Report of the Deputy Chief Executive (Resources and Transformation)/Section 151 Officer and the Director of Customer and Digital attached.
The Council considered a report of the Director of Customer and Digital that provided a review of the Council Tax Support Scheme for 2019/20 and which clarified the legal position in respect of the Council Tax Support Scheme, with particular reference to the decision by full Council at its Budget Council on 28 February 2018.
Council decided at the Council Tax Setting meeting in February 2018 to remove any budget forecast for the Council Tax Support Scheme for the years 2019/20 onwards in the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS). As advised on a number of occasions the CTSS may only be amended, varied or abolished after a lengthy consultation period as taken place. Consultees will include beneficiaries as well as the major preceptors such as Lancashire County Council, Police and Fire Authorities.
Following the decision in February 2018 considerable work has taken place with external advisors to pull together an appropriate model to consult upon. This has been a lengthy process, further complicated by the implementation of Universal Credit. The modelling working is still ongoing and as such the Council will not be in a position to consult until the first quarter of 2019/20 financial year.
The Leader of the Opposition, commented that he was disappointed that it had taken this long to get to this point when the decision to remove the CTSS was taken nearly a year ago and considered that the Council could have consulted upon the scheme much earlier. There was also concern amongst the Labour Group that the Scheme remained in the MTFS for the next five years.
The Deputy Leader of the Council, responded by saying that the Council had wanted to consult over the past 12 months but that unprecedented changes in Welfare Reform implemented by the Government had significantly halted progress. It was the view of the Cabinet that it was extremely important to be aware of all the facts and their impact before going out to consultation.
Councillor Michael Green declared a personal interest, being a County Councillor for one of the main preceptors of the Scheme, Lancashire County Council. He commented that in his opinion the Council were right to obtain all the relevant information before consulting.
Councillor Susan Snape reiterated that the decision taken in February 2018 was to consult upon its removal. She added that there was great deal of concern around the level of hardship across the Borough and that the Council were working hard to promote the hardship scheme to help redress this situation.
It was moved by Councillor Susan Snape, seconded by Councillor Margaret Smith and
RESOLVED (25 For and 17 Against, with 1 Abstention)
1. Council notes the legal position regarding the decision taken at Budget Council on 28th February 2018.
2. The Council Tax Support Scheme remains unchanged for 2019/20
3. The Council agree the level of the deduction to be applied to Working Age recipients of Council Tax Support from 1st April 2019 and that this level be finalised and agreed in accordance with South Ribble's scheme as part of the Council's Budget and Council Tax Setting at the Council Meeting on 27th February 2019. This figure will continue to be within the range (between £3.00 and £5.00 per week) which was consulted upon during the introduction and implementation of the council's scheme.
4. Delegated authority granted to the Director Customer and Digital in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Finance to make all necessary updates to this Council’s Council Tax Support Scheme to comply with any prescribed requirements that may be issued by central government. This may be by the making of specific regulations, or by amendment to the Local Government Finance Acts of 1992, 2012 and 2017 and Government funding formulae.
5. Delegated authority granted to the Director Customer and Digital in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Finance to make all necessary amendments to the Council’s scheme to uprate the allowances and premiums in accordance with the revised Housing Benefit Circular. We have received both the HB circular and the CTS Statutory Instrument for 2019/20. The CTS scheme is updated for us by external consultants and we usually receive this at the end of April. This process is a requirement of the prescribed elements of the scheme and will also take into consideration inflationary requirements.
6. Council agrees to publish the updated scheme in accordance with the Local Government Finance Act 2012 and any regulation amendments.