Agenda item

Council Tax Reduction Scheme

Minutes:

The Head of Benefits introduced the report item and took Members through the key points within the report. The report recommended that Members note the decision in respect of Bristol’s 2021/22 Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS), the estimated costs of it and rationale for doing so.

 

·       The Commission were informed that there are now currently 35,775 low income households in Bristol.

·       The scheme currently costs the Council £42.4m. This figure is expected to be £46.3m next year.

·       Bristol is now one of less than 10% of English local authorities (LAs)to have a scheme such as this and is the only Core City that continues to do this.   Most other local authorities require residents to make a minimum payment.

·       70,000 people in City have now been furloughed and 8,000 people have lost their lost jobs.

·       Bristol City Council has continued to support low income households since 2013/14 in this way and there are no proposals to change the existing scheme.

 

Members asked the following questions:

Given that this was described as an exceptional scheme, it was asked if Central Government had ever made comment about it or was it thought they had an opinion about it? Officers said that the Government hadn’t commented, and that Bristol is really left to decide its own responsibilities.  The Director of Finance added that in terms of the Fair Funding Review this was an area being considered but no decision had been made in terms of the approach going forward.   But for 2020/21/22 they have chosen to provide additional support for LAs in order to replicated similar types of approaches for those on low incomes i.e. through the Hardship Fund.  So, it could be presumed that the Government think this is right thing to do now.  Members asked if the Council had lost out on any Hardship Funding as it was already providing this type of support. Officers said the Council was instead able to utilise a significant proportion of that funding for other welfare assistance things, such emergency food assistance and utilities and purchasing school uniforms and the Council was able to extend its support further than most other LAs could do.  

 

The Chair commented that this one of the areas that the Council does very well at.  Was it however fair to say that the general public don’t really understand that the Council does this? Officers agreed that this was not generally known because it was not publicised but it was something that the City should be proud of because it was quite exceptional.  Members asked why this was the case.  The Director of Finance said there wasn’t any particular reason why it hadn’t been publicised in the past.  However, this year’s consultation for the Council Tax had for the first time included the details in terms of the Councils areas of support such as those experiencing hardship and/or on low incomes.     

 

It was asked what the difference was between pensioners and people of working age i.e. Figure 7.3. why does the Council split these figures up? Officers said the pensioners scheme is mandated by Government and the Council therefore had no jurisdiction over that so it couldn’t put a cap on benefits that the Council gives to them. It was then clarified that the Council does not get any extra funding for pensioners. Officers said they would come back with a firm response in writing. 

 

Table 7.2 in the published report showed the projected figure for 2021 however Members asked what the original budget figure was so that they could compare them. Officers said they would look into this and confirm the position in writing after the meeting.

 

A Member said they thought they recalled a £40m cap being on the CTRS previously and asked if or when that had been lifted or when was the definition changed? Was this something that needed to be considered?  Officers said they didn’t have a direct response, but they would take the question away and provide a written response after the meeting. 

 

It was suggested that the report didn’t tell the ‘true value for money story’ and explain why the CTRS is such a good decision.  It was asked that in future officers explain both sides of balance sheet i.e. this is not just an altruistic thing to do but is also ‘good housekeeping’.  Officers concurred but said that it was very difficult to quantify some of the benefits such as good health and wellbeing. 

 

Another Member congratulate officers for the application CTRS and asked was there any information in terms of the of impact it had had on stabilising or reducing child poverty?  Officers said it was hard to show correlations.  Even large national studies that they had read hadn’t necessarily been able to show a direct link but they would continue to look into this. 

 

It was suggested that officers could undertake some type of holistic study into the real value for money (VFM) gained by the City as whole by this scheme. 

           

The Chair noted that the message coming from the Commission was that it very much supported the continuation of the CTRS as was planned.  He also said that he would suggest in the statement that the scheme is communicated more widely so the general public know it is happening.  The other Members agreed that a statement would be submitted to the Cabinet meeting the following day to express the views of the Commission.  

 

The Members thanked officers for their time and hard work.

 

Resolved; that the Commission agreed to submit a statement to the Cabinet meeting on 1st December to confirm their support for the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.

 

ACTIONS:

·       Officers to check why the figures for pensioners and ‘working’ were split up in the report and come back with a firm response in writing.

·       Officers to provide to Members with the original projected CTR figure for 2021 that was in the budget papers earlier in the year. 

·       Officers said they would check if there had been a £40m cap placed on the CTR scheme and provide a written response to Members after the meeting. 

 

Supporting documents: