Tuesday 28 August 2012

Council Tax Benefit Replacement; Progress, of Sorts...

We have a new Portfolio decision, re-announcing the consultation on how to replace Council Tax benefit with a local scheme as required by government. The consultation itself hasn't started yet, that's due on 3 September, about 4 weeks later than it was due to start. The irony of course is that the consultation period is only 8 weeks long when government guidelines suggest 12 weeks as a minimum. They are again justifying 8 weeks on the basis that they won't have time to formalise the scheme otherwise but, if they had only got the consultation out on time instead of just dicking about...

The decision does include important information about some of the main proposals for the scheme. Some of these are pretty horrific and include;
  • A maximum discount of 80% liability. Yes folks, NCC is taking us right back to 1990 where everyone 'has to make a contribution' of at least 20% of their council tax. That's a massive hole in the budget right there because it won't be collectable.
  • Almost as bad is installing a cap on your discount at Band B rate. This is preposterously low. It is likely that many authorities will attempt to focus cuts on higher value properties but remember, Band D is supposed to be the mid-point of Council Tax liability.
  • Reducing the upper capital limit from £16,000 to £6,000. This is the sort of amendment I feel able to support, or at least disagree with the least. 
  • Removing second adult rebate. Frankly hardly anyone claims this so I doubt that will make a huge amount of difference.
  • Removing backdating. This is simply petty and small-minded. NCC is planning to make savings at the expense of the vulnerable who might have problems making a claim e.g. those with mental health issues and those who are unaware of their entitlements. It's a fucking disgrace.
  • NCC will continue to fully disregard all war pensions. I'm sorry but this cannot be justified and appears to have been included purely for ears of PR reasons. This is not something they have to do now so why they are continuing to do so in the extreme circumstances of the new local scheme and its attendant cuts is beyond me.
So, there's only really one aspect proposed above that is anywhere near reasonable. The decision also repeats as fact that NCC will lose over £6m in central government support. I still haven't received a response to my FoI request on how this was calculated and until I do I cannot agree that the loss would be any more than £4m. Given the drastic nature of the cuts as described above I can only assume that NCC is intending to make larger cuts than is required in order to bail out other areas of expenditure, then blaming central government. Another PR bonus.

One other thing. Whoever drafted that portfolio decision talks throughout about people claiming Jobseekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance and Housing Benefit etc. However, when this new scheme arrives in 2013, these benefits will be replaced by Universal Credit. Not mentioning this does suggest that the author has arses and elbows issues.

Compare NCC's approach to Broxtowe Borough Council's. Now I realise that the two authorities are very different in size and economics but BBC have proposed keeping the council tax support scheme the same as Council Tax Benefit is now and covering the loss in central government grant by increasing charges on empty properties and second homes. Now Broxtowe probably has significantly more scope to do this than NCC but NCC doesn't appear to be taking such measures at all. That's simply not good enough.

So watch out for the consultation going live and do respond. NCC is dumping the problem on the worst off and that must not be allowed to happen. If it does I suggest you all move to Broxtowe.

1 comment:

tgnc said...

The portfolio holder for anything financial is Chapman.

His minions will obediently deliver this message that the cuts will leave a short fall.

If they are so certain that the shortfall is £6 million, do they know what the PIP and Universal Credit payments will be...