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.

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