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Department for Communities and Local Government [October 2011] Localising Support for council tax. Our response.

Localising support for council tax in England: Consultation

3 September 2012

This Department for Communities and Local Government consultation, published August 2011, set out proposals on key elements of a framework for local support for council tax, which will replace the current council tax benefit system in England.

In effect support for council tax will be treated as one of the discounts and exemptions that residents can claim rather as a benefit on top of these.

The closing date for responses was 14 October 2011.

Disability Rights UK responded to this consultation:

Background

Under local support for council tax each local authority will have a duty to run a scheme to provide support for council tax in its area. It will also be under a duty to protect those who have reached state pension credit age. Local authorities should also consider ensuring support for other vulnerable groups as well as avoiding disincentives to move into work. Apart from this it will be up to each local authority to decide its scheme.

The consultation suggests that appeals under the new scheme could be heard in the Housing Chamber in the First-tier Tribunal in line with new arrangements for council tax appeals.

Currently funding forcouncil tax benefit is paid by the Department for Work and Pensions out of their Annually Managed Expenditure to local authorities as a reimbursement of their expenditure according to nationally-set criteria.

In future the funding to be distributed to local authorities will be cash limited and will be paid from the Departmental Expenditure Limit budget of the Department for Communities and Local Government. The amount to be made available will be reduced by 10 per cent. The Department expects to deliver this money to local authorities as grant.

Devolved administrations

The Welfare Reform Bill contains provisions for council tax benefit in its current form to be abolished across the whole of Great Britain. As local government finance is devolved to Scotland and Wales, the Government expects that the Devolved Administration Governments will put forward their own proposals. The Department for Communities and Local Government, HM Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions will continue to work with the Devolved Administration Governments to ensure that schemes can be developed within the appropriate framework of powers.

Government response to the consultation responses

On 16 December 2011 the Government published its response to the consultation. Its response was:

  • that billing authorities would be responsible for developing the local scheme, though they are free to develop a scheme in partnership with or on behalf of other billing authorities.
  • pensioner protection will be achieved by keeping in place national rules, with eligibility and rates dfined in regulations broadly similar to those that currently exist. The Government will consider whether there are opportunities to simplify the way that support is calculated and administered for pensioners.
  • that the Department for Communities and Local Government will work closely with local authorities and the relevant representative organisations to ensure that local authorities understand their existing responsibilities in relation to vulnerable groups. Local authorities will be required to consult publicly on local schemes.
  • that the Government intends that the general principles of supporting work incentives will be set out in guidance which will help local authorities to design support. The Government will also consider what technical details around work incentives will help local authorities to consider interactions with Universal Credit and whether work incentives have been adequately supported. The Department will explore this in its work on the delivery of local schemes with local government representative organisations.
  • that local authorities will, as part of their scheme, need to set out the procedures to be followed by a claimant for making an application.
  • that appeals will be against the council tax demand notice which will set out how the council tax bill amount has been calculated, including the information used to calculate the amount of any council tax reduction awarded. Local authorities will be required to inform recipients of support how to appeal if they disagree with the council tax bill amount. Unresolved appeals will be made to the Valuation Tribunal for England
  • that the arrangements for individuals subject to immigration control or who are not habitually resident in the UK should continue under the framework for local support schemes.
  • that, administratively, the best way to implement a new scheme would be to follow the existing assessment system (which has the advantage of using existing IT and information sharing systems) but weighting the various components/premiums differently.

What next?

The new framework will be established in a local government finance bill to be introduced in this Parliamentary session, and in regulations. The Government will consult on the draft regulations.

It is intended that local authorities will establish their own local schemes by April 2013. The proposed timetable for implementation is:

Autumn/winter 2011-12

  • Government publishes a response to this consultation - done
  • Introduction of Local Government Finance Bill (included provisions for localisation of council tax support).
  • Central and local government begin working on model schemes.

Spring 2012

  • Primary legislation in passage through Parliament.
  • Government preparing and publishing draft secondary legislation.

Summer 2012

  • Primary legislation passed.
  • Secondary legislation prepared.
  • Local authorities designing and consulting on local schemes.

Autumn/winter 2012-13

  • Local authorities establishing local schemes – putting place systems, notifying claimants of changes.
  • Local authorities setting budgets.

Spring 2013

• Local schemes in operation.

Note: If a local authority fails to devise a scheme by 31 January 2013 then the Government will impose a default scheme on it. The government has produced draft regulations, for England only, which prescribe the scheme for those who have reached state pension credit age as well as the default scheme. You can view these at www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/lsctexplanatorynote.

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