To consider retention of the current Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme for the financial year commencing 1 April 2022.
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 Assets 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 2022/23. This was with the exception of applying the annual upratings and other minor income and capital disregards.
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 Cabinet recommends the following to full Council:-
(1) approve and adopt the current Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme, it being the most appropriate scheme for this Council for the financial year commencing 1 April 2022, subject to the Operational Lead Case Management in consultation with the Finance and Resources Portfolio Holder being authorised to:-
(a) 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;
(b) make all necessary amendments to the Council’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme to uprate the allowances and premiums in accordance with the HB Circular A11/2021 regarding annual upratings issued in December 2021 by the Department of Work and Pensions; and
(2) that any work on a further review of the Scheme be carried out as part of the Local Government Reorganisation work streams for the new Westmorland and Furness Council.
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 to this group from 100% to any figure it chose including having a full charge irrespective of income. If the Council were to reduce the amount of support for this group, they would also need to consider how viable the collection of the contributions would be. 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 not be undertaken in 2022. It is expected that in light of the Local Government Reorganisation a full review will be required for Westmorland and Furness Council.