Consultation Letter

Our response to Nottingham City Council's Consultation

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Defend Council Tax Benefits Campaign is writing to you regarding the proposed abolition of Council Tax Benefit Scheme and its replacement by local Council Tax Schemes and regarding your consultation.
Please note that we have written ‘Don’t know’ to questions 7 and 8 because the questions are slanted as is the options for answers in question 9

This is dealt with more fully in our response

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Defend Council Tax Benefits Campaign condemns the Con-Dem government’s proposals.

Aim of the campaign

To oppose the proposed abolition of Council Tax Benefit and its replacement by local Council Tax Schemes; to campaign for councils to refuse to pass on the cuts to its local community; to support those who are unable to pay their council tax due to the proposed changes; to call on councils not to pursue those who are unable to pay their Council tax due to the council's changes

Under the misnamed ‘Welfare Reform Act’, the government is proposing to abolish the national Council Tax Benefit scheme which is centrally funded and make all councils in England bring in their own scheme from April 2013. This is with less funding, aiming to save around £410 million in England, approximately 10% of current costs. In Nottingham and Nottinghamshire the cut is around £13.29 million. For Nottingham City Council the shortfall is closer to 15% of what Nottingham City Council currently pays out in Council Tax Benefit.  According to a report by Broxtowe Borough Council (July 2012), they estimate the loss to Nottingham City Council to be £6,185,000 as the billing authority and £5,280,000 as receiving authority. 

The government wants councils to cut benefits as part of the attack on the welfare state
to make the 99% pay for the bankers’ and the system’s crisis. The government wants to make benefits so awful that people will work for as little as employers want to pay. Hardly surprising, some in the government want to get rid of the National Minimum Wage.

A recent report in the Guardian newspaper (Tuesday 16th October) based on Freedom of Information requests by “False Economy” reported that councils were resigned to seeing residents refusing to pay their council tax. Nottingham City Council’s proposals mean that many people will not be able to afford to pay their council tax.

·         Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Defend Council Tax Benefits Campaign calls on the council to commit to not pursuing people who cannot afford their council tax.

The BBC has reported that the Tory, Patrick now Lord Jenkin, who designed what became known as the "poll tax" in the 1980s has warned that Council Tax Benefit cuts risk creating a "poll tax Mark 2".

Despite Nottingham City Council saying it will campaign for changes to the government’s proposals, it is implementing them and proposing savage attack along with Derby and Leicester councils.

Nottingham City Council is proposing amongst other measures:

·         With some similarity to the disastrous poll tax, that all working age people would have to pay at least 20% of their Council Tax bill with some similarity to the poll tax. The councils own consultation document provides examples of the increased payments the council would expect which will be unaffordable for many Council Tax Benefit recipients and would mean a choice between paying a Council tax Bill or putting towards necessities such as food or ever rising utility bills  

Nottingham City Council is proposing

·         a property band restriction. Council Tax Benefit would be based on a maximum of a band B property. Therefore, if one member of a couple worked and one did not and the working person lost their job – they would pay:

Ø  If in a band B property, £251 per year - £5 a week
Ø  If in a band D property £606.92 a year – £11.67 per week – a massive 37% of their council tax

This proposal is penalising people for no other reason than they live in a property banded above Band B. Whilst the council states that is 5.08% of those currently receiving Council Tax Benefit, unemployment and short time working is affecting more and more people. Illness can prevent people working whatever their property band. In addition, once the principle is implemented of a property restriction, the local authority may well argue for a Band A restriction (as mentioned as an option in question 9) once funds are reduced even further by the government.

Nottingham City Council is proposing:

·         to reduce the upper savings limit to £6,000.  Savings of £6,000 is not a large amount when compared to the huge salaries of the government, MPs, the private funders of the Conservative Party and the bankers with their bonuses. Nottingham City Council’s proposal is even harsher than the current limits £16,000 and will cause hardship

Nottingham City Council is penalising people and denying Council Tax Benefit to people who e.g. due to bereavement receive some monies or are saving up for their retirement (which is encouraged) or who perhaps receive some redundancy pay (having suffering the loss of their job)  

The Guardian newspaper has reported Councils already believe that up to half of people on low incomes will not pay their council tax and there is little the councils can do because it will not be cost effective.

