Oxford City Council is set to launch a public consultation on options for its council tax reduction (CTR) scheme for working age people.
The council is considering potential changes to CTR in 2022/23, and a consultation is a necessary step in this process.
Next week, the cabinet is expected to confirm plans for an eight-week consultation to start on Monday, 20 September.
Councils have been responsible for drawing up their own CTR schemes since the abolition of the national council tax benefit for working age people in April 2013. With the end of a government revenue support grant in 2019, the council now carries the full cost of its CTR scheme.
The economic impact of coronavirus means there has been a 14.2% increase in working age CTR claims compared to before the pandemic. The estimated cost of CTR in this financial year has risen from £1.82m to £1.91m since February alone.
While sectors of the economy are already recovering from lockdown restrictions, the outlook is uncertain, and this could impact both caseload and the cost of the CTR scheme. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) forecasts that the end of the furlough scheme this month will add 150,000 people to the national jobless total.
All claims for CTR are assessed using an income band system that provides discounts of up to 100% on claimants’ council tax bills.
The current scheme provides 100% CTR support for households on low incomes, including people who get ‘passported’ benefits – these are income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Guarantee Credit and the standard allowance of Universal Credit.
The consultation will ask people for their views on several options that could streamline or reduce the cost of the CTR scheme. These include:
- retaining 100% support for people on passported benefits and requiring other claimants to pay a percentage or flat rate towards their council tax
- requiring everyone to make some contribution towards their council tax
- adjusting the income band system to take account of family size
- uprating the income bands in line with the national minimum wage, Oxford living wage and inflation or freezing them at 2020/21 levels
- introducing flat rate deductions for non-dependants, bringing these into line with the single person discount
- increasing council tax, cutting other services or increasing fees and charges as an alternative to reducing CTR support
The council’s preferred approach is to retain a scheme awarding up to 100% CTR. However, the medium-term financial outlook remains uncertain, and consultation would give the council the option of including CTR if significant savings are needed during the overall budget setting process for 2022/23.
Cabinet will consider responses to the consultation and any proposals to amend the CTR scheme in January. Any changes would not affect people of pension age as pensioners are still covered by a separate national support scheme.
“We are committed to supporting people facing financial hardship and challenges in our communities, and our preferred approach as a council is to keep the council tax reduction scheme at 100%, if possible. However, circumstances are difficult, and this means we have to look at all options and consider making difficult choices.
“The consultation is an opportunity for everyone to provide feedback and I would like to encourage as many people as possible to do just this. Any possible proposed changes may be taken forward in January once the consultation period ends.”
—Councillor Shaista Aziz, cabinet member for inclusive communities