Briefing on Local Support for Council Tax David Magor OBE IRRV (Hons) Chief Executive Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation
Background Spending Review 2010 Localise support for council tax and reduce the subsidy by 10% from 2013 -14 Abolition of council tax benefit provision in the Welfare Reform Act Part of wider policy giving councils increased financial autonomy Enabling power for the new scheme to be contained in a finance bill now before the current parliamentary session
Why localise support for council tax the CLG view Give local authorities (LAs) a greater stake in the economic future of their area Give LAs the opportunity to reform the system of support for working age claimants Reinforce local control over council tax Give LAs a degree of control on the impact of the 10% reduction Give LAs a financial stake in the local support for council tax (LSCT)
Overview Broad parameters of LSCT Reduce subsidy by 10% Existing subsidy to be replaced by a new grant Create a local scheme Provision of a default scheme Protection for eligible pensioners and locally determined vulnerable people Scheme should support incentives to work LAs encouraged to collaborate to reduce costs LAs to consider how system can be simplified for working age claimants LAs will seek to integrate arrangements for providing support within council tax system Local mechanisms to manage financial pressures
Council Tax and Localism The Localism Act 2011 More scrutiny on levy Just how far does the proposed power of competence go? Referendum on levels of council tax above stated thresholds Neighbourhoods, Community Councils and Parishes – a new power base? How does all this impact on local support for council tax?
The Reference Group • Challenge • Risks and opportunities • Identify interactions • Consideration of specific policy issues through the use of networks • Act as a sounding board • Membership
The Delivery Group • Timetable • Model Schemes • Data sharing • LA Software • Forecasting • Finance Issues • Membership
Establishing a local scheme (1) • Analysis of existing caseload • Impact analysis • Developing a scheme • Factors to be covered by schemes • Consultation • Adoption of the scheme • Revisions to schemes • Default schemes
Establishing a local scheme (2) Likely to be a minimum of central criteria. Information from the Universal Credit (UC) system to be available to local authorities for use in the administration LSCT The rules relative to changes of circumstance should be identical for both schemes any change in entitlement to UC should automatically trigger a recalculation of LSCT
Pensioners and Vulnerable Groups • Pensioners • Passported Claimants • Means Tested Claimants • Potential vulnerable groups • Child Poverty Act 2010 • Disabled persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 • Housing Act 1996 • Equality Act 2010
Options on work incentives • Run on • Disregards • Non-dependant deductions • Progressive manipulation • Progressive taper • Cash award • Non cash facilities These all have a cost
Constraints • System • Funding • Limitation and referendums • Protecting vulnerable groups • Setting aside a sum for extraordinary events • Political dimension • Timetable • Adverse consultation • Collection issues
Administering Local Schemes • Initial transition • The application • Calculation and award • Notification • Excess LSCT • Appeals • To the local authority • To another body • Arrangements for individuals subject to immigration control or are not habitually resident in the UK
Delivery • Building on existing approaches • The existing structure • Personal allowances • Premiums • Non-dependant deductions • Resources • Disregards • Second adult rebate • Taper • Excess benefit • Forecasting • Formulating the scheme • Publicity • Systems
Data Sharing • Data sharing to process claims within local schemes • Provision in the Welfare Reform Act • Will be subject to a protocol between CLG and DWP • Establishing data sharing • Link with UC
Fraud • What structure? • SFIS? • Enabling statute • Specific powers or general powers? • Developing local services • High level business case for SFIS • Risk based verification
The Overall Funding Mechanism • The government’s consultation on localising support for council tax introduced the proposal to transfer the funding of council tax support from demand-led AME (Annually Managed Expenditure) to DEL (Departmental Expenditure Limits) • The Government is proposing to pay grant to billing and major precepting authorities to bring down council tax requirement rather than allocate it to the Collection Fund • This will mean the tax base will have to take account of the local scheme in a similar manner to discounts • This issue could create problems for Local Precepting Authorities (parish councils and town councils) because if the tax base is reduced and they do not receive grant then parish band D council tax will go up • This could be a particular issue if referendums are extended to some parish councils.
Benefit cost funding • The authorities that will receive grant • Billing Authorities • Major Precepting Authorities • The position on parishes • Powers to pay grant • Methodology for distributing grant • Frequency of grant allocation • Grant allocation in future Spending Review periods • Limits on spending • Maximising the tax base • Managing pressures through the collection fund
Administration Costs • Administrative cost • Implementation costs (£80k to billing authorities and £27 to major precepting authorities already paid) • On going costs • Link to existing subsidy arrangements • New Burdens Assessment
Grant allocation • The DCLG has indicated that a separate technical consultation will be held on the specific factors and indicators which should determine the level of grant allocated to a particular authority. Issues to be considered in this consultation will include: • The basis for allocation (what factors are taken into account in distributing grant) • The frequency of allocation (how frequently grant is adjusted – annually or less annually).
Grant allocation The relevant factors for the basis of allocation could include: • The relative size of eligible claimant groups • Previous expenditure • Other indicators – unemployment levels etc • Council tax costs
Grant allocation The issues that will need to be considered are: • What are the advantages – and disadvantages of using previous expenditure to determine shares of funding? • Is there a case for using previous expenditure initially? • What other factors could be taken into account as well or instead? • How should Government balance the need to reflect costs with the importance of incentivising local authorities to manage down demand/ensure there is accountability over council tax levels?
Grant allocation Consideration will need to be given to the frequency of allocation. There are two broad options: • Reflecting as closely as possible levels of take-up or demand, by adjusting as frequently as is practicable. This would achieve a better match between needs and grant across all authorities and would tend to reduce the financial risks to authorities • Leaving the grant allocation unchanged for several years. This would provide local authorities with greater certainty about their allocation in future years and help with financial planning; it would also enable a local authority to gain if liabilities under its scheme were to fall during that period.
Local precepting authorities Option one - pass no money on • Disregard the parish share entirely in distributing the total grant between billing and precepting authorities • Pass the parish share to billing authorities – but with no obligation to pass it on to parishes Implications • Does not require additional legal powers • Administratively simple for billing authorities – more complex for central government if parish share has to be identified • Could lead to big leap in Band D for some parishes – may mean that some get caught by any referendums principles
Local precepting authorities Option two - pass money on • Pay grant directly to parishes Implications • Requires additional legal powers • Highly administratively complex for central government • Minimises impact on Band D • Unclear how this could operate under retained business rates
Local precepting authorities Option three - pass money on • Pay grant to billing authorities with a requirement to pass the grant on to parishes • Paying grant to billing authority, with requirement to pass on through council tax system Implications • Requires additional legal powers • Degree of complexity for both central and local government – integrating within the council tax system could make less administratively onerous • Minimise impact on parish Band D • Unclear how this could operate under retained business rates
Legislative progress • The Local Government Finance Bill • The need for subordinate legislation • Draft regulations where needed • Statements of intent • Legislative timetable
Pension Age Regulations • Commitment to protect pensioners • Definition in relation to age • Mixed age couples – DWP approach • Treatment of war pensioners • Uprating for pension aged claimants
Transitional Regulations • A claim under CTB on or before 31st March 2013 • A claim under CTB on or after the 1st April 2013 • A change of circumstance declaration for CTB • A change of circumstances for UC
Collection Fund Regulations • Possible amendment to the Local Authorities (Funds) (England) Regulations 1992 • Precepts • The proposal to vary the payment schedule • Views being sort from the two groups • The potential for an alternative proposal • The impact of the in-year financial pressure on Major Precepting Authorities
Council Tax Base Regulations • Amendment to existing regulations rather than new ones • Calculation of the impact of LSCT on the council tax base • The council tax base for baseline purposes likely to remain gross of LSCT • Timeline
The Timetable • Spring 2012 • Primary legislation in passage through Parliament. • Government preparing and consulting on draft secondary legislation. • Initial thoughts on local scheme • Discussions between billing authorities and major preceptors • Political direction • Technical consultation on grant distribution
The Timetable • Summer 2012 • Primary legislation passed. • Secondary legislation prepared • Develop operational project plan • Billing authorities designing local schemes • Scoping IT changes • Consultation with Major Precepting Authorities • Modelling proposed scheme • Public consultation
The Timetable • Autumn / Winter 2012 • Secondary legislation passed (early Autumn) • Prepare risk assessment • Grant allocations published • Establishing local schemes – final consultation with major precepting authorities and public, revisions to schemes. • Technical changes to systems begin • Setting budgets. • Adopt local scheme
The Timetable • Winter/Spring 2012/13 • Finalise system changes • Prepare tax base • Set council tax and formally adopt scheme • Publicise scheme • Agree monitoring arrangements • Billing
Operating the scheme in a small shire district Under the new scheme the amount provided to support Council Tax benefit will be reduced by 10% amounting to £695K Annual Council Tax benefits £6,954 Less: 10% reduction as proposed £ 695 Less: Protection for pension age groups (50%) £3,477 Balance to be used for working age £2,782 This means that the assistance with Council tax for working age claimants will be reduced by around 18% which means that in future working age claimants will be entitled to around 80% of the their current entitlement.