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Defend Council Tax Benefits Campaign

·         opposes all changes to Council Tax Benefit that are a detriment including the proposals that all working age people would have to pay at least 20% of their Council tax; we oppose the reduction in the savings limits; we oppose the changes proposed for the Second Adult rebate and for non-dependents

·         calls on the local authority to make clear that it will not pursue those on low incomes including those at work because it would not be cost effective

Nottingham City Council proposes wants to remove backdating.

This will inevitably affect the vulnerable who may not be able to make a claim without help. Normal local authority practice is to commence a claim from the Monday after the claim is received.  It is unreasonable to expect people to be able to guarantee that they can make their claim in advance or on the first Monday. For those who need help and support making their claim and/or whose circumstances are such that it is not realistic to expect them to make their claim on time, they would be penalised by this proposal.

As the local authority has a duty under the regulations to protect the vulnerable, we believe removing backdating is in conflict with this duty.

Situations arise, whereby the claimants may lose their job without much notice. Is Nottingham City Council to back date claims in these circumstances? Will Nottingham City Council backdate acclaim if the previous person liable for the Council Tax has died or because an exemption had been removed? Does the local authority truly believe that in these circumstances, claims will arrive ‘on time’?

Nottingham City Council is proposing setting a minimum award level

The wording of this proposal can be confusing. Initially, it might appear that this proposal means that all those who are entitled to receive some Council Tax Benefit would have their entitlement made up to a minimum of £2 or £4 per week. However, this does not appear to be the case. It appears that the local authority is proposing that anyone who would receive less than the £2/ week or £4 /week proposed would lose their entitlement. If this is so, it is a petty, penny pinching approach.

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Defend Council Tax Benefits Campaign opposes the end of backdating;

Protecting pensioners

Currently, the government has exempted pensioners (approximately 1/3 of Council Tax Benefit recipients) from this latest attack but we believe that if this government is successful in abolishing the national Council Tax Benefit scheme due to a lack of fight by local authorities, they will look to make further cuts in the funding available and will consider removing the safeguard for pensioners.

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Defend Council Tax Benefits Campaign question whether the local authority has effectively considered how it will implement its scheme and prevent any detriment to pensioners.

Will the local authority systems automatically pick up that a Council Tax Scheme recipient is not of working age and that person should not suffer a detriment by the local authority proposals?

Will the local authority systems automatically pick up that a Council Tax Scheme recipient has a birthday during the year and is no longer of working age and that person should not suffer a detriment by the local authority proposals?

What will be the situation in households where there are two adults who are jointly and severally liable if one of the adults is not of working age?

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Defend Council Tax Benefits Campaign would expect that the local authority takes responsibility for ensuring that those adults who are no longer of working age do not suffer a detriment.

Is the local authority attempting to place the onus on to the claimant to inform the local authority if they are no longer of working age or will the local authority accept that it is their responsibility? The former would not only be the council trying to absolve itself of responsibility but would lead to non working age adults suffering a detriment and raise the question whether the local authority was really attempting to protect those  adults not of working age.

How will the ending of backdating not be a detriment to a non working age adult who does not make their claim ‘on time’ - or will the local authority retain backdating for non working age adults

Under the government’s proposals, any increased demand for Council Tax Benefit e.g. due to job losses or reduced income such as from short time working, has to come from the pot of money already allocated by the government.

·         Greater need means less is available for each recipient and year on year, if Nottingham City Council does not fight, it will be re-assessing claimants income and expected need and looking how to make the savings (e.g. cuts in benefits/increased charges).

·         If the Con-Dem proposals are not stopped, if Nottingham City Council does not build a campaign to prevent these attacks on its local population, there will be further cuts in the money allocated by the government each year and Nottingham City Council will be faced with making even more draconian cuts in entitlements.

Nottingham City Council (and all other councils) should do everything in their power to refuse to pass on central government cuts on and Nottingham City Council should stand firm to pay Nottingham residents according to their benefit needs based on the existing system. 

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Defend Council Tax Benefits Campaign would want to campaign with the Labour Council if it was truly willing to lead a serious fight for funding to retain the current scheme and if it refuses to pass the cuts on either by increased charges and/or cuts in benefit entitlement.

