Agenda item

Localised Council Tax Support Scheme 2023/24

This report is for Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee to review the consultation responses and comment on the proposed Localised Council Tax Support Scheme 2023/24, as well as proposals made in relation to the discount for care leavers, discount for Special Constables and Discretionary Hardship Fund.




The Deputy Leader of the Council presented the report and confirmed that each year the Council was required to review their Council Tax Support Scheme to determine its sustainability and consider any potential changes for the following financial year.


The Council Tax Benefit system was abolished on 31 March 2013 and replaced by the Local Council Tax Support Scheme (CTS).  This scheme was to be determined locally by the Billing Authority having had due consultation with precepting authorities, key stakeholders, and residents.  There were currently 7,414 residents claiming Council Tax Support in the South Kesteven District.  Of these, 3,141 were pensioners and 2,731 were vulnerable working age, who were protected under the legislation and received Council Tax support as prescribed by the Government (broadly similar to the level of Council Tax Benefit).  It was the 1,542 remaining working age claimants where a local scheme could be determined which was able to change the level of support provided.  The scheme currently provided 80% entitlement for working age claimants.


A report was presented to this Committee on 19 July 2022, giving more details with regards to the impact of the move of legacy benefits to Universal Credit, and the impacts of cost of living.  Despite the scheme being a ‘local’ CTS scheme due to the nature of protection provided to pensioners and vulnerable working age customers, there was always to be an element of cost that the Council had to incur and for which it had no influence over.


Based on caseload as at 27 October 2022, the current cost of the 2022/23 scheme was £7,056,973 with South Kesteven’s share of this being £635,127 (9%).  Due to this protection from changes to pensioners and vulnerable working age customers, any ‘savings’ to be made to the proposed scheme could only be applied to the 1,542 customers, or 20.79% of the caseload.  This meant out of the current Council spend of £635,127 – only £132,043 (20.79%) could be influenced by a change to the current scheme.  The reality was that out of any potential options that may reduce spend against budget is to decrease the ‘maximum entitlement’ – e.g. to reduce the maximum CTS customers can receive from the current position of 80%.


In addition, the scheme enabled the Council to support care leavers and special constables through a discretionary discount scheme.  The scheme was first approved for 2022/23. Currently, we had 3 Special Constables in receipt of the discount.  If the scheme was approved to continue in 2023/24, the award of the discount was to be referenced to service during 2022/23.  As a result, the eligibility for the discount was to be considered and an award made no later than the 31 May of the following financial year and would be applied to the Council tax account in 2023/24.  If the scheme continued, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) was to write to all Special Constables who lived within the district of South Kesteven, by 30 April 2023, confirming they have met the hours worked criteria, and would provide a link to the Councils website.  The Special Constable would be required to complete the application form and upload the letter from the PCC. An award was to be made no later than 31 May 2023.


The Head of Revenues, Benefits and Customer Service gave an update following the Autumn Statement.


The Officer informed the Committee that the actual cost of the scheme would not be known until the end of the financial year and was to be dependent on caseload as well as levels of Council Tax set by the District Council and Police Authorities.  The complexities of the budget changes meant there was a 10.1% increase in benefits for various people in receipt of new state pension, basic state pension, pension credit and the enhanced daily rate component for personal independent payments, along with Universal Credit having increased.  The Officer confirmed that the Council needed to ensure the increases were accurate as well as understanding the impact this could have on the scheme.  An increase in benefits could have resulted in a decrease in the Council Tax support awarded and an impact on the scheme percentage of 80%.  The household support fund was also there to support residents.   


During discussion, members raised the following points:


·            Did the survey response rate of 80% supporting the scheme refer to 80% of 27 respondents?  This was a low response to be considered supportive, however, it was acknowledged that people couldn’t be forced to respond.


·            Did the discount include students too?


·            The difficult timing of the autumn statement was acknowledged but it would have been useful to have received an update on its impact before today’s meeting.


·            How much did it cost the Council to give discount to those special constables who currently received it and what was the maximum potential cost as a whole?


The Head of Revenues, Benefits and Customer Service confirmed that students weren’t required to pay Council Tax so had no requirement for the scheme.  The Committee were informed that various ways of consultation were looked at.  For the 2022/23 survey, 8236 surveys were sent out and a response of 3.74% was received.  This year, having been mindful of the cost, social media was updated and key stakeholders such as Citizens Advice were able to support.  The Officer confirmed that the cost for the 3 special constables who currently received the discount was circa £800 each.  Last year’s cost would have been circa £9,500 had everyone eligible applied.


A Member queried the cost and that Lincolnshire County Council along with the Police Authority were amongst the largest contributors.


The Head of Revenues, Benefits and Customer Service continued that the cost of the Council Tax Scheme was 100% borne by the District Council as it was a local scheme that had been agreed to adopt.  The Committee were informed by the Chief Finance Officer that Cabinet were originally mindful not to incorporate into the scheme as other district councils within the county had changed their stance on the scheme and the original intention was to take the scheme forward together so as to prevent a ‘postcode lottery’.  However only 2 district councils proceeded with the scheme.


The Head of Revenues, Benefits and Customer Service confirmed that a report heard at Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny on 23 November 2021 paragraph 7.5 stated:


‘Should the Council wish to approve the proposal of the Council Tax Discount for the Special Constables, this will be a direct cost to the General Fund of circa £9,564 for the awards relating to 2021/22.’


It was proposed, seconded, and AGREED that the Committee:


a)         recommended to Cabinet the proposed Local Council Tax Support Scheme for 2023/24 after considering the feedback from the recent consultation.





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