A local authority which is among a select few nationally to continue to offer working age residents up to 100 per cent exemption from paying council tax looks set to extend the support.
Durham County Council has been providing up to £300 of additional support to working age claimants who are not in receipt of 100 per cent council tax reduction, and is poised to extend its top up scheme and provide those claimants with a further £100 off their tax bills next financial year in recognition of the difficulties facing people during the coronavirus pandemic.
The council’s Cabinet is also being asked to support continuing the authority’s Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme (LCTRS) for another year, when it meets next week.
The LCTRS is open to residents on a low income, whether in work, unemployed or retired, who have less than £16,000 savings. It is one of few such schemes nationally that continues to offer reductions of up to 100 per cent for all working age claimants.
A report to the meeting on Wednesday 18 November sets out how the authority is “one of a small minority of councils to continue to offer the same level of support to all claimants as was available under the former national Council Tax Benefit scheme.”
It states that in 2018/19, when national data was last collected, “only 36 local authorities in England, and no other councils in the North East, offered all residents this level of assistance.”
Cabinet will hear that there are currently 58,250 LCRTS claimants and that 80 per cent of working age claimants currently receive a full 100 per cent reduction.
In all, the council expects to provide support to residents totalling in the region of £61.9 million through council tax reduction in 2020/21.
This is around £5m higher than was originally expected pre-pandemic and is due to additional new claims received, with council staff dealing with around 3,000 more claims from people of working age.
Cabinet is being asked to agree to recommend to full council the LCTRS continuing in its current form during 2021/22. Full council will meet in December to formally consider the proposal.
The meeting will also hear that the council was allocated just under £7m from the government’s Hardship Fund in March and how it has used this money to give eligible working age LCTRS claimants a further reduction of up to £300 on their bills.
The money from the fund was also used to supplement the council’s Welfare Assistance Scheme, with £1m allocated to it.
Cabinet is being recommended to agree to giving LCTRS claimants further reductions of up to £100 in 2021/22.
Cllr Alan Napier, cabinet member for finance, said: “We are immensely proud in County Durham to be one of only a few councils nationally to continue to offer council tax reductions of up to 100 per cent for all claimants.
“Similarly, we have gone above and beyond what the government recommended by giving claimants further reductions of up to £300 to help them in these incredibly challenging times.
“I’m really pleased that we’re in a position to continue the scheme and its 100 per cent reductions for another year, and to be considering offering continued support for claimants through further reductions of up to £100 in 2021/22, which is much needed during these difficult times.”
Meanwhile Cabinet will receive a separate report asking it to agree the authority’s council tax base for 2021/22 – the number of properties at which residents will be paying. The report puts this figure at 141, 623.2 band D equivalent properties.
Cabinet will meet virtually at 9.30am on Wednesday, November 18.