised that the Council already had a policy to protect the most vulnerable and they would continue to do so under the draft scheme, albeit with a smaller pot of money.
The Head of Shared Service (ARP) confirmed that they would work with those struggling to pay their Council Tax, etc.
The Leader of the Labour Group had seen the presentation at the Overview & Scrutiny Commission meeting and had asked a question there about empty properties. He was therefore aware that if an empty property was reoccupied for 42 days and then became vacant it would be eligible again for the two discounted periods. He thought that did not provide sufficient incentive to keep properties occupied.
The Head of Shared Service (ARP) explained that that had always been the case as it was how the legislation had been laid.
The Leader of the Council agreed with the Leader of the Labour Group and said it was something that had been discussed at the Norfolk Leaders Group meetings. There were a huge number of empty houses and there needed to be a change to bring them back into use.
The Executive Member for Planning & Environmental Services said that she was very keen to prioritise that issue and would be concentrating on it in the New Year, following the restructure to the Housing Team. It was very frustrating to see empty houses when there were so many people on the waiting list.
The report was noted.