Agenda item

Council Tax Support Scheme 2014/15

Minutes:

Cabinet at its meeting of 20 January 2014 received a report, following the consultation on the proposals made at the Cabinet meeting held on 16 December 2013. The report made a recommendation to Council on the Council Tax Support Scheme to be implemented in Peterborough and also sought Cabinet’s approval to adopt the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) good practice protocol for council tax collection.

 

Councillor Seaton introduced the report and moved the recommendation that Council agree that the Council Tax Support Scheme for 2014/15 should be the same as for the current year, keeping the reduction in benefit for working age claimants at 30%. Councillor Seaton further highlighted that due to the council being given less funding for council tax support, the estimated funding gap was around £2.4m across Peterborough. It was therefore a choice of implementing a local scheme to meet the shortfall or cuts were to be made in services elsewhere.

 

For 2013/14, the Council had implemented a scheme which reduced benefit by 30%, with pensioners not being affected by the change. The impact of the scheme had been closely monitored and reviewed, with any recovery measures being carefully considered and proportionate. The impact on households had also been monitored and this would continue going forward, especially in light of wider changes to welfare benefits.

 

A number of organisations had been written to, as part of the consultation, who regularly came into contact with affected households to seek their views. Subsequently a response had been received from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, which highlighted the ‘Good Practice Protocol on Council Tax Recovery’, which had been drawn up with the Local Government Association The protocol covered many areas of practice followed by the Council, and Cabinet approved its adoption.

 

In summarised, Councillor Seaton stated that financial challenges faced by the Council remained the same, and it would not be possible to make reductions in funding elsewhere. It was therefore recommended that the existing scheme continue. This was seconded by Councillor Cereste, who reserved his right to speak.

 

Members debated the recommendation and in summary raised points including:

 

·         There were concerns around the burden which had been put on to low income families;

·         Around 5000 people had been to the Peterborough Magistrates Court because they had not paid or could not pay. Had the burden of payments increased for these people due to having to go to court?

·         It was difficult to accept the recommendation and more work had to be done around the impact that the scheme was having;

·         Concern was expressed around the process of consultation, it would have been appropriate for all Councillors to have been involved;

·         45% of those summoned to court were in receipt of council tax support;

·         Out of the 5266 summons CTS, how many of the households were due to pay council tax for the first time?

·         Had consideration been given as to why reminders were being ignored, for example could it be down to language barriers?

·         Had the idea of the adoption of the CAB protocol been dropped?

·         It was a difficult situation, however this was the first year of the scheme and on future occasions it would be beneficial for more information to be provided in order to adequately review the impacts;

·         The scheme needed to continue for the forthcoming year; and

·         An alternative scheme would need to be identified should the current scheme be voted against.

 

Councillor Cereste exercised his right to speak and advised that if the scheme was not implemented, it would mean a 6% increase in council tax.

 

Councillor Seaton summed up as mover of the recommendation, and responded to issues raised by Members. It was advised that a response to the question raised in relation to how many of the 5266 summons were paying council tax for the first time would be provided in writing. In relation as to why people had not responded to reminders, it was advised that numerous letters had been sent out and individuals had also been texted where mobile numbers where available, this had led to an increase in the numbers of people coming to the Council and attending court and lastly, the CAB protocol had been adopted, and work had also been undertaken closely with CAB to ensure they were kept advised of relevant issues.

 

Council was asked to agree the recommendation, as it would not be possible to subsidise funding for council tax support without having a far greater impact on services elsewhere.

 

A vote was taken (38 for, 11 against, 2 abstentions) and it was RESOLVED that:

 

Council agree that the Council Tax Support Scheme for 2014/15 should be the same as for the current year, keeping the reduction in benefit for working age claimants at 30%.

 

 

Supporting documents: