The Executive Member for Financial Sustainability submitted a report inviting Members to consider the latest available information around the current local Council Tax Support (CTS) scheme at East Herts and whether any changes to the scheme should be considered for 2022/23.
The Executive Member reminded Members that legislation only allowed Council Tax Support Schemes to operate for one year and the scheme had to be reviewed each year for ongoing approval by the Council. The Scheme that was now in place had been in place since 2013 and had taken over from the old Council Tax benefits system.
The Executive Member said that there were risks associated with increasing or reducing the Council Tax Reduction Scheme and he detailed these risks. He said that the options open to the Council were set out in the report and he invited Members to consider those options.
Councillor Curtis said that it was stated in the report that many of the customers affected by various recent welfare reforms had found that they had ended up with increasing levels of debt. He asked what consideration had been given to the impact of retaining the current scheme on the levels of debts incurred by economically disadvantaged people. He commented on whether the current scheme should be reviewed with other options being considered in the near future.
The Head of the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service said that during the last year, the government had made a large amount of money available to help Councils to support residents on Council Tax support by topping up awards by up to £150, subject to the difference between their full liability and their entitlement being less than this amount.
Members were advised that unused funding in that year had been moved into a hardship scheme for this year so that the Council could support more families and householders where there were outstanding arrears as people re-entered full time work after being on furlough or were seeking new employment.
Members were advised that the wider welfare reforms and the limitations on the number of spare rooms in their accommodation had restricted the amount of housing benefit the Council could pay or the amount of rent that could be claimed.
The Head of the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service said that the Officers who worked on Council Tax recovery were constantly very supportive in terms of arranging payment breaks or standing down summons costs if a particular resident was in financial hardship. Members were advised that the Council’s scheme was one of the more generous nationally and maintaining the current scheme would ensure stability to our customer base.
Councillor Brady said that she was aware that other authorities did not charge care leavers and these people represented a specific vulnerable group. The Executive Member for Financial Sustainability said that his understanding was that the legislation in England did not allow for particular consideration to be given for care leavers and the Council had to work within legislation.
The Head of the Revenues and Benefits Shared Service addressed the Committee in respect of the challenges faced by the Council in respect of care leavers being supported from any county or just in Hertfordshire.
Councillor Goldspink thanked the Executive Member and the Officer for the comprehensive report that had looked very carefully at all options and she was supportive of the conclusion that the scheme should be kept as it is for the moment.
Councillor Curtis proposed and Councillor Goldspink seconded, a motion that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee consider that there should be no change to the East Herts local Council Tax Support scheme for April 2022. After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, this motion was declared CARRIED.
RESOLVED – that Overview and Scrutiny Committee consider that there should be no change to the East Herts local Council Tax Support scheme for April 2022.