Date: 24th October 2013
Liberal Democrats call for more support for poorest Council Tax Payers
The Oldham Liberal Democrat Group on Oldham Council has written to the Borough Treasurer formally outlining our collective response to the consultation now underway about the Council Tax Support Scheme.
In summary, our two key points are:
• The Liberal Democrats welcome the proposal to increase the level of support that will be made available to the poorest Council Tax payers in our borough. Presently this is capped at 75% of a bill for Band A payers.
Unfortunately this level of support meant that every Council Tax payer regardless of financial circumstances has been required to pay at least a quarter of their Council Tax, and those occupying properties above Band A required to pay in addition all of the difference.
Coupled with an increase in Council Tax bills of 3.7% from April 2013, Oldham’s Local Council Tax Support Scheme represented the most draconian in Greater Manchester.
• The Liberal Democrats believe that Oldham’s scheme was not generous enough as it was based upon a 50% collection rate, rather than the current 70% rate.
Councillor Sykes said that: “Whilst we agree it is prudent to raise the level of support in line with improvements in the collection rate to ensure that the revised scheme remains affordable, Liberal Democrats have always believed that the support scheme could be improved to provide more financial help to the poorest in our borough as collection rates always seemed overly-conservative”.
• The Liberal Democrats also believe that Oldham should establish a discretionary hardship fund rather like that of Stockport Council. This would be used to support first time Council Tax payers in arrears who are making some payment, yet face, because of exceptional circumstances, undue hardship in discharging their total debt.
Liberal Democrats would want particularly to target this help to claimants with disabilities and long-term debilitating health conditions.
Cllr Sykes said:
“The hardship fund is one of a set of practical measures that the Oldham Liberal Democrats have proposed to the Council to support the poorest citizens of our borough, particularly those are disabled or otherwise vulnerable.
“Some of these measures have subsequently been taken up by the Labour Administration – and I hope that this idea will also be adopted.
“The bumper Manchester Airport Group dividend could be used to support the establishment of this fund – and I would welcome the chance to have a dialogue with the Leader of the Council about this as I requested at September’s Council meeting.”
Notes to editors:-
The letter to the Borough Treasurer see below:
22 October 2013
Mr Steven Mair
Senior Management Team
Dear Mr Mair,
Re: The Liberal Democrat Group response to the Consultation on the 2014-15 Local Council Tax Support Scheme
In reference to the report to the Overview and Scrutiny PVFM committee dated 26th September, I am writing to make this formal response on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Group to the call for consultation.
The Liberal Democrats welcome the belated recognition by this administration of the importance of reducing the financial burden imposed upon the very poorest in our borough and endorse the commitment to increasing the level of maximum support in line with expected improvements in collection rates.
The Liberal Democrats feel that it was most regrettable that this administration chose in April to cap support at 75% of the Council Tax due on a Band A property.
Coupled with the overall increase in Council Tax bills of 3.7%, this ensured that Oldham had the most draconian Local Council Tax Support Scheme in Greater Manchester with all householders, however poor, being obliged to pay at least 25% of a Band A bill, and with those occupying Bands B, C etc. properties being also obliged to pay the difference in full.
As, in December 2012, 16,814 households were in receipt of full or partial Council Tax Benefit, this has had a major impact on the household incomes of the poorest in our borough, many of whom are also claimants with a disability or health condition.
This financial burden was imposed on the basis that collection rates would be 50%; a figure that Liberal Democrats have always felt was overly conservative.
Present estimates are that anything up to 70% of the total owed will in fact now be collected.
The Liberal Democrats therefore welcome the proposal to utilise the additional revenue raised to reduce the burden on the poorest by raising the maximum amount of Local Council Tax Support in line with improved collection rates.
We also support the proposal to make this self-financing.
The Liberal Democrats would also like the administration to consider establishing a discretionary hardship fund in line with that of neighbouring Stockport.
This would be used to support first time Council Tax payers in arrears who are making some payments yet face because of exceptional circumstances undue hardship in discharging their total debt. We would particularly wish to target this help at claimants with disabilities and long-term debilitating health conditions.
At the September Council meeting, I asked the Leader of the Council for a dialogue “to identify further practical measures that can be funded (by the bumper dividend received from our shareholding in the Manchester Airport Group) to support the poorest citizens of our borough who are adjusting to reduced benefits following welfare reform”.
I would still be interested in having such a dialogue.
Cc: Cllr A Jabbar – Cabinet member