The caseload • 6,800 caseload • Working age 3,830 • ISA/JSA etc • Earners • Non earners • Second adult • Elderly 3,000
Operating the scheme in a large unitary council Under the new scheme the amount provided to support Council Tax benefit will be reduced by 10% amounting to £6.3m Annual Council Tax benefits £63.0m Less: 10% reduction as proposed £ 6.3m Less: Protection for pension age groups £30.9m Balance to be used for working age £25.8m This means that the assistance with Council tax for working age claimants will be reduced by around 19% which means that in future working age claimants will be entitled to around 80% of the their current entitlement.
The caseload • 63,257 total caseload • Working age 32,115 • ISA/JSA etc • Earners • Non earners • Second adult • Elderly 31,142
What are the realistic options for Billing Authorities? • Maximise the tax base and utilise the discount changes • Adjust the tax base provision • Fund the 10% locally from own resources either partially or fully • The Billing Authority proportion • The Precepting Authority’s proportion • Continue with existing scheme less up to 10% cost and protecting vulnerable groups, achieved by either/or • A straight cut of the appropriate percentage for all non protected claimants – the “equal pain” approach • A flexible approach to minimum benefit or a cap • A regressive taper • A modified existing scheme protecting vulnerable groups and reducing cost
Risk sharing • Sharing risk through the collection fund • Deficit or surplus in the collection fund • Shared the following year? • Should major precepting authorities be able to influence scheme design? • Varying precepts in year • To reflect collection rates • A new power
The risks of localisation • If the current financial crises continues, benefit costs will continue to rise. • Collection performance could suffer significantly with the 10% reduction which will fall largely on working age claimants. • The impact of the reduction in housing costs as a result of housing benefit changes and the cap will have a cumulative affect on the ability to meet council tax and other domestic bills • CTB is currently based on actual as opposed to estimated eligibility. Therefore an increase in the number of claimants will automatically lead to an increase in CTB costs This will expose councils to increased expenditure. • Any cap on expenditure needs to protect local authorities from the burden of increased caseloads.
Managing the risk of fraud and error • The consultation document suggests that it is for local authorities to administer support for council tax in as fair and efficient a way as is possible whilst minimising errors and the risk of fraud. • The Department for Work and Pensions will be launching the new Single Fraud Investigation Service (SFIS) in April 2013. • Local authority administration of fraud and error in LSCT should continue, whilst working in partnership with SFIS where the need arises. • In the long term LAs will have to make their own arrangements • The risk of fraud and error should be minimised by effective data sharing across all areas of the public sector. • The Government have yet to realise the potential savings of comprehensive public sector data sharing coupled with effective partnerships with the private sector.
Managing the financial risk Billing authorities should be able to share the risk of any scheme across the tiers of administration and with Precepting Bodies Strict budgetary control is necessary to manage the financial risk Managing the Collection Fund and regular reporting will be critical There is however a need for more discussion on how risk is managed across the tiers of local authorities and between central and local government.
And finally, collection issues April 2013 and beyond • Collecting residue debt identical to the reduction in LSCT • Collecting small balances from those in receipt of LSCT • Do you apply for a liability order? • If so which remedy do you use? • If the debt remains unpaid how will you prove culpable neglect and/or wilful refusal?
What is the IRRV doing? • Membership of the Reference Board and the Delivery Group • Partnership with “Destin” on a modelling tool • Partnership with “Coactiva” on a Risk Based Verification tool • Partnership with “Entitled to” on a UC/LSCT calculator • Delivering a “Resource Centre” for LSCT • Developing a Mutual model for residue fraud teams and a social enterprise for UC/LSCT/Benefit advice