Agenda item

Council Tax Reduction Scheme 2022-23

Minutes:

Members were updated on the progress made on the review of the existing Council Tax

Reduction Scheme and their approval was sought to proceed with a public consultation on changing the existing Council Tax Reduction Scheme from April 2022.

 

The Head of Revenues and Benefits guided Members through the report and raised the following key points:

 

·         The proposals in the report only affected working age claimants, it did not affect the scheme for pensionable age claimants which was set on a national basis

·         Item 1.4 of the report listed the shortcomings of the current Council Tax Reduction Scheme

·         Item 2 of the report outlined the proposal for the new Council Tax Reduction Scheme; one of the most important changes was that under the new Scheme the service would accept claims for Universal Credit as claims for the Council Tax Reduction Scheme as well

·         One of the biggest issues currently was that, every time there was a financial change to residents claim, a new Council Tax bill had to be issued to them, which meant the claimant could potentially receive twelve new Council Tax bills in a year. That was confusing to claimants and was a source of complaint

·         The vast majority of claimants would see their amounts received increase or unchanged whilst some cases would see a reduction however the service was aware of all those who would see a reduction in their claims amount. All of those affected negatively, would be contacted by the service and directed to support from other sources

·         The service legally had to conduct a consultation; once agreement was received, the consultation would commence for ten weeks on 15 October 2021 and last until 24 December 2021. Appendix three listed the draft consultation questions.

·         Responses to the consultation would be analysed and brought back to Cabinet on 31 January 2022, with the final proposed scheme presented to Full Council alongside the Council Tax budget setting report on 22 February 2022. The new Council Tax bills would be calculated from 01 April 2022

 

The Chair stated that it was an important document that tried to make the best out of a national benefit system that had a lot of issues; it was Gravesham Council’s intention to make life easier for claimants and ensure that all of Gravesham’s residents received the support that they may be entitled to.

 

The Head of Revenues and Benefits fielded questions from the Cabinet and explained that:

 

·         It was recognised that the consultation document was quite long; the Service was currently working with Communications to determine if the consultation document language could be improved and made more accessible. However, Members should note that there were a number of changes proposed and the Service had to consult on each of them; the reasoning behind the changes as well as the benefits and negatives of each change had been explained. The introduction was very detailed and would be trimmed back where possible

·         Officers would be writing to all claimants and a random selection of non-claimants regarding the changes in order to encourage a broad response and make sure all claimants were aware of impending changes that could affect them. If any people were having trouble filling in the consultation, they would be encouraged to contact the service so that an officer could go through it with them. Face to face appointments would be held as and when required 

·         Third party organisations would also be invited to assist the Service with reaching out to residents that they were aware of that needed support but wouldn’t make contact with the Council on their own 

·         The Head of Revenues and Benefits agreed to contact Communications to look at rewording the phrasing on page 160 for ‘Protect claimants from exceptional hardship’ 

·         The Low Income Family Tracker (LIFT) was a new software that the Service used to obtain an understanding of a claimant’s current financial position; it helped to identify if there were any changes to their financial circumstances such as the amount of universal credit they received reducing. Through identification of such changes , officers could see if a resident was about to fall into financial crisis and then engage with them and provide support before that happened

·         The consultation was running on a tight deadline but it was doable; weekly updates would be received on the cases and the responses from the consultation would be analysed over the ten-week period. Experience of similar timetables at neighbouring authorities proved it could work

·         As mentioned previously, Communications were being consulted to make the document more accessible which included using more plain English language where possible

·         The sample of non-claimants contacted would be random residents not in receipt of support from the Council Tax Reduction Scheme; 2000 non-claimants including those of pensionable age would be contacted.

·         Sections 13 and 14 of the consultation asked questions about who was providing the response and the responses received could be analysed by the responses to these questions. The answers to those questions would allow the Service to understand where the responses had come from in the Borough and tell officers how best to respond

 

The Director (Corporate Services) advised that the Service recognised the importance of trying to actively engage with residents and the Head of Revenues and Benefits would be seeking out groups that represented individuals who the Council could not reach as well as engage with focus group activities as much as possible. The Director (Corporate Sevrices) assured Members that the Service would do everything in their power to make sure everyone who needed to be supported was contacted but ultimately the Service relied on residents engaging in the process.

 

The Chair reminded Members that consultation was essential in order to obtain residents views and it was important to gain the views of non-claimants as well as claimants as non-claimants could become claimants one day. The Chair noted the concern raised regarding weighting and advised that the Cabinet was only being asked to agree to the consultation documents tonight and the final proposed Scheme would return to the Cabinet with more information before approval was sought.

 

Resolved that Cabinet:

 

1.         Noted the work undertaken on the review of the current Council Tax Reduction (CTR)      Scheme

 

2.         Agreed to proceed with a public consultation with a view to changing the Council Tax       Reduction Scheme from April 2022 as set out in Section Two of the report

 

 

3.         Agreed the draft consultation documents (Appendix 3) and gave delegated authority        to the Director (Corporate Services), in consultation with the Leader of the Executive      and Portfolio Holder for Performance & Administration to finalise the consultation    documents.

 

 

Supporting documents: