Decision Maker: Cabinet
Decision status: For Determination
Is Key decision?: Yes
Is subject to call in?: Yes
To consider renewing South Lakeland District
Council's local Council Tax Reduction Scheme for 2020/21.
Note – At this point in the proceedings, Linda Fisher, Legal Governance and Democracy Lead Specialist (Monitoring Officer) declared a personal interest in this item of business by virtue of the fact that she was a Trustee of the War Widows Association. She remained in the Chamber during the discussion and voting on the item, although with no voting rights as an officer of the Council.
On 1 April 2013, the national Council Tax Benefit Scheme had been abolished and replaced with a locally-determined scheme known as the Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme. South Lakeland District Council had introduced a scheme that mirrored the previous national scheme, which meant that nobody was worse off under the Local Scheme and that the most vulnerable people in the District were protected from any reductions in support.
The Finance and Resources Portfolio Holder presented a detailed report, informing Members that the Local Government Finance Act 2012 (as amended) required Local Authorities to approve their Council Tax Reduction Scheme on an Annual Basis by the 11 March for the following financial year.
After considering options for change, including the additional income, costs and risks associated with any changes, it was expected that the current Scheme would continue unchanged for the financial year 2020/21. This was with the exception of applying the annual upratings and other minor income and capital disregards, and treatment of persons from abroad aligned to other means tested benefit schemes as detailed in the recommendations contained within the report and reflecting the issues set out at Section 3.7 to the report.
Attention was drawn to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (Prescribed Requirements) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 which had come into force on 11 February 2020 and to minor amendments contained therein. Equalities impacts had been outlined within the report.
The Finance and Resources Portfolio Holder stressed the fact that the overall cost of the Scheme to the Authority of the Scheme was significant but supported the Council’s objective of alleviating poverty. This was not something that the Council had to do, but chose to, in so doing helping to protect the poorest and most vulnerable residents in the District.
He added that it was expected that a review of South Lakeland’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme was due to be undertaken, probably as part of a wider Cumbria review, to assess the impacts on the Scheme of the roll-out of Universal Credit.
Members were proud of the Scheme which supported the Council’s commitment to enable the most vulnerable resident to survive and flourish. The Scheme continued to garner cross-party support.
RESOLVED – That Council be recommended that the current Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme is the most appropriate scheme for this Council for the financial year commencing 1 April 2020, subject to the Finance Lead Specialist (Section 151 Officer), in consultation with the Finance and Resources Portfolio Holder, being authorised to:-
(1) make all necessary updates to this Council’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme to comply with any statutory requirements that may be issued by Central Government;
(2) make all necessary amendments to the Council’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme to uprate the allowances and premiums in accordance with Revised HB Circular issued on 15 January 2020 by the Department of Work and Pensions; and
(3) publish the updated scheme in accordance with the Local Government Finance Act 2012.
Reasons for Decision
To assist in the delivery of the Council Plan - “Our Vision” – Several Welfare Reform changes have already been implemented, including the abolition of the Council Tax Benefit Scheme and introduction of its replacement, the Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme. Universal Credit full service was also rolled out in South Lakeland between September and December 2018. The Council has provided a large amount of information about the ways the changes will affect individuals and worked closely with our social landlords to try as far as possible to reduce the impact on vulnerable people. We will continue to monitor the impact of these changes.
The retention of the existing scheme offering support up to a maximum of 100% of the Council Tax plays a key role in supporting the Council’s objective of helping to alleviate poverty.
Alternative Options Considered and Rejected
The Council is under no legal obligation to offer a Council Tax Reduction Scheme for Working Age residents. Therefore, in theory, it could reduce the amount of support offered this group from 100% to any figure it chose, including having a full charge irrespective of income. The vast majority of councils reduce the amount of Council Tax Reduction for Working Age claimants between 10% and 30%, resulting in annual charges of just over £200 per annum for those on the lowest income in this group. All Cumbrian Local Authorities continue have a zero charge for this group. A number of authorities are reviewing their schemes to reduce the contributions from claimants, as they have found these contributions difficult to collect and have seen increased levels of write-offs.
There are numerous ways in which the current Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme could be changed. These were fully examined as part of the Overview and Scrutiny review and were considered as part of the decision-making process in approving the scheme for 2015/16. No further examination has taken place since this review apart from a brief indication of the likely income that could be generated if a minimum charge was to be introduced for Working Age Recipients of Council Tax Reduction.
It is likely that a review of South Lakeland’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme will be undertaken in 2020 to assess the impacts on the scheme of the full rollout of Universal Credit in South Lakeland. It is likely this review will be undertaken as part of a wider Cumbria review.
Report author: Helen Smith
Publication date: 07/02/2020
Date of decision: 05/02/2020
Decided at meeting: 05/02/2020 - Cabinet
Effective from: 17/02/2020