The Revenues and Benefits Manager attended the Committee to present the report and to answer questions.
The report detailed 8 possible options for a revised Council Tax Support/ Reduction Scheme. He said that the option that was proposed for recommendation was ‘Option 6.’ This was the option where working age minimum liability would be increased to 30% and entitlement restricted to band ‘D’ Council Tax liability. This would deliver approximately £360k in savings.
The Chairman said that to mitigate against any possible adverse impacts, he was proposing an additional recommendation whereby the Portfolio Holder be requested to set aside an additional £25k in the contingency budget for each year of the scheme’s operation to be drawn down by the Hardship Fund if required. This additional recommendation was seconded by the Vice Chairman.
Councillor Jeal pointed out that during the previous consultation, there had been just 154 responses out of 2000 people that had been consulted. He said that that is represented just 0.1% od Council Tax payers and so was in effect meaningless. He therefore proposed the following additional recommendation, which if accepted would be recommendation 2.5. This was seconded by Cllr Ruth McGregor.
The proposed new recommendation was that officers take measures to increase the response rate to the consultation by:
1. Setting a 1% response rate target;
2. Publicising the consultation link on the Council’s website and through social media;
3. Additionally consulting local organisations supporting residents in poverty and in relation to debt management- such as Citizen’s Advice, Living Well Bromley, Bromley Foodbank, Z2K, Children’s Poverty Action Group and Christians Against Poverty and others considered suitable by officers.
The Chairman felt that this would involve a disproportionate amount of work and was not something that he would recommend. The Revenues and Benefits Manager said that she would endeavour to increase the scope of the consultation by working with public affairs.
A Member expressed the view that it was important to get quality insights from charities. Another felt that during the process of the consultation, it would be good to mention other funds that may be available. The Chairman suggested that Members speak to the Director of Finance to see what funds may be available and then share that information with their constituents. A discussion took place concerning the Hardship Fund and how this should be brought to the attention of residents. The Revenues and Benefits Manager informed the Committee that applications to the Hardship Fund were now the highest that they had ever been and she was no longer expecting the fund to be under-utilised.
A Member asked how the Council assisted individuals who were not computer literate and it was explained that these individuals could present physically or make a call to the Council.
Members voted regarding the additional recommendation that was proposed by Cllr Jeal and seconded by Cllr Webber. There were 4 votes in favour of the recommendation and 9 against. The motion was lost.
The Chairman proposed the following revisions to the substantive recommendations which was seconded by the Vice Chairman, Councillor Slator.
2.1 Consider the Council Tax Support/Reduction scheme Options recommended for the public consultation exercise. The Executive Resources and Contracts Policy Development and Scrutiny Committee recommends that the Portfolio Holder adopt option 6 in Paragraph 4 of the report.
2.2 The Portfolio Holder to approve option 6 be recommended in the public consultation exercise for the Authority’s Council Tax Support/Reduction Scheme to come into effect from the year 2023/24.
2.3 The Portfolio Holder to agree that no automatic annual consultation will take place on the Council Tax Support/Reduction scheme, as has been the case in previous years, unless an agreed proposal is put forward to revise or replace the currently agreed scheme.
2.4 That the Portfolio Holder be requested to set aside an additional £25K in the contingency budget for each year of the scheme’s operation to be drawn down by the hardship fund if required.
A vote was taken on the revised substantive recommendations and the motion was carried by 9 votes to 6.
RESOLVED that the revised recommendations as noted above (2.1 to 2.4) be endorsed by the Portfolio Holder.