Teignbridge to consult on a fairer council tax for low income households

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(Last Updated On: August 28, 2019)

In a bid to simplify the current system of local assistance for working-age households struggling to pay their Council Tax, Teignbridge District Council is planning to consult with those who would be affected by any changes, to ensure it moves to the fairest possible new scheme.

In a bid to simplify the current system of local assistance for working-age households struggling to pay their Council Tax, Teignbridge District Council is planning to consult with those who would be affected by any changes, to ensure it moves to the fairest possible new scheme.

Complications for claimants caused by links with Universal Credit have persuaded local authorities across Devon to seek a simpler Council Tax Support format for households struggling to make ends meet.

It’s expected that Teignbridge’s new scheme will be fairer for households with lower incomes, with some households on higher incomes paying more. The Exceptional Hardship Fund will remain in place as a safety net – both during the transition period and in any ongoing cases of genuine need.

The proposed new scheme would also include a return-to-work incentive for Universal Credit and other benefit claimants, by continuing support for one month beyond the date they resume employment.

Before Councillors decide on the final structure of a discount scheme based on income bands and household composition, all affected claimants will have a chance to express their views through a questionnaire which can be completed online, but with paper copies also available.

On 5 September, Teignbridge’s Executive Board will be asked to give the go-ahead for the survey, which would start before the end of the month and end in early November. Following any adjustments resulting from feedback received, the scheme would come into force in April 2020, at the start of the new Council Tax year. It will be kept under review and adjusted as necessary the following year, in the light of experience.

The district’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme has been in place since 2013, when local authorities all over the country had to bring in a new system for working age residents to replace the council tax benefit scheme, which was being scrapped by the Westminster Government.

Teignbridge currently reduces Council Tax by up to 100 per cent, depending on the personal circumstances of working-age residents who are eligible for support. The district council has pledged to continue with this 100 per cent maximum award, which is more generous than many other local authorities.

District councils across the county are jointly working with Devon County Council to find the fairest scheme for their area, taking into account local needs.

Two councils in the county – South Hams and West Devon – introduced an ‘income-banded’ scheme in April of this year and so far the new arrangements seem to be working well.

Now Teignbridge is gearing up to ask the current recipients of Council Tax Support to comment on the proposed changes.

Cllr Jackie Hook, Teignbridge’s executive member for Housing, said: “It’s essential that we improve our current arrangement by creating a scheme that will remove the confusion arising from the alignment with Universal Credit. But the system we’re proposing to introduce will do much more than just being easier for claimants to understand.

“There will be a clear formula enabling residents to work out how much Council Tax support they can expect to receive. Applications will be easier, with a simple online form and decisions will be instant. Support will be more consistent, only changing if a claimant’s circumstances move them into a different band. This will make household budgeting easier, without the need for frequent recalculation of monthly instalments”.

She added: “By making applications easier, it’s possible that more eligible people may be encouraged to take up the chance of joining the support scheme. There are advantages for the council too, with reduced admin costs, fewer appeals and reduced risk to its annual Council Tax collection performance.

“We intend writing to every affected household to make them aware of the proposed changes and inviting them to take part in the online survey. Residents can also phone us to ask for a paper copy – or they can come into our offices and receive help with completing the form if they wish. The best way to ensure our new scheme is fit for purpose is to ask the people who will be using it, so I would urge everyone who receives a letter to help us by filling in the survey form”.

Teignbridge District Council will also be consulting with the other main recipients of Council Tax revenue – Devon County Council, the Police and Fire & Rescue Service. Once all responses have been analysed, the new scheme will go forward for approval by Full Council in January, with implementation in April next year.

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