Wednesday, 31 October 2012

NCC Withdraws Appeal Against Housing Allocations Disclosure Decision

Good News!

I think anyway.

A while ago I wrote about NCC's appeal against an Information Commissioner decision ordering them to release minutes of meetings between themselves and Notts Police, during which it was decided that the Police wouldn't be investigating after all.

According to the Information Rights Tribunal's current cases list, that appeal has now been withdrawn. This presumably means those minutes will be published in the not too distant future. Scroll down to case number EA/2012/0112, or do search for 'Nottingham'.

I will be keeping an eye on the disclosure log.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

DCLG Cash - Update

Update on my post yesterday.

Cllr David Trimble has just apparently told a meeting of voluntary sector reps that NCC is going to be applying to the DCLG for a share of the money that has been offered to councils who restrict cuts to Council Tax Benefit.

Justs had a brief Twitter convo with someone there who was live tweeting it -

This is pretty major because it will require a total redesign of NCC's current proposed scheme.

More if and when we get it.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Will NCC Pick Up the Crumbs from Central Government for Council Tax?

As the consultation exercise for the replacement of Council Tax Benefit nears its end two things spring to mind.

Firstly, NCC has not responded to my FoI request for the costings of the individual measures they propose in their new scheme, impairing my ability to respond properly to the consultation (some might suggest this is more than a coincidence. Worth noting that the facilitators at the consultation event I attended promised to forward this info too but no cigar). Secondly there seems to have been a bit of a panic at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Possibly following evidence of panic at local authorities who are preparing for large rates of non-payment (NCC said at the consultation event that they are expecting collection rates to drop to 70%. But then they also said they'd send me a bunch of costings...), DCLG have announced a £100m transition fund which authorities can apply too to offset the cost of schemes that protect the poorest.

If this money was divided up among all authorities in proportion to their share of council tax benefit expenditure it would provide something approaching an extra £800k for Nottingham. However, there's no telling whether this is how it is intending to allocate the money and not all councils will be eligible because their support schemes don't fit the criteria which are;

  • those who would be on 100 per cent support under current council tax benefit arrangements pay between zero and no more than 8.5 per cent of their council tax liability;
  • the taper rate does not increase above 25 per cent;
  • there is no sharp reduction in support for those entering work - for claimants currently entitled to less than 100 per cent support, the taper will be applied to an amount at least equal to their maximum eligible award.
That first one is going to prove tricky for Nottingham because, as we've seen, they intend to make those even on maximum help pay 20% of Council Tax. I've estimated that this measure alone is likely to raise £3.5m so a grant of £800k isn't likely to tempt NCC to join in. Furthermore, it is a one-off transitional fund and NCC is likely to see that as saving problems up for the future, as they have done with the government grants for freezing Council Tax.

So my guess is the they will snub it. In fairness it is crumbs from the table and likely designed to embarrass councils like Nottingham when they don't join in. On the other hand, I can't help feeling they should clutch every straw that comes our way.

I think it is well worth anybody going to the last listed consultation event tomorrow (10am Loxley House) and bringing this up. I will try to go myself but the usual health issues make this probably unlikely.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Evidence of Rip-Off in Council Tax Benefit Replacement

Following my visit to one of the consultation events last week one or two more snippets have emerged in a Post article.

At the consultation event the facillitators confirmed that the cuts described in the consultation exercise did amount to the £6m allegedly being cut from Council Tax Support. I asked about removing discounts for empty properties and was told that was completely separate, no decisions had been made and clear attempts were made to steer the conversation elsewhere.

Well, the Post no states that the NCC has decided to remove all empty homes discounts which means it has got an extra £2 1/4m to play with. So why does it still want to cut £6m from Council Tax Support at the expense of the worst off in Nottingham? And why was this not in the consultation?

The answer, I believe, is that the Politburo did not want us riff-raff benefit claimants to know that there was no need to cut Council Tax Support so much and they could use the money to glad-rag their businessmen friends, pay for plastic policemen and other pet projects, while sending the bailiffs out after the likes of us who won't be able to pay.

The truth is that Collins and Chapman don't give a shit about the poor and it's all crocodile tears. The Tory decision to protect pensioners is just as helpful to them as the government because, in local as well as national elections, pensioners are among the groups most likely to vote. Poor people, on the other hand are much less likely to vote so dump the cuts on them, blame central government and there should be minimum disruption with the 'project'.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Council Tax Benefit Replacement; It Moves On...

So, we've talked about this before haven't we, this replacement for Council Tax Benefit that's coming up? Although I'm not sure I've mentioned on here the council's consultation exercise that's still going on, although I have mentioned it on Facebook and Twitter quite a lot.

