Tuesday, 8 January 2013

New Local Council Tax Support Scheme

A new scheme to replace Council Tax Benefit in Central Bedfordshire has been recommended by Executive councillors for approval by Full Council.

The change is needed because the current national scheme of Council Tax Benefit awards is being abolished by the government as part of national welfare reforms. The changes will take place from 1 April.

Central Bedfordshire's scheme has been developed to reflect feedback from public consultation which took place from August to November last year. The council has had to reduce the overall cost of the Council Tax Support scheme by £1.7 million to reflect the reduced government contribution compared to the current Council Tax Benefit scheme. Responses to a consultation exercise,  including 1,689 questionnaires as well as emails and letters and a telephone survey to 500 households, showed that a majority of respondents support the proposals of the council.

Pensioners will have the same level of protection as the current Council Tax Benefits scheme. The new scheme will protect other groups of vulnerable customers such as carers, lone parents with children under five, some disabled people and war widows.

The proposals are that people with capacity to earn will be required to pay at least 25 per cent of the total bill, even if they pay nothing now.

Low income families will be encouraged to earn. When someone gets a job or increases their hours or earnings, less of their new earnings will be taken into account when calculating claims for Council Tax Support.

There will be no Council Tax discount or exemption for owners of empty and second homes. To encourage a reduction in the number of long-term empty homes, there is a proposed charge of Council Tax at a premium rate of 150 per cent on houses left empty for over two years.

Liberal Democrats were the first to raise  concerns about the ability of low earners to pay. The Excecutive therefore proposes a Hardship Fund to make discretionary payments in exceptional circumstances for those really struggling to pay. 

Premiums and Personal Allowances used to calculate entitlement to Council Tax Support will be increased at the rate of inflation from 2014/15.

Councillor Maurice Jones, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Resources at Central Bedfordshire Council says, "We have worked hard to develop a Council Tax Support scheme that is designed to be affordable and fair and the positive response from the consultation show that the majority of respondents agreed. We are grateful to all of those who took part in the consultation. The feedback we have received has been helpful in ensuring that residents are not unduly disadvantaged within the funding constraints we face.”

The scheme will now go to full Council on 24 January for final approval.