Rother council leaders welcome changes to tax reduction scheme

Bexhill Town Hall SUS-160804-165750001
Bexhill Town Hall SUS-160804-165750001

Rother council leaders have welcomed proposals to overhaul the authority’s council tax reduction scheme in light of the rollout of Universal Credit.

At meeting on Monday (December 3), cabinet members gave their backing to plans to replace its current council tax reduction scheme with a new, banding-based scheme.

By introducing a banding system, Rother District Council says it hopes to make it easier for residents who receive Universal Credit to receive a discount on the amount of money they pay in council tax.

This is because the current system is thought to be too inconsistent, an officer’s report says, with even a single penny changing the amount of discount a resident would be entitled to.

Praising the proposals, Cllr Sally Hart (Con. – Eastern Rother) said: “We are doing this scheme because of the rollout of Universal Credit, to make life easier for people who are on housing benefit. I think that is amazing.

“I also wanted to note …  that we have 47 fewer claimants under this scheme, but with a slightly higher cost. This means we are actually putting residents first.”

The new scheme has four bands, with an 80 per cent discount being the largest and a 20 per cent discount the smallest.

Each applicant’s income and family circumstances are taken into account when deciding what discount they can receive, an officer’s report says.

But the scheme also limits the income-based discount after two children – meaning larger families will no longer receive extra assistance.

For example, a family with four children earning £300 per week would receive the same council tax discount as a family with two children who earn the same amount.

The proposals are expected to increase the overall cost of the scheme – increasing from £6,334,390 to £6,351,260.

However, the proposals are also expected to see 47 of the council’s current claimants lose their discount entirely. In an officer’s report, the council says it is confident the proposals minimise the impact on its most vulnerable residents.

During the meeting, Cllr Elenor Kirby-Green (Con. Darwell) said: “I just want to reiterate … that this is actually going to cost the council more money.

“I want to make sure that the public are aware that this isn’t about saving the council money it is about making it more accessible and easier for you to pay.

“Ultimately, it is going to cost us more, so it is not a cost-saving measure.”

A final vote on whether to adopt the proposals will take place at a meeting of the full council sometime in the coming weeks, most likely on December 17.

If approved, the new scheme will come into force from April 1 2019.

The proposed scheme also sees the withdrawal of the Class D uninhabitable property discount.

Currently council tax payers can receive a 50 per cent discount if their property is uninhabitable or undergoing structural repair. This only applies for a period of up to 12 months.

However the council is proposing to withdraw this discount, bringing it in line with a number of other Sussex councils, including Hastings Borough Council.

Buildings which are legally forbidden from being occupied – i.e. declared unfit for human habitation – will continue to receive a 100 per cent discount under the proposals.

Huw Oxburgh , Local Democracy Reporting Service