Call in - Cabinet Item 10. Support for energy bills - the Council Tax Rebate 2022/2023
- Meeting of Overview Scrutiny Committee, Thursday, 31 March 2022 7.30 pm (Item 35.)
- View the background to item 35.
Item ‘Called in’ from the Cabinet meeting of 21 March 2022
The Chair of the Overview Scrutiny Committee has called in the following item for the meeting on Thursday 31 March 2022:
Item 10. Support for energy bills - the Council Tax Rebate 2022/2023
· To examine the Council’s response to the administration of the Council Tax Rebate 2022/2023.
· To evaluate the cost to the Council of administering the rebate and the staffing resource required.
· To consider the challenges that may occur in administering the rebate and the audit / anti-fraud processes that will need to follow.
Cabinet Member: The relevant Cabinet Member for this matter is invited to attend.
Officer: The relevant officers for this matter are invited to attend.
Please find the Cabinet reports for this item attached to this agenda.
The Director (Corporate Services) informed Members that on 3 February 2022, the Government announced a package of support known as the Energy Bills Rebate to help households with rising energy bills, worth £9.1 billion in 2022-2023. This included:-
· £200 discount on their energy bill this autumn for domestic electricity customers in Great Britain. This will be paid back automatically over the next 5 years;
· £150 non-repayable rebate for households in England in council tax bands A – D, known as the Council Tax Rebate; and
· £144 million of discretionary funding for billing authorities to support households who are in need but are not eligible for the Council Tax Rebate, known as the Discretionary Fund.
The Director (Corporate Services) informed Members of the following:
Council Tax Rebate 2022-23
· The Council had been allocated £5,297,100 for the core scheme of Council Tax Rebate 2022-2023. This was equivalent of paying £150 to 35,314 households, which was required to be distributed to eligible households by 30 September 2022
· Where the Council holds live direct debit instructions for a liable council taxpayer of an eligible household (currently 27,000 for GBC), the guidance states that an automatic payment should be made as early as possible in the 2022-23 financial year, provided that there was assurance that the household was eligible and the bank details had been verified.
· The Council has an estimated 16,000 households to contact and take through a process to obtain and verify bank details before payment of the Council Tax Rebate.
· The Council anticipates that around 900 of these households will not be eligible for the scheme (e.g. empty households or households that fall into the exempt category)
· The title of the scheme is misleading and can cause confusion to recipients; it’s not a rebate and operates outside of Council Tax.
· The Council has been allocated £249,150 for the Discretionary Fund. This was equivalent of paying £150 to 1,661 households, which was required to be distributed by 30 November 2022.
· The guidance advised that the Council could determine locally how best to make use of this funding to provide payments to other households who were energy bill payers but not covered by the Council Tax Rebate. This could include households living in properties valued in bands E – H (currently 6,463 properties) that were on income related benefits such as Council Tax Reduction (currently 233 claimants in bands E-H) or those where the energy bills payers were not liable for council tax. The Director (Corporate Services) advised that the intention would be to work closely with colleagues across Kent to ensure commonality with the discretionary scheme.
· Cabinet granted delegated authority to the Director (Corporate Services), in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Performance & Administration, to develop a discretionary Council Tax Rebate scheme and associated policy, and to make the necessary arrangements to assess eligibility and determine award of funding to eligible households. Delegated authority was also granted to the Director (Corporate Services) to make any further technical amendments to the scheme where further government advice is issued and ensure that the Portfolio Holder for Performance & Administration is kept informed of any such amendments required.
Following questions from the Committee, the Director (Corporate Services) highlighted the following:
· The Council are getting a number of enquiries about the Council Tax Rebate and there is some confusion for members of the public on this matter. The Council is putting as much information as possible on its website and the Local Government Association are also doing a media campaign. This area is challenging when the misleading message that this is a ‘rebate’ is portrayed in the press. Members can play an important role and help get the message across and this would be helpful to the Council
· A task and finish group will be formed next week to develop processes, ensure the support is distributed correctly and that communications are put out through all available channels.
· The Council Tax Rebate is a flat £150 payment for each household.
· Bank details will be checked using a tool called Spotlight. The Council will then run through the process to make sure the bank details match the person the Council is trying to get the money to.
· There is wide guidance on the Discretionary Fund but this will have to be carefully consider to make sure it is targeted in the right way. The Council is expecting further guidance from government on how the money is directed.
· There is a typo at the end of paragraph 4.2 of the report that should refer to ‘householders’ not ‘businesses’.
· The Council will communicate directly with those who haven’t taken up the support and every effort will be made to get the money to them.
· The Council Tax Rebate will be paid to the principal Council Tax payer. This will be the landlord in some cases and it will be down to them to pass on the payment to the residents of the property.
· The Director (Corporate Services) agreed to circulate the figures, outside of the meeting, for the amount of people who use PayPoint and those that use cash to pay their Council Tax.
· The Council is trying to find the most secure way to get the money out to eligible households. Cash will be avoided where possible and alternative methods such as prepaid cards, an arrangement with the Post Office or applying the Council Tax rebate to the individuals Council Tax account (as a last resort) will be looked into.
· Lobbying has been undertaken by the Local Government Association (LGA) and others to The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and it has been made clear that this is not a scheme that the Council are best placed to deal with.
· The Council is expecting an announcement from central government on ‘new burdens’ funding; once this is known the Council can make a full assessment on whether these matters will have to be dealt with using existing resources or, if additional resources are required, whether these will be fully met by central government. Conversations have already begun with Kent colleagues to consider resources.
· The Council will do its best to distribute as much of the Council Tax rebate as possible but it is reliant on people giving the Council the information we need and this will take time; payments are unlikely to get through until the end of April due to the intention to use the April Direct Debit process to provide assurance of the accuracy of bank details held.
· Based on the government guidance, the Discretionary Fund will look to support those in Band E-H and will target those who can’t benefit from Council Tax rebate.
· The Council does have a register of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) so these can be identified and attempts made to communicate.
· The Homes for Ukraine Scheme is a separate scheme and will involve £10,500 per placement going to KCC, payment of £200 per refugee, £350 to the sponsor per month. There is a meeting tomorrow to finalise the detail.
· Measures will be put in place to prevent and detect fraud as far as is possible (e.g. Spotlight - bank account authentication tool, internal audit checks, pre-payment checks).
· The potential for confusion and cancellation of Direct Debits after payment is made is a concern but requests to set up Direct Debits are coming in thick and fast at the moment.
· The Council will give some thought to getting the message out that this is not a refund on Council Tax.
· The Council will look to engage with community groups to make sure we are giving them the right message. Members have a big role to play here.
· The Council will look to publicise the support for energy bills at community events such as Vaisakhi, Eid, Riverside Festival etc.
· The issues with the My Account system have been logged with the provider Northgate. The problems were due to volume of traffic and the advice was to come back and try later. Northgate are looking to rectify the problem.
· The Director (Corporate Services) will look into the possibility of a post payment check / flag being placed on the My Account system.
· The Council will utilise the Landlords Network to push out the message on the support for energy bills.
The Cabinet Member for Performance & Administration advised Members that a further report back on the support for energy bills will go to the Performance & Administration Committee and could also come to the Overview Scrutiny Committee if desired.
Resolved that the Committee noted the report on the Support for energy bills - the Council Tax Rebate 2022/2023
Note: Cllr Narinderjit Singh Thandi, Cabinet Member for Performance & Administration, spoke with the leave of the Chair on this item.