The National Audit Office has found that the Department for Communities and Local Government worked together effectively with local authorities to ensure Council Tax support was introduced on schedule. Not all local authorities’ support schemes, however, will achieve the expected objectives outlined by the Department before the policy was implemented.
The Department reduced the funding for Council Tax support by 10 per cent, equating to a saving for central government of £414 million in 2013-14. Its ‘localization’ of Council Tax support required local authorities to design their own local support schemes. Most local authorities have reduced support for claimants to meet some of their funding reduction.
Seventy-one per cent of local authorities have introduced schemes that require working age claimants to pay at least some council tax regardless of income. Most local authorities also used new powers to charge more Council Tax on some properties, such as second and short-term empty homes, to help offset the funding reduction for Council Tax support. The National Audit Office found that all of a sample of 207 local authorities had taken advantage of these additional powers, raising an estimated additional income of £178 million.
The Department expects local authorities to implement schemes which protect vulnerable people and improve work incentives. The task for local authorities to meet these different objectives whilst managing their funding reduction is complex, and may require trade-offs. Today’s report found, for example, that 41 per cent of local authorities have introduced minimum payments of Council Tax with no protections for vulnerable groups, other than those mandated for pensioners and war pensioners. The Department takes the view that scheme designs are local decisions and it does not plan to intervene in local authorities’ scheme choices.
The financial impact of the localization of Council Tax support will vary between local authorities and depends on a range of factors. For many local authorities, the reduction in funding for Council Tax support combines with other funding and welfare changes to put extra pressure on their budgets. According to the NAO, the Department must do more to satisfy itself that local authorities can manage the cumulative impact of funding and welfare changes.