Local Scheme of Support for Council Tax 2019/20
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: Yes
The Strategic Director (Internal Services) presented a report which outlined details of proposed changes to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme for 2019/20 and provided Members with the detailed results from the recent Council Tax Reduction Scheme consultation process and the findings from the revised Customer Access Review that had been carried out.
The need to change the current scheme had arisen as a result of the introduction of the Universal Credit Full Service (UCFS) in Dartford and the complexities that this would involve in calculating people’s entitlement to Council Tax Reduction. The current Scheme for Council Tax Reduction, which was completely reactive to any change to a person’s circumstances, would become unworkable requiring frequent and confusing adjustment and the re-issuing of Council Tax bills. The proposed new scheme was designed to make the system clearer, simpler and fairer as well as being workable for staff. The overall cost of the scheme would be broadly the same as the current scheme and the changes would only be made to the scheme for working-age applicants as the current scheme for pensioners was prescribed by Central Government. The current means tested scheme would be replaced by a simple income grid model, which had been revised from the draft considered by the Cabinet in July as the ranges had proved to be too narrow and had therefore been widened to be as inclusive as possible and to minimise the impacts on applicants.
The main features of the Scheme were outlined in paragraph 1.8 of the report. The new scheme included a simplified claiming process and in the case of Universal Credit (UC) applicants any Universal Credit data received from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would be treated as a claim for Council Tax Reduction and be processed automatically without the need to request further information from the tax payer. This would maximise the entitlement of every applicant and maintain collection rates. The new sliding scale income bands were sufficiently wide to avoid constant changes in discount and adjustment of bills. The new Scheme also contained additional provisions to protect individuals who experienced exceptional hardship.
The proposed new Scheme had been widely consulted over an eight week period which ended on 30 September 2018. This had included writing to all working-age claimants, Registered Social Landlords and third sector organisations and the use of a questionnaire on the council’s web site. The responses to the consultation were detailed in Appendix A to the report and overall were in favour of the proposed changes. The Council had also consulted with the major preceptors who had agreed the changes and the approach taken by the Council. If agreed by Cabinet and the General Assembly of the Council the new scheme would take effect from 1 April 2019.
A Member of the Cabinet Advisory Panel had questioned the need to introduce the new Scheme in April 2019 given that the mass migration to Universal Credit had now been put back to November 2020. He felt that there were currently many uncertainties and that by implementing the Scheme now the opportunity to undertake more detailed modelling was being lost. He also felt that the proposed income bandings were too narrow and would still require frequent recalculations of entitlement and that the narrowness of the bandings could also deter those people wanting to work additional hours.
The Strategic Director (Internal Services) explained that although the timing of the mass migration to Universal Credit had changed, 10% of applicants had already moved across to the Universal Credit Full Service and that number would grow as any claimants with changes of income would also move across, as would any new applicants. The Cabinet felt that given the fact that 10% of applicants had already moved across to Universal Credit it made sense to change the Scheme now rather than delaying until the mass migration took place. Another of the drivers behind the revised Scheme was to make it more simple to understand and fairer. The income bands had been revised from those originally proposed as a result of the consultation and on the basis of experience from existing caseloads. The Cabinet Advisory Panel had also drawn attention to the fact that the new Scheme would appear to have a disproportionate impact on female applicants. The Strategic Director (Internal Services) said that this was as a result of the decision to use an upper limit of two children in calculating entitlement which would impact on more female than male claimants. Some Members at the Cabinet Advisory Panel had challenged the proposed reduction of the Capital Limit from £16,000 to £6,000. The Strategic Director (Internal Services) explained that this was perceived to be a fairer limit and was in line with the limits in the Council Tax Reduction Schemes of other authorities in Kent.
The Cabinet recognised the concerns expressed at the Cabinet Advisory Panel about the possibility of errors occurring through the importation of data from the Department of Works and Pensions and that it would be important for the Council to work sympathetically with applicants where errors were identified to address any mistakes. The Council should act as an advocate for Universal Credit users to ensure that their information was being recorded and used correctly.
The Cabinet noted the strong reservations expressed by the Labour Group at the Cabinet Advisory Panel about the timing and contents of the proposed Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
That the Cabinet recommends to the General Assembly of the Council the adoption of the new Council Tax Reduction Scheme 2019/20 with effect from 1 April 2019.
Publication date: 07/01/2019
Date of decision: 06/12/2018
Decided at meeting: 06/12/2018 - Cabinet
Effective from: 07/12/2018