Where available, councils should use reserves to cover any shortfall and to buy time to build a mass campaign for properly funded councils and the return of monies lost due to reductions in central government funding. Nottingham City Council should stop using highly paid external consultants which costs millions of pounds.

If the council does not retain the current scheme, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Defend Council Tax Benefits Campaign will support those unable to pay their council tax.

With regard to questions 7, 8 these are slanted questions and a Yes or No answer cannot answer them properly. The local authority links increasing support for particular households with reducing Council Tax Benefit by even more and/or making further restrictions such as a Band A property restriction.

The local authority should be leading a campaign, fighting for proper funding from the government.

 It is clear that some households will need more support than others based on their needs and paid in accordance with the existing Council Tax Benefit system, but this should not be used to separate groups into “deserving” and “non-deserving”.

The present system provides benefit to people with a wide range of needs and different circumstances. None of these groups should be excluded, and neither should there be an “across the board” cut for any or all groups. The present system, based on the needs of the people of Nottingham, should be allowed to continue and not be cut by an arbitrary figure by central government.

Equality Impact Assessment  

Nottingham City Council has a duty to ensure its proposals have been Equality Impact Assessed and should seek to ensure that no person affected shall suffer a detriment either directly or indirectly as a result of their ‘protected characteristics’.

Has the local authority carried out an Equality Impact Assessment of its proposals and when is it to be published and made readily available?

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Defend Council Tax Benefits Campaign
Our response to Rushcliffe.

 Council Tax support consultation

23 August 2012

Rushcliffe is now consulting on its draft council tax support scheme, the replacement for council tax benefit. The consultation ends on 2 November.  The council will consider all views put forward and make a decision on the new scheme at its council meeting on 13 December.

The Government is abolishing council tax benefit in April 2013 and has asked councils to develop their own scheme to ensure residents get help to pay council tax. These changes are part of the nationwide welfare reform.

When the new scheme comes into force, Rushcliffe’s funding will be reduced by an estimated 13.4%, so the new scheme needs to take this into account while meeting the Government’s aims and protecting the neediest residents.

The majority of claimants will see no change. Pensioners will be protected and there will be no changes to their benefits. It is also proposed that families with dependent children are protected from the main change.  The main change under the draft scheme is that council tax support will be based on 90% (or optionally 85%), of the actual council tax bill, instead of being based on the whole bill as it is currently.  Other changes put forward in the proposal are that residents with over £10,000 (or optionally £12,000) in savings should not receive any Council Tax Support. Claims can be backdated for Council Tax Support for 3 months. Changes are also proposed where there are non-dependents in the household
John Cranswick, portfolio holder for finance said: “We want to protect the most vulnerable residents, while encouraging people to work where it pays them to do so.”

More details about the scheme are on the Council Tax support consultation page.

Council tax is changing

What’s happening?

The Government is planning to abolish Council Tax Benefit in April 2013. It has asked individual councils across the country to develop their own Council Tax Support Scheme to ensure residents still get the help they need to pay their Council Tax. These changes are part of the Government commitment to Welfare Reform, a policy change which aims to make working more attractive and make more effective use of resources to reduce the country’s dependency on state benefits.

When the Government hands over funding for the new Scheme, the overall amount we have to distribute within Rushcliffe will be reduced by an estimated 13.4%. We need to design our local Scheme taking into account Government aims, the money available, the impact on residents and the need to protect certain groups of residents.

Why are we consulting?

We have until January 2013 to design a new Scheme and need your help to make the best possible use of the money available. That is why we are giving you the opportunity to have your say on the changes we need to make to Council Tax Benefit.

The 12 week consultation period will run from Monday 13 August to Friday 2 November 2012. After that, we will consider all of the views put forward and the Council will make a decision on the new Council Tax Support Scheme on 13 December 2012. The new Scheme will come into force on 1 April 2013 and, if you currently receive Council Tax Benefit, this is when you may see a change in the amount of support you receive from the Council.

How are we consulting?

If you currently receive Council Tax Benefit, we will write to you in August to explain the changes we propose making and to ask you what you think about the draft Council Tax Support Scheme. We have developed a guide to explain the changes and a questionnaire to help you tell us what you think.

