The Executive Member for Environment and Finance & Governance and the Director of Finance submitted a report for the Executive’s consideration. The purpose of the report was to seek endorsement for the amendment of the Council’s Council Tax Support (CTS) scheme for 2022/2023.
Notwithstanding the introduction of Universal Credit (UC), the existing scheme was based on a ‘pre-dated’ means-tested benefit scheme:
· It was difficult for customers to understand and was based on a complex calculation of entitlement;
· The administration for staff was very convoluted, with staff having to request significant amounts of information from claimants;
· Staff had to undergo extensive training to be proficient in processing claims;
· The timescales for processing applications was lengthy, mainly due to the complexity and evidence required to support the applications; and
· The administration of the scheme was costly when compared to other discounts for Council Tax.
There was a need to simplify the scheme, not only to mitigate the effects of UC, which had been fast tracked as a consequence of Covid-19, but to make it easier for customers to make a claim, reduce the likelihood of fraud and to reduce the costs of administration.
The proposed approach for the 2022/23 Council Tax Support Scheme was detailed at paragraphs 16 to 19 of the submitted report. Details of how the proposed scheme planned to address the problems of the current scheme were outlined at paragraph 20.
Information on the consultation process and the feedback received was included at paragraphs 24 to 26 of the submitted report. A summary of the results from the 45 completed questionnaires was included at Appendix D.
The alternative to introducing a proposed alternative scheme for CTS from 2022/23 was to leave the existing scheme in place. That would have been a short-term option; leading to increasing costs of administration; and in the longer term, would have significantly affected the collection of Council Tax and the effectiveness of the scheme to support households within the Council’s area.
Modelling (see below) had also been done on an alternative ‘income grid’ scheme with 85% maximum support and 100% maximum support.
· 100% support scheme was not recommended as that would have been a cost to the Council in excess of £1,000,000 and on that basis would have been unaffordable.
· 85% support scheme was equally not recommended. Whilst the overall cost of the scheme would have been cheaper, it would have had a detrimental impact on the cost of collection, and in addition placed a further financial burden on some of the lower income residents of the town.
· Retain the existing means tested scheme with 85% support was not recommended. Although the current scheme would have been cost neutral, it was complicated and difficult for claimants to navigate their way through, and that was resulting in a reduction in take up. It was also impacting on the timeliness of billing and collecting Council Tax amounts, and was also more resource intensive to administer (see paragraph 11 of the submitted report).
The principles of the 85% and 100% scheme were exactly as described at paragraph 19 of the submitted report, however, given weight to the options appraisal/rationale (see Appendix B of the submitted report) those were not recommended.
That a revised Council Tax Support (CTS) scheme for 2022/23 be endorsed and the report be considered at Full Council on 23 February 2022.
The proposed changes, would simplify a complicated scheme, further assist low income households and support the collection of council tax, whilst also fulfilling the obligations on local authorities to support the roll out of Universal Credit.
Changes to the existing scheme had been subject to full consultation which ran from 14 October 2021 to 7 December 2021, a period of over 7 weeks. Responses informed the scheme, were broadly accepted, and resulted in minor changes to the proposed capital limit and income bands for couples with 2 or more children (see paragraph 19 of the submitted report). The questions which were asked during the consultation could be found at Appendix C of the submitted report, and a summary of the responses could be found at Appendix D