By the way, before I go on, this consultation exercise is still going on and I strongly advise you to go along to one of the remaining events. It's a different exercise to the one about three months ago so don't go thinking that just because you went to one of those that it's not worth going to one of the second tranche. Also, there are various questionnaires as well as the events. Anyway check the link if you haven't already, it's worth it.

So, the point of this post is that yesterday I went to the consultation event at Bulwell Riverside. I'd decided I had to go but wasn't looking forward to it because there was a strong chance that one of my mortal enemies from Employment Tribunal days would be leading the event. As it happened there wasn't but there was the chair of Nottm City Unison branch in attendance

That's right, just me. And a union bod. And the two peeps doing the presentation. You wouldn't think that, for decades Bulwell flew in the face of conventional politics by repeatedly electing a Communist then Green to the City Council would you? Where were you all?

Whinge aside, I did attempt to live tweet the event and if you want to see that it's here. It also forms the basis of the rest of this blog.

So, yeah we arrived and said our hellos. The event leaders said they weren't Council Tax/Benefit bods but were part of the policy team but were confident they could still manage technical questions. In all honesty they did a pretty fair job of it.

They started off by quickly going through the background stuff which was on the website. The first useful fact that popped up was that there were 19k households in Nottingham currently receiving maximum Council Tax benefit, all of whom, 'if' the proposals for the new scheme were adopted, would all have to suddenly find AT LEAST 20% 0f their full Council Tax, much more if your property is band C or higher. This will vary from about £160 to £2,200 per year. When you're on Income Support/IBJSA/IBESA. Do NOT be property rich in Nottingham next April.

Another important issue that came out fairly quickly (because I asked about it) was the fact that NCC's proposals envisage ringfencing the cuts to central government funding to current Council Tax Benefit recipients alone. I suspected this all along, after all they played a similar trick with Supporting People funding.

We then got a bit more into the nitty-gritty and I challenged a couple of points -

I said that it couldn't be justified to ignore war pensions as income in the apparent economic climate. Initially they said the law required the council to do so but, after a short discussion, they accepted this wasn't correct.

I then asked if the individual proposals had been costed, I was told they had been but they weren't available at the meeting. They did confirm that the total savings amounted to the £6m needed and they agreed to email me the full calculations.

I then questioned the lack of any mention of the new powers to remove discounts for second homes and long term empty buildings. I was told this was being considered but was 'separate'. I made it clear that I thought this was unacceptable because it gave the impression that there was no alternative to recouping the cuts in central funding from benefit claimants whereas, in fact, there was a new source of income that could be used to offset some of those cuts. I got the distinct impression that plans to utilise these measures were well underway but that any savings were going elsewhere and us benefit claimants were on our own. This one might be a runner...

Perhaps one of the most disturbing admissions came when I suggested that, if they were going to slap a load of new charges on extremely poor people than, by application of advanced 'blood from a stone' theory, collection rates may well take a nosedive. They admitted that internal discussions had suggested that collection rates of around 70% were likely. Council Tax collection rates are currently well into the 90-95% range. That's not so much a nosedive, more jumping off a cliff.

It's fair to say nobody at NCC likes this situation. That said, I'm not so sure there isn't a truckload of cynicism going on. It should be remembered that the poorest and most vulnerable among us are less likely to vote, take part in consultations or fight back against cuts until it's too late. This is exactly the group who are bearing the brunt of these cuts. Personally I don't think that's a coincidence.


I did a couple of back of envelope type calculations/estimates. Firstly, I reckon that removing the 50% discount for second homes would raise around £600k to offset the cuts. Secondly, bearing in mind that there are 19k people currently receiving full council tax benefit, I estimate that the absolute minimum the new proposals will save from this group alone is around £3.5m. And the assumptions I made in that mean it is a ridiculously conservative estimate indeed.



Thanks to Jean in the comments for pointing out that second home discount is in fact normally 10% so my above estimate is clearly wrong.

In addition I have found a previous FoI response from the council which provides an estimate that £77k/yr could be raised by removing the second home discount. It also provides an estimate of a further £2.179m if all empty homes discounts were removed. As such there is a potential £2.256m that could be raised from empty homes.

There will be many arguments for not removing some empty homes discounts entirely but there is clearly potential extra revenue here. personally, if nothing else I cannot see any argument for keeping any second home discount at all under the current financial climate.

Note also that the above only refers to removing discounts. It will also be possible for councils to charge greater than 100% for some long-term empty properties. Considering the significant desirability of policies disadvantaging keeping residential properties empty I would hope that extra charges of this nature would be a shoo-in, although how much extra it would raise I don't know.