Council tax support has now been in place for three years. Following extensive consultation back in 2012, Ashford Borough Council introduced a localised council tax support scheme to replace council tax benefit, which was phased out by the government. The principle of the council’s scheme is to support working-age claimants to return to employment.
The existing scheme, which is based on a countywide scheme with local variances, has worked well and council tax collection rates have remained at over 98%. Following the consultation, Ashford Borough Council adjusted its proposed scheme and is proud to be the only borough in the county offering additional protection to disabled claimants and carers.
- Working age-claimants contribute a minimum of 10% towards their council tax
- Disabled claimants and carers contribute a minimum of 5%
- Pensioners remain unaffected by the changes
The scheme was, and continues to be, partially funded through changes to exemptions and discounts, that saw the removal of the 10% second home council tax discount, the period of exemption on short-term empty properties reduced from six months to six weeks, and an additional premium of 50% being placed on homes that had been empty for longer than two years.
When council tax support began, there was a three-year agreement across Kent on a countywide scheme with the council given administrative support to help collect and process it. It has therefore been agreed that this scheme will continue with its local variances for one further year. This is so that a full assessment can be made as to the effects of the roll-out of Universal Credit, and further welfare reforms being introduced by the government.
There are some changes that are proposed however:
- The government had previously increased or ‘uprated’ working-age allowances. These will now be frozen and this will be passed on through the council tax support scheme from April 2016
- The family premium will be removed for new council tax support claimants from April 2016. This will effectively reduce the amount of support given to families by £3.50 per week for new claimants from April 2016 only
- New claimants will no longer be able to have their claims backdated for six months. However, the council is proposing to enable claimants to request their claim is backdated for council tax support for up to three months where exceptional circumstances apply
There will be another extensive review of council tax support in the autumn of 2016 ahead of a much revised scheme being implemented in the 2017-18 financial year.
Cllr Neil Shorter, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for Finance, said: “This is a scheme that was soundly planned for, communicated well to residents and implemented effectively. We are pleased that the scheme will continue in an almost identical format. We feel it is right to adopt the principle of supporting people back into work while providing additional support to those, such as disabled claimants, who will find it harder to do so.
“I would draw everyone’s attention to the changes regarding backdated payments. We are able to propose a longer period of backdating than has otherwise been put forward, but even so the change does mean that people need to get in touch with our revenues and benefits team as soon as they feel they will need to make a claim.”
Anyone who has any views on the proposed changes is asked to email: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: Revenues and Benefits Team, Ashford Borough Council, Civic Centre, Tannery Lane, Ashford, Kent TN23 1PL by 11th January 2016.