The guide and questionnaire can also be downloaded from this website. Or you can fill the survey in online
We have also written to a number of organisations which help people who currently claim benefits to find out how they think people will be affected by the changes we need to make. These include the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Sure Start and the Rushcliffe Advice Network.

We are also consulting with those who represent our residents – Rushcliffe’s elected councillors – and other public organisations such as the County Council, Parish Councils, Nottinghamshire Police, and Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue, who are also affected.

What is the Rushcliffe Council Tax Support scheme?

The Rushcliffe Council Tax Support scheme is still draft. This means that some things may change as a result of the consultation. The main principles underlying the scheme are:
  • The new scheme will principally be based on the way Council Tax Benefit is currently calculated
  • Pensioners are protected as required by Government  – they will see no change in the amount of support they get from the Council
  • Currently, Council Tax Benefit is calculated using the actual Council Tax bill. Under the draft scheme your support will be based on 90%, or optionally 85%, of the bill. However, we propose to protect families with children from this change.
  • Residents with over £10,000, or optionally £12,000, in savings will not receive any Council Tax Support
  • Residents will be able to backdate claims for Council Tax Support for 3 months
  • Second adult rebate will be removed for all claimants
  • The non-dependant deduction will be increased by 20%
We have been working with neighbouring councils to ensure our schemes are broadly similar to minimise the differences experienced by Council Tax Support recipients in different parts of the County.

Can I respond to the consultation if I live in the Borough but do not receive Council Tax Benefit?

Yes, we are interested in the views of all residents because the Council Tax Support Scheme is supposed to be a local scheme which reflects local needs. In addition, most residents will know someone who receives help with their Council Tax bill from the Council and, therefore, will have an idea about how the changes will affect them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Council Tax?

Council Tax is a local tax on domestic properties based on the value of that property.  Each home is placed in one of eight valuation bands based on its value on 1st April 1991. The Borough Council is responsible for collecting Council Tax but the overall amount collected is distributed between the parish, district and county councils, the Nottinghamshire Police, and Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service. The Council Tax pays for public services including refuse collection, social services, environmental health, community safety and education. 

Who has to pay Council Tax?

Council Tax is a charge which is usually paid by the people who live in a property. The full tax assumes that there are at least two adults living in the property. If there is only one occupant in the home, they may be eligible for a discount. The tax is also paid by the property owner where the property is unoccupied and no relief is applicable.

What is Council Tax Benefit?

Council Tax Benefit is a means tested benefit that helps people on a low or no income to pay their Council Tax. It is administered by local councils using rules set nationally by the Government. No money is paid to the claimant. Instead, their Council Tax bill is reduced by the amount of their benefit.

In April 2013, the Government is abolishing Council Tax Benefit in favour of local Council Tax Support.

What is changing?

From April 2013, the Government intends to abolish Council Tax Benefit. Every council will have to replace it with a local Council Tax Support scheme. The Government is giving councils less money to pay for the new scheme. In Rushcliffe the cut will be approximately 13.4%. The amount of money available for Council Tax Support is expected to stay the same even if the number of people claiming increases or the Council Tax charge goes up. Council Tax Support will work more like a discount than a benefit.

Who will these changes affect?

All current working age Council Tax Benefit claimants could be affected by these changes and might see the amount of support they get from the Council change. Although pensioners will move onto the new scheme, they will be protected and will not have their support reduced under the new scheme.
For further information please read our information guide.

Who will be able to get the new Council Tax Support?

Anyone who currently receives Council Tax Benefit will be assessed for the new Council Tax Support. It is likely that most people who qualify for Council Tax Benefit will get some Council Tax Support. Support for pensioners and most families with children will not notice any change under the new scheme.

How much will I have to pay?

Depending on how the new scheme is designed, it is likely that most working age people who qualify for Council Tax Support will have to pay more than they do now or than they would have done under Council Tax Benefit. The outcome of this consultation will help us to decide how much more people in different groups will have to pay. Pensioners and most families with children will not have to pay more than they do now.

Will I have to re-apply?

Residents who currently receive Council Tax Benefit will not have to re-apply under the new scheme. We may contact you for additional information to re-assess your claim under the new scheme in the New Year.