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Legal warning over council tax benefit changes

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Legal warning over council tax benefit changes


Published by 24publishing for in Housing and also in Central Government, Communities, Local Government

Legal warning over council tax benefit changes Legal warning over council tax benefit changes

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Is your local authority planning to end 100% council tax relief?

It is up to local authorities to decide whether they need to consult again on individual council tax support schemes in order to qualify for a state grant, the Government has said.

Many local authorities had already consulted on new schemes – following the Government’s plans to abolish the current system and cut the funding  by 10% – when it announced that an extra £100m in grant would be available to help councils protect vulnerable people but only if schemes adopt specific criteria.

Critics of the reform - which will see councils run their own schemes from next year - warn the cuts will be pushed onto low-income working-age households as pensioners will be protected from reductions.

Today Exeter City Council announced it was being forced to end 100% council tax relief following funding cuts. 

It’s understood the Government has heeded concerns that the scheme could become communities secretary Eric Pickles’ ‘poll tax’ with councils having to end 100% relief for households and seek minimum monthly payments from everyone except pensioners.

In order to qualify for the grant, councils need to shape their local schemes so that those who would be on 100% support under current council tax benefit arrangements pay between zero and no more than 8.5% of their council tax liability.

However, asked in Parliament yesterday what legal advice he has received on whether councils will have to carry out a new consultation process if they adopt a new scheme of council tax relief in order to qualify for the transitional grant, communities minister Brandon Lewis (pictured) said it was up to councils to make that decision.

He said: “…the Government do not confirm or deny whether legal advice has been received on any issue. Whether further consultation is required is a decision for individual local authorities. Each local authority will have to make a judgment, taking into account the scope of its own initial consultation, the scale of any changes required and whether they require further consultation.”

Pressed by Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead, Teresa Pearce, on whether the Government will give councils more time to consider and consult on the criteria by extending the deadline beyond 31 January, which is the date by which councils must have schemes in place, Lewis said the deadlines were already tight.

He said: “We are very determined to ensure that the local authorities applying for funding—bearing in mind that it [is] a simple scheme and that we will take the word of their section 151 officers—will have the money in advance and in full in March, which means a tight deadline. However, if local authorities and local authority leaders are looking at improving their scheme, in order to work with the Government’s scheme to protect the most vulnerable, they should challenge their officers over whether they need consultation.”


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